The publisher of the popular Turkish cartoon magazine Gırgır has shut down the publication because of a cartoon it ran featuring Moses, Agence France-Presse (AFP) reports. The publisher also announced it would file criminal complaints against the magazine staffers responsible for the cartoon.

The controversial image shows the Biblical prophet walking in the desert with his followers; Moses brags about parting the Red Sea while the others’ lambast him with curse words. “You fucked our brain along the road,” says one character, using a Turkish slang expression, according to a Hyperallergic translator. “Since you have the power, you could fight with the army instead of splitting the sea. Anyway, I don’t want to start a conversation.” The cartoon sparked an outcry on social media, drawing criticism from both Jewish and Muslim communities in Turkey (Moses is a central figure in the Quran). The publisher of the Istanbul Jewish weekly Şalom tweeted, “What a disgrace! What disrespect!” and İbrahim Kalın, the spokesman for President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s office, tweeted: “The name for this is not humor and freedom of the speech, but indecency and hate crime. I strongly condemn this disrespect to sanctity.”

Gırgır‘s publisher first responded to the uproar by issuing an apology, saying the cartoon “was not noticed before printing because of tiredness and insomnia.” But the decision to close the weekly magazine was not far behind: on February 17, the publisher announced on social media that Gırgır would be shut down and all of its staff laid off. “The cartoon has disturbed society and disturbed us as a publishing company,” the statement said. The publisher added that it would file criminal complaints against the magazine staffers who were responsible, accusing them of “malicious intent” and an attempt to harm the company with the cartoon, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

Gırgır takes its name from one of Turkey’s oldest humor magazines. The original publication ran from 1972 to 1993 and peaked in popularity in the 1970s, when its circulation reached up to 450,000. The magazine was temporarily banned by the government after the 1980 military coup and never recovered. A new Gırgır was launched by a new publisher in 2008, and since 2015 has been distributed for free with Sözcü, a newspaper that’s known for being critical of Erdoğan and the ruling Justice and Development Party.

That criticism is increasingly rare in Turkey. Since the coup attempt that threatened his government last July, Erdoğan has been cracking down severely on publications and journalists, closing more than 100 media outlets and jailing and prosecuting journalists, editors, and publishers. The behavior, however, isn’t entirely recent; a CPJ report from 2012 detailed “Turkey’s Press Freedom Crisis” five years ago. The lead researcher on it, Özgür Öğret, has been authoring a weekly “Turkey Crackdown Chronicle” on CPJ’s blog since March 2016. He covered the closing of Gırgır in last week’s post, noting that the Küçükçekmece Prosecutors’ Office in Istanbul has begun investigating the magazine “on suspicion it had ‘abused the religious values adopted by a part of the people.’”

Cartoon text translation by Cihan Küçük

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Jillian Steinhauer

Jillian Steinhauer is a former senior editor of Hyperallergic. She writes largely about the intersection of art...