Saturday, 9 July 2011

Turkish comic shuts down after fine for being 'obscene'

Harakiri, a monthly comic, literature and caricature magazine in Turkey, shut itself down before releasing its third issue, stating that a government fine had made continued publication impossible.

The Prime Minister's Board for Protecting the Youth from Obscene Publications, a government organ for reviewing print press, ruled that the magazine's content -- going back to its first issue -- was harmful to minors. It fined the magazine about 65,000 euros and ordered it to be sold in a black bag.

The board accused the magazine of "encouraging the youth to laziness, adventurousness and relations outside of wedlock".

"Societies have built social norms in order to protect their existence and maintain social order. Tools and organs of press and broadcast have to abide to these norms themselves and they also have the duty and responsibility to lead, warn and remind the society accordingly," it said.

The decision, adopted by a vote of seven to three, has set off another widespread debate over censorship in Turkey.

Harakiri graphic artist Can Baytak says he was taken by surprise."We are people with self-control. We never had the intention of disturbing people as they say," he told SETimes.

Fellow Harakiri artist Kutlukhan Perker said the accusations had a chilling effect.

"When the decision on the first issue was made, we checked the second issue in panic, wondering if there was something objectionable in it as well."

"Then we realised, whoops, we started self-censoring," Perker recalls.

Perker questions whether the work published in the magazine is obscene, arguing that comics and caricatures are reflections and interpretations of what happens in real life. The work accused of "encouraging relations outside of wedlock", he says, was simply a tale about a love affair.

"Now, can we not produce a story that features murder?" he asked, "Would that be encouraging people to commit murder?"

Perker stated Harakiri's lawyers would file a complaint against the board's decision and may go to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), to which Turkey is a signatory.

Colleagues from other magazines also express worry for themselves after the board's decision, he added.

Lawyers Mehveş Bingöllü and Hürrem Sönmez spoke to SETimes about the legal ramifications.

According to Bingöllü, the magazine is unlikely to win a favourable ruling in Turkey's courts, but may have a chance if it takes its case to the ECHR.

"I believe it would not be possible that the ECHR would accept the mentality that grounds public morals on marriage," she said, adding that the fine was "disproportional" since it caused the publication to be shut down.

According to Sönmez, meanwhile, the board is not impartial. "The members of the board act within the boundaries of their own worldview and are conscious that the board is subject to political power," he said.

Source: SETimes

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