Five months after Turkish political cartoonist Musa Kart was arrested along with several of his colleagues from Cumhuriyet newspaper on suspicion of supporting Kurdish militants and the Gulenist movement, they finally were formally indicted this week. If convicted, Kart could face up to 29 years in prison.
The charges specifically against Kart are “helping an armed terrorist organization while not being a member” and “abusing trust.” Organizations that advocate for press freedom, including the International Press Institute and the Committee to Protect Journalists, say that the charges are baseless and simply provide cover for President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to silence accurate coverage of his regime. In total, Turkey is currently holding 141 journalists behind bars, most of them arrested in the months since the failed coup in July 2016.
Kart has long been a critic of Erdoğan, winning the 2005 Courage in Editorial Cartooning Award from Cartoonists Rights Network International after he successfully fought a lawsuit over a cartoon depicting the then-Prime Minister as “a kitten entangled in a ball of yarn.” Following news of the indictment this week, CRNI Executive Director Robert Russell issued a statement that read in part:
We absolutely condemn this embarrassing effort on the part of the Turkish government to further disappoint its own people. This indictment should be quashed and put on a shelf to gather dust. It is not worthy of the people of Turkey.
Every freedom loving country in the world should watch events in Turkey with care and see how an apparent slide into tyranny has continued step-by-step over time with apparent ease and impunity. This can happen in any country when freedom of speech, especially investigative and critical journalism, is throttled and the court system’s independence is eliminated.
Turkey’s judicial system has not yet announced any trial dates for Kart and his colleagues, who have already been held without bail since November. We will be watching closely and provide updates as news develops!
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Contributing Editor Maren Williams is a reference librarian who enjoys free speech and rescue dogs.