Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s attempts to censor journalists and cartoonists doesn’t extend just to Turkish citizens: When she tried to leave Turkey this past Sunday, Dutch journalist Ebru Umar was arrested and brought before a judge for tweets she posted about President Erdogan.
Umar was arrested after some of her tweets regarding a recent article she wrote about Erdogan were reported to Turkish officials. The journalist was arrested under the pretense that her tweets were critical of the Turkish president — an offense that is punishable by up to four years in jail.
Her article covered a recent exchange between Turkish officials and the Netherlands regarding a controversial email was sent from Turkish authorities to Netherlands-based Turkish organizations, demanding the names of those who have criticized President Erdogan and his government. Although the intent behind the email is unclear, discussions between the two governments arose amid allegations that President Erdogan himself “personally” requested those who criticize him to be turned in.
In Umar’s article, she commented upon the excuse given by the Turkish consulate that the email was an “unfortunate choice of words,” comparing the action to practices of the Dutch WWII Nazi party. In her article, Umar called Mr. Erdogan “the most megalomaniac dictator since the foundation of the republic in 1923,” adding that, “every Dutch-Turk who supports this call by the consulate and thinks they can act as traitors by snitching on what Dutch people say about ‘sultan’ Erdogan.”
In light of her heated debate on Twitter, Umar is now being detained in Turkey, and it is unclear about how things will proceed. In a recent tweet, Umar noted that she is “free but forbidden to leave the country.”
Turkey’s extreme crackdown on free speech has become a growing concern. Earlier this month, President Obama called it a “troubling” path for Turkey, and others like Nobel Laureate Orhan Pamuk have noted that “freedom of expression has fallen to a very low level.” Not only have cartoonists like Bahadır Baruter and Ozer Aydogan been the target of Turkey’s censorship attempts, but just recently Turkish comedian, actor, and cartoonist Cem Yilmaz was put on trial for criticizing Turkish governor Selim Cebiroglu.
The Dutch government is currently in correspondence with Turkey about the situation regarding Umar’s arrest, but as Dutch education minister Jet Bussenmaker told the Dutch television network WNL, “It is absurd that you can be arrested for a tweet.” Moreover, in a statement sent on Sunday by the Dutch Foreign Ministry, the Netherlands took a stab at President Erdogan stating, “Freedom of speech and freedom of the press is a fundamental right. An E.U. candidate member state should honor such rights.”
Contributing Editor Caitlin McCabe is an independent comics scholar who loves a good pre-code horror comic and the opportunity to spread her knowledge of the industry to those looking for a great story!