“My precious…” freedom of speech lost in Turkey

Feb 18, 2016
Reading Time: 2 minutes
Written by Ananya Singh

Just when you think that the LOTR fandom could not possibly seep deeper into our modern lives, the case of Bilgin Ciftci surfaces like the Ringwraiths in the Shire. The bizarre nature of the case has put Gollum’s character under moral scrutiny in the modern Turkish court.

Unlike the complex beginnings of Sauron’s ring, the beginnings of the case can be traced back to Dr. Biglin Ciftci sharing a meme in 2014, comparing the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan with the famous character ‘Gollum’ from the extremely popular trilogy The Lord of the Rings.

For those who may have been living under a rock (much like the Gollum) or were simply “too cool” to get into the fandom, the Gollum is a popular character from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings books and movies. The Gollum’s character is obsessed with Sauron’s ring that has shaped him into a “slimy, dark creature” over long periods of time, he hates and loves the ring which he refers to as “my precious.”

Turkey’s government, much like the “Eye of Sauron,” frequently surveys the internet realm within Turkish jurisdiction to prevent slander against the government and government officials. BBC informs us that 236 people, in Turkey, were subject to investigations for “insulting the head of state,” with 105 people being formally indicted between 2014-2015.

In the case of Dr. Ciftci, “the ring” can be seen as a metaphor for the freedom of speech in Turkey, it had been lost for a long time but now there is a (legal) battle over it. Much like the ring’s nature of bringing demise to its holder, Dr. Ciftci was expelled from his position in the Public Health Institution of Turkey in 2014 for sharing the meme. He will face jail time if he is successfully prosecuted for “insulting the head of the state.” Furthermore, it will create a precedent for future cases by restricting freedom of expression against the political authorities in Turkey.

Picking up on the previous point, Ciftci’s defence team has argued for the need of the elected officials to be more tolerant of criticism and satire. Interestingly, his defence argued that Gollum is not an evil character, meaning that the meme is not an insult to the head of the state. Ciftci’s lawyer felt that the question about Gollum’s morality had to be raised, not because Samwise Gamegee didn’t do it appropriately enough in the movies, but because an argument based on freedom of expression was failing.

The judge dealing with case was unfamiliar with the Tolkien series and therefore asked for an expert council to be gathered for deciding on the morality of Gollum’s character. The council consists of two academics, a “TV expert” and two behavioural scientists. Dr. Ciftci’s fate hangs in line with Gollum’s morality, much like Frodo’s fate did (we all know how that went). If Gollum’s character is found to be guilty of being evil, then consequently, Dr. Ciftic’s meme would also be found “offensive” to the head of the state.

Peter Jackson (director of The Lord of the Rings movies) and Elijah Woods (played the on-screen character of Frodo Baggins) voiced their opinions about the case. Jackson argued that Ciftci’s meme portrayed Smeagol not Gollum, he said “Smeagol is a joyful, sweet character. Smeagol does not lie, deceive, or attempt to manipulate others. He is not evil..”

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