In 2015, I wrote a column for the Washington Post criticizing world leaders who marched for freedom of speech and free press after the massacre of editors of the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo, particularly the vehemently anti-free speech and anti-press president of Turkey Recep Tavyip Erdogan. The editors were murdered because the magazine published a cartoon of Mohammad. Seeing the authoritarian Erdogan at the head of the march was the ultimate mockery of these deaths and proof that world leaders cared little about those rights or the 12 dead. Erdogan’s government not only pursued the march with the pursuit of a cartoonist, but is now seeking long sentences for four Hebdo journalists for a cartoon that mocks Erdogan.
Erdogan’s authoritarian impulse is only surpassed by his vanity and sensitivity to criticism. In this case, Hebdo published a cartoon last year in which Erdogan looked up a woman’s skirt while drinking beer in his underwear and said, “Ooh, the Prophet.” His government is now aiming for four years in prison.
The four journalists have been identified as cartoonist Alice Petit and three managers of the famous magazine – Gerard Biard, Julien Serignac and Laurent Sourisseau. You are charged with the crime of posting a picture that is “vulgar, obscene and offensive”. Such publications, even cartoons, are considered by Erdogan’s government to be exceptions to freedom of speech or the free press – an exception that obviously devours both rights.
We have followed the rapid destruction of the secular government and civil liberties in Turkey under the authoritarian rule of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Erdogan used a failed coup to advance his efforts to create a de facto Islamic regime and complete his work to arrest his critics, including the resignation of thousands of secular academics and the lifting of all civil liberties in a proclaimed state of emergency.
Erdogan, while an ally, rejects the core rights that define our nation. Unfortunately, since the 2015 massacre, many in the United States have moved closer to Erdogan’s concept of free speech and press to call for greater censorship and language regulation. In fact, leading scholars recently had the integrity to declare that they believe “China is right” about censorship.
This persecution is the real face not only of Erdogan’s but of the growing movement against freedom of expression.