Turkish doctor Bilgin Çiftçi lost his job. He’s been put on trial. And whether he goes to prison hinges on one thing:
Is Gollum a good guy?
According to the Turkish news agency DHA, Çiftçi was expelled from the Public Health Institution of Turkey in October after sharing a meme comparing Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to the creepy creature from “The Lord of the Rings.”
Insulting the head of state is a crime punishable with jail time in Turkey, and Çiftçi was promptly put on trial after the meme was spotted in his Facebook feed.
But when he appeared in court, Çiftçi insisted that he hadn’t insulted anyone at all. For all his slimy skin and questionable syntactic habits, many say Gollum is not a villain. He may even be a hero. After all, it was he who freed Middle Earth from the tyranny of the ring by biting it off of Frodo’s finger and (albeit inadvertently) plunging with it into the lava roiling inside Mount Doom (spoiler!).
When Çiftçi’s lawyer Hicran Danışman challenged the chief judge for his reading of the complicated character, the judge admitted he’d only seen parts of the movies, according to the Istanbul newspaper Today’s Zaman.
With that, the judge called for an expert panel to determine whether Çiftçi’s defense is valid. The group will comprise two academics, two behavioral scientists or psychologists and an expert on cinema and television productions, according to Today’s Zaman. It has two and a half months to review to the evidence before the court reconvenes in February.
Speaking to DHA Tuesday, Danışman said the trial has turned into “a case of saving the pride of Gollum.”
But the outcome of the expert examination will have less of an impact on Gollum — who, in addition to being already dead, is just a figment of J. R. R. Tolkien’s imagination — than on Çiftçi, who faces up to two years in prison if convicted, Today’s Zaman reported.
The Turkish penal code states that anybody who insults the president of the republic can face a prison term of up to four years — more if the statement is made publicly or by a journalist. And Erdogan’s time in office has coincided with an increase in the number of investigations for insults.
Between Erdogan’s election to the presidency in August 2014 and March of this year, 236 people were investigated for “insulting the head of state,” the BBC reported; 105 of them were formally indicted.
The president and his government “don’t have a sense of humor,” cartoonist Selcuk Erdem, whose magazine has been prosecuted for insulting Erdogan, told the BBC. “They don’t want — or like — freedom of speech or criticism.”
For his part, Erdogan has also referred to the writing of a New York Times journalist as “shameless, immoral, treason.” Is that better or worse than being compared to Gollum?