The Morality of Smeagol Determines a Turkish Man’s Freedom

Dr. Bilgin Ciftci shared a meme comparing Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s facial expressions to the Smeagol from Lord of the Rings. His possible imprisonment depends on a panel of LOTR experts who are tasked with determining the moral underpinnings of the character.

[DIGEST: NYTimes, Associated Press, Deadline]

Fanboy film debates have fostered passionate discourse since the birth of the Internet, but these squabbles have never garnered particularly high stakes. Until now. In September 2014, Turkish physician Dr. Bilgin Ciftci shared a meme comparing photos of Smeagol from The Lord of the Rings (LOTR) film trilogy with Turkey’s current President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan; a month later Ciftci was fired. He now faces up to two years in prison.


In America, this sort of jocular Internet behavior is not only commonplace, but expected. We’ve seen our political leaders compared to everything from eggplants to monkeys, and we giddily share the most entertaining ones on our own social media accounts. In fact, a Google search of “Gollum” almost immediately brings up the impish character with George W. Bush’s face superimposed.

Second Nexus
Credit: Source.

But, in Turkey, it is against the law to ridicule the President.

If a man’s freedom didn’t hinge on this debate, it could be considered humorous. But this is no joking matter; comedians, artists and citizens have faced prison sentences and more severe punishments throughout history for satirizing leaders and countries. For example, Shezanne Cassim penned this article in February of 2014 on his 9-month imprisonment, simply for having created a comedic video about the United Arab Emirates. And if the maximum-security time wasn’t bad enough, Cassim is still facing hardships: In April of this year, he sought a pardon and compensation because he was unable to get work due to his time behind bars.

Dr. Ciftci has suffered this hardship in reverse: he was promptly fired once news of his meme went public. He now faces trial under Turkey’s no-ridicule law.

So what happens now? A panel of LOTR experts has been 

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