Eastern Europe

 “The struggle for a free intelligence has always been a struggle between the ironic and the literal mind.” 

-Christopher Hitchens


Dogan Guzel - jailed for one year, 1998-1999

Summary of incident:

In August 1998, political cartoonist Dogan Guzel was arrested and charged with "Insulting the State" of Turkey for a series of cartoons published back in 1993 criticizing the government for its ineffectiveness and its treatment of ethnic Kurds.  Initially sentenced to three and half years of prison, Dogan served one year of prison. 

Details of incident:

In 1993 Dogan Guzel.drew a comic strip called "Qirix" for the newspaper Ozgur Gundem.  "Qirix" is a Kurdish slang expression that means "all the unemployed Kurdish youth."  Dogan's comic strip features a guileless Kurdish teenager who unintentionally highlights what Dogan sees as the second-class status of the Kurds in Turkey and the ineffectiveness of the Turkish government.  The Turkish government was not amused.  On August 4, 1998, Dogan was charged with and convicted of "Insulting the State" under article 159 of the Turksh Penal Code for four strips of "Qirix" that appeared in Ozgur Gundem between May 1993 and October 1993.  Dogan was sentenced to forty months prison.  He served one year in the notorious Bayrampasa Prison in Instanbul. 


In the 1990s the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) presented a real and dangerous threat to the unity of the Turkish state.  Ethnic Kurds range from Turkey through Iran and Iraq and have long expressed a desire to create their own homeland.  As the activities of the PKK became more militant, the Turkish state responded with more repressive policies towards any expression of Kurdish nationalism.  At times the repression was severe.

Between 31 May 1992, when it was launched, and 15 January 1993, when it was forced to stop publication, confiscation orders were issued against 39 issues; fines amounting to billions of TL were imposed on the management; seven correspondents and distributors of the paper were murdered; 55 correspondents were arrested, and three of them were severely tortured; employees’ homes and the paper’s offices were repeatedly raided by the police, and property used by the paper was subjected to regular arson attacks. --  K.B., Kurdistan Commentary, Ozgur Ulke: The story behind the bombings, December 4, 2010.  

It is within this political context that Dogan was arrested for comic strips that were published years before.  Initially sentenced to three and half years of prison, Dogan served one year of prison.  He was released early under the conditional amnesty that he refrain from publishing anything critical of the government for a minimum of three years.  

Actions taken by CRNI:

Upon learning of Dogan's arrest CRNI launched a letter-writing campaign.  We sent letters to the Turkish Prime Minister and the Minister of Justice asking that the charges against Dogan be dropped.  We alerted other human rights organizations as well as the United States Embassy in Turkey.  We also sent Dogan funds for his legal defense and to help his family.


Musa Kart - sued by Turkish Prime Minister, 2004


Summary of incident: 


Cartoonist Musa Kart and Musa's newspaper Cumhuriyet were sued by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan for a cartoon of Erdogan as a kitten completely caught up in a ball of yarn.  In the lawsuit, Prime Minister Erdogan asserted emotional distress.

Details of incident:

As a candidate for office of the prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan promised to improve the status of religious vocational schools by raising the entrance scores.  Once in office, Erdogan persuaded the legislature to pass legislation raising entrance scores.  But Turkey's highest administrative court rejected that legislation.  Meanwhile on May 9, 2004, the Turkish newspaper Cumhuriyet published a cartoon by Musa Kart poking fun at the prime minister's predicament.  In the cartoon, Prime Minister Erdogan is depicted as a kitten entangled in a ball of yarn.  The yarn represents the controversy created by Erdogan's attempts to improve the academic status of religious vocational schools known as the Imam Hatip schools.  In the cartoon, the caricatured prime minister is saying, "Do not create tension.  We promised, we are going to solve it."  Cartoonist Musa Kart was sued by the prime minister and ordered to pay damages of 5,000 Turkish lira.  That verdict was later overturned by Turkey's Supreme Court and the case was returned to the lower court.  Eventually Musa and his paper were acquitted.  While Musa and his paper were defending themselves against the prime minister's suit, another court threw out a case the prime minister brought against another Turkish paper that reprinted Musa's cartoon.  The judge in that case wrote in his ruling, "People who are under public light are forced to endure criticism in the same way that they endure applause."  Those court decisions were handed down at a time of heightened scrutiny over Turkey's human rights record as Turkey sought admission into the European Union.   

