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Turkey demands Geneva remove Erdogan photo

Jo Harper (with dpa)April 25, 2016

The Turkish consulate is demanding the City of Geneva remove a photo from an exhibition directly blaming President Erdogan for the death of a teenage protester. Erdogan's thin skin is stretching across national borders.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/S. Suna

The exhibition is being staged by Geneva-based photographer Demir Sonmez in the Place des Nations, a prominent square in front of the headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva.

One of Sonmez's large photographs is of a protest banner with the portrait of a teenager who died after a 2013 anti-government protest in Istanbul.

The photo is one of 58 large format photographs on display in the Place des Nations until May 1.

"My name is Berkin Elvan. Police killed me on orders of the Turkish prime minister," the text on the banner reads.

The Turkish consulate protested to the City of Geneva Monday via a letter to the head of the Urban Environment and Security Department, Guillaume Barazzone, asking for the photograph to be removed.

Berkin Elvan: wrong place, wrong time

Berkin Elvan was a 15-year-old Turkish boy who was hit on the head by a tear-gas canister fired by a police officer in Istanbul while out to buy bread for his family during the June 2013 Taksim anti-government protests in Turkey.

He died on March 11, 2014, following a 269-day coma. Widespread demonstrations erupted following his death. Erdogan, who was then prime minister, said the young man had been a member of a terrorist organization.

Geneva's reaction

The Administrative Council will deliberate on the matter Tuesday, Esther Alder, a spokesman for the mayor, said.

The Geneva-based photographer of Kurdish and Armenian origin can reportedly count on the support of several politicians in Switzerland, including the Socialist Party councilor Carlo Sommaruga, who said: "interference of a third State in the internal affairs of the City of Geneva is demanding us to limit freedom of expression."

A City of Geneva spokesperson Remy Pagani said it would be "absurd" to "censor" photography. "Freedom of expression is freedom of expression," he told the "Courrier" newspaper.

In 2010, a political group in Geneva made posters depicting Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi with the tagline “He Wants to Destroy Switzerland” and the case was dropped a year later when Gaddafi was overthrown.

Jan Böhmermann
Jan BoehmermannImage: picture-alliance/dpa/H. Galuschka

The media is the message

The Turkish government is attacking critics and political rivals at home and abroad. These include German comedian Jan Böhmermann, who faces criminal proceedings in his home country after insulting Erdogan in a televised skit.

The decision to start a German prosecution is based on 1871 legislation banning the defamation of foreign leaders. It has drawn protests that the right of free speech has been undermined in Germany.

Turkey has also been stepping up moves against foreign journalists in the country, denying entry to a number of reporters, including a correspondent from German public broadcaster ARD last week.

Same story at home

Meanwhile, a Turkish journalist was fined 28,650 liras ($10,000, 8,875 euros) for insulting Erdogan, the journalist's lawyer said Monday. Can Dundar from the leftist "Cumhuriyet" newspaper was accused of insulting the president, his son Bilal Erdogan and others.

Supporters of Can Dundar, editor-in-chief of Cumhuriyet, wait in front of the Justice Palace in Istanbul, Turkey April 1, 2016
Supporters of Can Dundar, editor-in-chief of Cumhuriyet, wait in front of the Justice Palace in Istanbul, Turkey April 1, 2016Image: Reuters/O. Orsal

His lawyer Blent Utku told DPA that the case was connected with articles Dundar wrote about a corruption scandal that hit the government in late 2013.

"As a journalist he just did his job. He didn't use an insulting word," Utku said. "Of course we are going to appeal. This decision is not in line with the law."

Dundar and his colleague Erdem Gul are also facing life in prison if found guilty of trying to overthrow the government. Their trial, which is taking place behind closed doors, is set to resume May 6.

Erdogan said recently that Dundar and Gul will pay a "heavy price" for reporting on alleged weapons shipment from Turkey to Syrian rebel groups. Turkey is a staunch backer of the Syrian opposition to President Bashar al-Assad.

There are 1,845 people facing prosecution in Turkey for insulting the president.