Turkey threatens legal, diplomatic action over Charlie Hebdo’s caricature of Erdogan

Turkey on Wednesday vowed to take "legal and diplomatic actions" over a Charlie Hebdo cartoon mocking Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, marking the latest escalation in a worsening spat with France. The French government has said it will not give in to "destabilisation and intimidation". 

A file photo of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Turkey on October 28, 2020 condemned Charlie Hebdo's cover caricature of the Turkish president.
A file photo of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Turkey on October 28, 2020 condemned Charlie Hebdo's cover caricature of the Turkish president. © Reuters

"We assure our people that necessary legal and diplomatic actions will be taken against this cartoon," the Turkish presidency said in a statement issued Wednesday morning. Minutes later, the Ankara prosecutor's office launched an "official investigation" into the publication, the Anadolu news agency reported.

Turkish anger at the caricature added fuel to a row between Turkey and France about the magazine's cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed, which flared after a French teacher, Samuel Paty, was beheaded outside his school in a Paris suburb earlier this month after he had shown pupils the cartoons in a lesson on freedom of speech.

"We strongly condemn the publication concerning our President in the French magazine which has no respect for any belief, sacredness and values," presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin wrote on Twitter.

"They are just showing their own vulgarity and immorality. An attack on personal rights is not humour and freedom of expression," he said.

The cartoon on the cover of Charlie Hebdo showed Erdogan sitting in a white T-shirt and underpants and holding a canned drink, along with a woman wearing an Islamic hijab.

“I condemn this incorrigible French rag's immoral publication concerning our president,” Turkish Vice President Fuat Oktay wrote on Twitter. “I call on the moral and conscientious international community to speak out against this disgrace.”

France won't give in to 'intimidation'

Tensions between France and Turkey increased over the weekend when Erdogan said French President Emmanuel Macron needed a mental health check, prompting France to recall its ambassador from Ankara.

Macron mounted a staunch defence of France's secular tradition after Paty's killing earlier this month, and vowed to crack down on Islamic radicalism, in particular by closing mosques suspected of fomenting extremist ideas.

That prompted Erdogan to accuse Macron of unfairly targeting France's Muslim community, and fuelled the latest diplomatic spat between the two NATO allies in recent months.

Erdogan has led calls for a boycott of French products. France, in turn, has called on its EU allies to take measures against Turkey following the boycott call.

On Wednesday, France's government spokesman said the country would not give in to "destabilisation and intimidation attempts", and would continue its fight against Islamic extremism.

France "will never renounce its principles and values," spokesman Gabriel Attal said after a cabinet meeting, underscoring "a strong European unity" behind its stance.

EU slams boycott calls

The European Commission has warned that Erdogan's comments make Turkey's stalled bid to join the EU an even more distant prospect.

"Calls for a boycott of products of any member state are contrary to the spirit of these obligations and will take Turkey even further away from the European Union," a spokesman said on Tuesday.

Turkey and France are both members of the NATO military alliance, but have been at odds over issues including Syria and Libya, maritime jurisdiction in the eastern Mediterranean and the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh.

At a summit earlier this month, EU member states agreed to review Turkey’s behaviour in December and threatened to impose sanctions if Erdogan's “provocations" do not stop, a council statement said.

On Monday, EU spokesman Peter Stano said he would not rule out an urgent meeting of EU ministers at an earlier date following Erdogan’s comments and boycott calls.

“We clearly expect a change in action and declarations from the Turkish side,” Stano said at a news conference. He said there would be many discussions “to see whether we are going to continue to wait or take action earlier”.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP and REUTERS)

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