The plight of Musa and his paper captured the attention of other Turkish cartoonists.  Upon learning that Musa had been sued by the prime minister, they launched a free speech campaign that had previously been unimaginable in Turkey.  In solidarity with Musa Kart, cartoonists throughout Turkey immediately drew the prime minister or  some other official or international leader as an animal.  Many of the cartoonists even threatened to quit their jobs if their editors refused to publish their protest cartoons.  The humor magazine Penguen, which means penguin in Turkish, released an issue with nine caricatures of the prime minister as nine different animals on the cover of the magazine.  The animals -- specifically an elephant, a giraffe, a monkey, a camel, a frog, a snake, a cow, a duck and, of course, a penguin -- were drawn by nine different caricaturists.  Leman, another humor magazine, likewise published a caricature of the prime minister on its cover.  On that cover, cartoonist Mehmet Cagcag depicted the prime minister as a tick.  Also depicted in the cartoon is a Turkish citizen saying, "They say it is more dangerous to rip it out.  Let him suck.  Maybe he will go away by himself when he gets full."  The prime minister sued both humor magazines and their cartoonists for emotional distress -- unsuccessfully.  Eventually the prime minister gave up trying to silence cartoonists by suing them for emotional distress. 

Actions taken by CRNI:   

CRNI joined a letter-writing campaign to officials in Turkey and alerted the United States Embassy in Turkey to Musa's situation.  Shortly thereafter Musa was nominated for the 2005 Award for Courage in Editorial Cartooning.  In July of 2005 the CRNI Board of Directors announced Musa as the winner of the 2005 Award for Courage in Editorial Cartooning.  With his wife and daughter at his side, Musa accepted his Courage Award at a ceremony in Sacramento, California. 



Oleg Minich - charged with defaming the president of Belarus and then forced to choose between serving five years in prison or permanently leaving his country, 2005 
Summary of incident: 
In August 2005 Oleg Minich and his wife Halena were taken in for questioning by the Belarusian Security Service (KGB), along with Andre Obuzov and Pavel Morozov, two members of an unregistered civic group named the Third Way.  Oleg, Andrei and Pavel were arrested in response to the online posting of Oleg's animated cartoons critical of the president of Belarus.  The three were charged with the crime of defaming President Alyaksandr Lukashenka.  Prior to trial, Andrei, Pavel Oleg and Halena were given back their passports along with the suggestion to leave the country or each face prison sentences of five years.  All four became political refugees.
Details of incident:
On August 16, 2005, agents of the Belarusian Security Service (KGB) raided the apartments of Pavel Morozov and Andrei Obozov, members of the Third Way an unregistered civic group founded by university students seeking democratic reforms in Belarus.  The KGB confiscated their computers, blocked access to the their website and interrogated Pavel and Andrei for five hours for posting animated cartoons by Oleg Minich.  On the same day, the KGB ordered Oleg and his wife Halena to go to the KGB office in Grodno.  Oleg and his wife were interrogated and their passports were confiscated.  Oleg, Pavel and Andrei were then charged with defaming the president.      
The cartoons by Oleg criticize President Lukashenko, particularly his ties to Vladimir Putin of Russia, his manipulation of elections, his efforts to institute a Soviet style economy and government, and his obsession with ice hockey.  In one of the animated cartoons, a caricatured Lukashenko is comforted by Putin after the Belarusian president is deposed after an imagined revolution.  A single frame from that animated cartoon is featured below.  
The KGB returned Oleg's, Halena's, Pavel's and Andrei's passport prior to trial with the not-so-subtle suggestion that permanently leaving their homeland would be their best option.  Otherwise, they each faced five years in prison.  Oleg, Halena, Pavel and Andrei all sought and received political refuge in other countries.  Today Oleg lives in Germany. 
Actions taken by CRNI:   
Upon learning of Oleg's and Halena's plight, CRNI contacted the couple and raised money for their exile.  CRNI also put Oleg, Halena, Pavel and Andrei in contact with other human rights organizations.  CRNI wrote a letter of protest to President Lukashenko reminding him that actions taken against an editorial cartoonist would do great harm to the country's image.  CRNI wrote letters to the German Interior Ministry and the Office for Migration and Asylum in support of the couples' request for political asylum in Germany.  The couple was granted political asylum within a year.  In that same period of time CRNI succeeded in obtaining a job for Oleg.  It is worth noting that when these four individuals were forced to flee their homes, they had neither job prospects nor relatives in their countries of exile.  And when they arrived in their countries of exile, they did not speak the language.