Owner of Turkish satirical magazine stands trial for mocking premier

The owner of a satirical magazine sued for publishing drawings of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's head on the bodies of animals accused the premier of intolerance on the opening day of his trial Tuesday.

Erdogan is seeking compensation from Erdil Yasaroglu, owner of the satirical weekly Penguen, for publicly humiliating him by publishing drawings of his face attached to a frog, a camel, a monkey, a snake, a duck and an elephant.

Erdogan, once imprisoned for reciting a poem deemed to be an attack on the state, has come under intense criticism for taking legal action against cartoonists and journalists.

The lawsuits have come despite efforts by Turkey to expand press and other freedoms in the country in line with its aims to achieve European Union membership.

On Tuesday, Yasaroglu's lawyers submitted an initial written defense to the court, in which he criticized the premier for not showing tolerance toward cartoonists.

"For years... many politicians in the world and in Turkey have been portrayed in the forms of animals and they have laughed at them. However, Erdogan has not shown the same kind of tolerance," the Anatolia news agency quoted from the written statement.

Court adjourned until July 5 to allow Erdogan's team time to examine the statement and prepare a response.

Penguen published the drawings on its Feb. 24 front cover to show solidarity with political cartoonist Musa Kart. Erdogan successfully sued Kart, saying he was humiliated by a cartoon which portrayed him as a cat entangled in a ball of wool.

"I hope that we win the case for our future's sake, so that we are able to speak freely," Yasaroglu told reporters. "We were saddened (by the lawsuit), but we had a good laugh too."

Erdogan is seeking 40,000 new Turkish lira (about US$29,500/Ђ22,500) in compensation from Yasaroglu and the Pak publishing house.

Erdogan has in the past presented himself as a champion of free speech, frequently alluding to the four-month jail term he served in 1999 for reciting what the courts deemed an inflammatory poem.

Last year a court also ordered the left-wing newspaper Evrensel to pay 10,000 new Turkish lira (US$8,000/Ђ6,000) for a cartoon which portrayed Erdogan as a horse being ridden by one of his advisers.

Earlier this year, he sued an 80-year old veteran journalist Fikret Otyam who criticized government attempts to criminalize adultery by saying the premier had reduced politics to the "level of the crotch," seeking 5,000 new Turkish lira (US$3,200/Ђ2,850) in compensation.

SUZAN FRASER, Associated Press Writer

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