Rights court fines Turkey over British artist’s conviction on Erdoğan insult charges

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The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has ordered Turkey to pay 2,000 euros ($2,407) in non-pecuniary damages for violating the freedom of speech of Michael Dickinson, the late British academic and collage artist, by convicting him of “insulting” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan when he was prime minister, Agence-France Presse reported on Tuesday.

Dickinson, who had been living in Turkey for some 20 years when he took part in a 2006 protest against the government’s support for the US war in Iraq, reportedly showed a collage with Erdoğan’s head attached to the body of a dog held by a leash in the colors of the American flag.

The collage prompted an inquiry and trial where he again displayed the work, landing him a few days in jail. It was one of several incidents that have raised alarm over a crackdown on individual rights under Erdoğan, who became president in 2014.

Although the artist was acquitted at first, the ruling was overturned in 2009, and he was ordered to pay a fine of around 3,000 euros ($3,600) the next year for what the court termed “an attack on Erdoğan’s honor.”

“I was only making a political statement, which people should be allowed to do,” he told AFP after the ruling.

The judges underlined on Tuesday that Dickinson’s work was “political criticism that is part of a debate of general interest” and that his condemnation could have a “dissuasive effect on his statements on matters of public interest.”

Dickinson died in July 2020 in London from peritonitis, AFP said, based on the British press reports quoting the artist’s friends.

No contact information was reportedly available on his purported website, titled “Yabanji,” which shows photos of him and his work, including what he terms “My Criminal Collage” depicting Erdoğan.

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