Turkey to Geneva: No, You Can’t Insult Erdogan Either

Turkey is demanding that Switzerland remove a photo deemed insulting to Erdogan from a new exhibit in Geneva.

Swiss photojournalist Demir Sonmez poses on April 25, 2016 next to a picture showing a demonstation he took at the Place des Nations in Geneva. 
Turkey has asked Geneva authorities to remove a picture used by demonstrators that blames President Recep Tayyip Erdogan for the killing of teenage opposition symbol Berkin Elvan, a Swiss official said on April 25, 2016. The picture is part of an exhibition outside the United Nations complex in Geneva, supported by the city of Geneva and campaign group Reporters Without Borders. The photographer Demir Sonmez, a Swiss citizen of Kurdish and Armenian origin who told AFP his objective was to highlight "the multiple struggles of the people."  / AFP / FABRICE COFFRINI        (Photo credit should read FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images)
Swiss photojournalist Demir Sonmez poses on April 25, 2016 next to a picture showing a demonstation he took at the Place des Nations in Geneva. Turkey has asked Geneva authorities to remove a picture used by demonstrators that blames President Recep Tayyip Erdogan for the killing of teenage opposition symbol Berkin Elvan, a Swiss official said on April 25, 2016. The picture is part of an exhibition outside the United Nations complex in Geneva, supported by the city of Geneva and campaign group Reporters Without Borders. The photographer Demir Sonmez, a Swiss citizen of Kurdish and Armenian origin who told AFP his objective was to highlight "the multiple struggles of the people." / AFP / FABRICE COFFRINI (Photo credit should read FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images)
Swiss photojournalist Demir Sonmez poses on April 25, 2016 next to a picture showing a demonstation he took at the Place des Nations in Geneva. Turkey has asked Geneva authorities to remove a picture used by demonstrators that blames President Recep Tayyip Erdogan for the killing of teenage opposition symbol Berkin Elvan, a Swiss official said on April 25, 2016. The picture is part of an exhibition outside the United Nations complex in Geneva, supported by the city of Geneva and campaign group Reporters Without Borders. The photographer Demir Sonmez, a Swiss citizen of Kurdish and Armenian origin who told AFP his objective was to highlight "the multiple struggles of the people." / AFP / FABRICE COFFRINI (Photo credit should read FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images)

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been made fun of a lot this month -- and he is getting sick of it. First, it was the German “Erdowie, Erdowa, Erdogan” video featuring footage of his most embarrassing moments interspersed with criticism of his crackdown on protesters. That got him angry enough to summon the German ambassador to discuss the matter.  

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been made fun of a lot this month — and he is getting sick of it. First, it was the German “Erdowie, Erdowa, Erdogan” video featuring footage of his most embarrassing moments interspersed with criticism of his crackdown on protesters. That got him angry enough to summon the German ambassador to discuss the matter.  

Then Berlin gave him permission to pursue court proceedings against a different German comedian, Jan Boehmermann, who made another video mocking Erdogan’s response to the initial short satirical film. On Saturday, a Dutch journalist who criticized the Turkish president on social media was arrested in western Turkey.

And now Erdogan’s campaign against his foreign critics has extended to the capital of political neutrality in Geneva, Switzerland. This time, it’s not targeting a comedian but an already dead teenager, a photo of whom is on display in Geneva as part of a photography exhibition across from the United Nations complex there. On Monday, the Turkish consulate filed an official complaint with Geneva demanding that the photo, taken by Swiss photographer Demir Sönmez, be removed from the ongoing exhibition.

The photo Erdogan took issue with shows a banner from a Turkish protest that features a photo of Berkin Elvan, a 15-year-old who died in Turkey after a police officer launched a tear gas canister that hit him in the head during protests in 2013. He spent 269 days in a coma before he died in 2014, and his family claims he was not participating in the protests in Istanbul but was en route to buy bread when he was attacked.

The banner featured in Sönmez’s photo is accompanied by the caption “My name is Berkin Elvan. The police killed me, on the order of Turkey’s prime minister.” Erdogan was prime minister at the time of the Gezi protests, and has been accused of ordering police to use force against peaceful protesters to discourage them from gathering publicly.

Switzerland, like Germany, has a law that bans insulting foreign leaders. In this case it’s unclear whether the photographer would face charges or whether Turkey’s complaint would be filed with Swiss officials for approving the selection of that photo. 

German Chancellor Angela Merkel may have set a precedent last week when she announced that Erdogan could move forward with charges against Boehmermann, although she also said she hoped Germany’s parliament would consider amending the law. As for Geneva, a spokesman for the city council told the Swiss News Agency that the city would have a response for Erdogan’s government by Tuesday.

The law banning the foreign insults has been around since the mid-1800s, and if Erdogan gets his way, it won’t be repealed until after he has time to make his case.

Photo credit: FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images

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