Turkish punks jailed for social satire

From The Guardian, April 9:

Five Turkish punk rockers and their agent face up to 18 months in jail for insult after a bureaucrat took offence at their song criticising the country’s unpopular university entrance exam.

The head of Turkey’s central examination board, OSYM, Unal Yarimagan reportedly smiled when he first saw a clip of “OSYM, Kiss My Arse” by Deli (mad), a group from the western city of Bursa.

“I’m a tolerant person, but that didn’t stop me doing my duty and checking it wasn’t breaking any laws,” he said. Last month, an Ankara prosecutor said it was, and a court case is due to begin on May 2.

“It’s ridiculous,” says the lead singer and lyricist, Cengiz Sari, 24. “I was 17 when I wrote that song. I was just your typical rebellious teenager.”

Sensitivity to criticism is a common trait of Turkey’s great and good. Since March 2005, when the prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, sued a cartoonist who portrayed him as a cat tangled in wool, he is believed to have earned at least £100,000 in damages.

Turkey’s understanding of freedom of expression surfaced again last month when a judge ordered the website YouTube to be blocked. YouTube has a central role to play in Deli’s story. Until last June, few had heard of the band. It was then that a fan uploaded a clip of himself lip-synching his way through OSYM. “Let me tell you something:/ screw your exam system,” Hako mouthed over a sound track reminiscent of the Sex Pistols.

Posted days before 1.5 million Turkish teenagers took the much-criticised university entrance exam, Hako was an overnight sensation.

See our last posts on Turkey and its free speech struggles.