“Solidarity with cartoonist Zehra Ömeroğlu, on the eve of her trial in Türkiye” – A joint press release from Cartooning for Peace, Cartoonists Rights, Freedom Cartoonists and Freemuse
April 11, 2024

11 April 2024 — A few days before her criminal trial on obscenity charges, scheduled for 16 April in Istanbul, Cartooning for Peace, Cartoonists’ Rights, the Freedom Cartoonist Foundation and Freemuse reiterate their support for cartoonist Zehra Ömeroğlu of Türkiye, over whom the prospect of criminalisation hangs like a veritable lead blanket.

Translation: «Pandemic sex… – At least I didn’t lose my taste and smell…»

Zehra Ömeroğlu faces a sentence ranging from 6 months to 3 years’ imprisonment, as well as the payment of a fine, for a cartoon on the symptoms of Covid-19 published on 25 November 2020 in the Turkish humor magazine Leman. Her situation is recorded on the Council of Europe’s Platform for the Safety of Journalists.

On 8 March 2024, Türkiye’s Board for the Protection of Minors from Obscene Publications («Muzır Neşriyat Kurulu») concluded that the cartoon «offends public decency and modesty and is contrary to general morality», arguing that the cartoonist «arouses and exploits sexual desires». These conclusions pave the way for her trial, which has been postponed four times since her first appearance in court in May 2021. Even though her lawyer contests the findings, as Turkish law allows, the hearing will go ahead on 16 April, where the likelihood of a conviction is increased on the basis of the Board’s conclusions.

Zehra Ömeroğlu works for local media aiming to liberate women’s voices. Her cartoons have appeared in numerous publications, in Türkiye and abroad, and she has had three books of her works published. She likes to focus on women’s rights, taboos and human psychology. These criminal proceedings have plunged her into deep despair, while severely restricting her professional prospects.

In an interview conducted in October 2022, Zehra Ömeroğlu said: «I’m a humorist and the aim of my work is to look at everyday problems from a different angle, with a lighter touch so that we can laugh about them together. But even such a harmless drawing can be subjected to severe judgement. The readers didn’t think that my drawing could be punished.»

Although Türkiye is bound to protect freedom of expression, guaranteed by Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and by its own Constitution, which also guarantees freedom of the press and the free dissemination of art, the country is ranked 165/180 in the Reporters without borders World Press Freedom Index 2023.

Determined to defend Zehra Ömeroğlu, our organizations express their full solidarity with her in the face of the trial, the outcome of which will be a true marker of the scale of the attacks on freedom of expression, and of the space allocated to women’s freedom of expression and feminist artistic production in Türkiye.