Erdogan and Europe
Erdogan Goes After Geneva

Two weeks after the Turkish government prevailed upon Germany to prosecute a comic for an insulting poem directed at Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, it’s now demanding that the Swiss remove a picture displayed at an art show that criticizes him. Foreign Policy reports:

The photo Erdogan took issue with shows a banner from a Turkish protest that features a photo of Berkin Elvan, a 15-year-old who died in Turkey after a police officer launched a tear gas canister that hit him in the head during protests in 2013. He spent 269 days in a coma before he died in 2014, and his family claims he was not participating in the protests in Istanbul but was en route to buy bread when he was attacked.

The banner featured in Sönmez’s photo is accompanied by the caption “My name is Berkin Elvan. The police killed me, on the order of Turkey’s prime minister.” Erdogan was prime minister at the time of the Gezi protests, and has been accused of ordering police to use force against peaceful protesters to discourage them from gathering publicly.

Switzerland, like Germany, has a law that bans insulting foreign leaders. In this case it’s unclear whether the photographer would face charges or whether Turkey’s complaint would be filed with Swiss officials for approving the selection of that photo.

This latest piece of news is the third in a row. The German comic, whose prosecution for his offensive poem has made him a cause celebre, was himself reacting to the Turkish government protesting an inane little song called “Erdowie, Erdowo, Erdogan” (Erdo-how, Erdo-where, Erdogan) aired on a rival show. Sounds like a certain thin-skinned President is paying a lot of attention to European social commentary!

After Germany agreed to indict the comic, we wrote that, as with the mouse who’s given a cookie, Erdogan was likely to want more if given his way. And lo and behold, here we are.

But how far can the Turkish government take this? For one thing, though President Erdogan seems unaware of it, he’s invoking the Streisand effect: each effort to squelch a criticism or insult gives it far more publicity than the original incident would have warranted. A few weeks ago, nobody would have thought to connect Recep Tayyip Erdogan to goats. Now foreign policy circles are busy adapting Welshman-and-the-sheep jokes at his expense.

And as these ham-fisted attempts to tamp down debate abroad continue, there’s a chance the joking will spread to jurisdictions without the German-Swiss “insult” laws. In the U.S., for instance, everything written about Erdogan so far would have been protected under the First Amendment, and then some. It would really be a pity if The Daily Show or The Onion, not to mention some of our raunchier comedians, were to find out about the free publicity that the Turkish Embassy is willing to bring their work…

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