The government of Turkey has a really... weird relationship with the internet. The government seems quite quick to attack internet services and to shut them down if anyone says anything even mildly critical of the government. Starting about six years ago, we noted that Turkey would do things like banning all of YouTube or Blogger
to try to block a single mocking or critical video or blog post. These bans seemed to come and go
-- sometimes leading the actual citizens of Turkey to protest
the outright censorship of useful services. In the last couple of years, things have ramped up a bit. An attempt to block a single blog post resulted in 60 million Wordpress sites being blocked
. Turkey's President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan at one point ordered a ban on all of Twitter
... even filing a lawsuit against his own government
over this. There have also been attempts to ban Facebook
. Oh, and Minecraft
. In fact, just the other day the European Court of Human Rights said that Turkey's earlier YouTube ban violated freedom of expression
Indeed, that's pretty clearly the point. The Turkish government, and Erdogan in particular, don't want
freedom of expression. Almost all of this stems from people posting jokes or mocking content about the government -- and Erdogan in particular. Erdogan seems to have incredibly thin skin for a ruler of a major country. But even with all of that as background, the latest story out of Turkey is super weird. A Turkish physician, Bilgin Ciftci, is in court for potentially insulting Erdogan via social media for sharing this image on social media:
On the right are three photos of Erdogan. On the left? Of course, that's Gollum from the Lord of the Rings
movies. In other words, it's a silly social media joke, the kind you see all the time. Except Erdogan got offended and now Ciftci faces up to two years in jail. Except, making the situation even more bizarre, the judge in the case can't decide if comparing someone to Gollum is an insult, so he's establishing a special expert panel
to determine whether or not the image is an insult:
The court ordered that the investigation be conducted by a group composed of two academics, two behavioral scientists or psychologists and an expert on cinema and television productions.
The chief judge gave the decision after Hicran Danisman, a lawyer representing Ciftci, asked him whether or not he had seen the movie series “The Lord of the Rings.” Saying that he had seen only seen parts of them, the chief judge postponed the hearing until Feb. 13, 2016. Danisman stated in a previous hearing that neither the prosecutor nor the chief judge had seen the movies, even though the character of Gollum was at the center of the case.
Ciftci claimed that Gollum was not a bad character and that he did not insult anyone.
I'm not sure I'd agree that Gollum "was not a bad character," but this is a joke
on the internet. What kind of President gets upset about that
? Ciftci, for his part, seems to recognize how ridiculous this is
The 47-year-old doctor told The Independent that he was “very surprised” when he learned he would be prosecuted. The case, he said, showed that Turkey was going through “a very difficult time.” Asked if he regretted sharing the images, he said: "I see it as a question of freedom of speech and of humour. I don't think I've done anything to regret."
Maybe Turkey should just ban the internet from Erdogan's home and office.
In the meantime, of course, what's happening is that this silly jokey picture that Erdogan is apparently so offended by is getting shared absolutely everywhere
, because what better way to point out how ridiculous it is to try to censor this image than to make sure it's seen by just about everyone. One wonders if Erdogan knows or cares about this -- or if he's just trying to create a chilling effect for others in the future. Still, if he wanted to cement his reputation as being particularly thin-skinned about public commentary and criticism, it's difficult to think of a better way to do so.