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A Turkish Judge Has Decided It Is, in Fact, Insulting to Compare Erdogan to Gollum

After much deliberation, a Turkish judge has sentenced a man for insulting Erdogan with a Gollum meme.

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Turkish legal experts have grappled for months with one of the most difficult questions that could emerge in a court case: Is it an insult to compare someone to the fictional character of Gollum from J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings series?

Finally one judge has an answer: If the person in question is Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, then yes. And the appropriate punishment? A yearlong suspended prison sentence and the loss of parental custody.

It could have been worse for Rifat Cetin, who posted a series of images on Facebook in 2014 that compared Erdogan to Gollum, a character whose kinder, more innocent alter ego goes by Smeagol. In Turkey, insulting the president can be punishable by up to four years in prison. And more than 1,800 cases have been opened since Erdogan was named president in 2014.

The Gollum case earned international attention after Bilgin Ciftci, a Turkish physician, posted the same photos and was arrested on the same charges late last year. The judge in Ciftci’s case put the decision on hold in order to consult with film experts over whether the Gollum comparison really counts as an insult, and a decision still hasn’t been made. But Cetin’s fate may set a precedent for Ciftci, who lost his job over the matter and, it sounds like, could lose his kids too.

Lord of the Rings film director Peter Jackson has tried to help the men. After he caught wind of Ciftci’s case, Jackson said that the photos in question don’t depict Gollum, but Smeagol, which would mean that Erdogan shouldn’t feel insulted.

Sméagol is a joyful, sweet, character. Sméagol does not lie, deceive, or attempt to manipulate others,” Jackson said in a statement. “He is not evil, conniving, or malicious — these personality traits belong to Gollum, who should never be confused with Sméagol. Sméagol would never dream of wielding power over those weaker than himself. He is not a bully. In fact he’s very loveable.”

If only the same could be said for Erdogan.

Photo Credit: Screenshot

Siobhán O’Grady is a freelance journalist working across sub-Saharan Africa. She previously worked as a staff writer at Foreign Policy. @siobhan_ogrady

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