Not too long ago, when the military acted as the enforcer of a rigidly secular system, a politician in Turkey could be punished merely for reciting religious poetry. Now, with the military’s influence waning and moderate Islamists firmly in charge of the machinery of state, government agencies are trying to punish a cartoonist, Bahadir Baruter, for blasphemy.
A satirical cartoon by Baruter, published in the weekly humor magazine Penguen, depicted a man on his cell phone in a mosque speaking to God. “Is it possible to skip the last prayer? I’ve got a lot of things to do,” the man asks God in the cartoon. A message on the wall of the mosque proclaims that “There is no God. Religion is a lie.”
Outraged, Diyanet, Turkey’s official religious affairs directorate, in February filed a complaint against Baruter. Istanbul’s prosecutor decided in September to file criminal charges against the Ankara-born cartoonist for “disturbing the public peace.” He is being prosecuted under Article 216 of the Criminal Code. A trial date has not yet been set.
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Justin Vela is a freelance reporter based in Istanbul.