Artists in the nation of Turkey may now run the very real risk of being thrown in prison for making and displaying their work. Multiple sources have recently disclosed the situation of artist and journalist Zehra Dogan being sentenced to two years and 10 months in prison for making and sharing a painting of a politically sensitive location that has been the site of bombing by Turkish military forces. Sources indicate that Dogan, who is also an editor at Jinha (full name: Jin Haber Ajansi) a Turkish news agency staffed only by women, was initially arrested in July of 2016 and detained for more than four months. She was accused, on the basis of her journalism and social media posts, of illegal “organization membership,” and “propaganda for the organization.”

A now deleted tweet by Dogan along with the English translation (via bianet)

Though she was eventually acquitted of these charges, Dogan was still sentenced to prison for her painting and her coverage of either the notes or grades of a 10-year-old child — there are conflicting accounts about the latter. Reports say that Dogan had been working in and reporting from the Nusaybin district of Mardin province, a mostly Kurdish region where a strict curfew had been imposed after the district was largely destroyed by government forces. These military campaigns have reportedly been instigated by President Tayyip Erdogan who has implemented a crackdown after last year’s failed military coup. Since then the Turkish government has closed three news agencies, 16 television channels, 45 newspapers, 15 magazines, and 29 publishers, while 47 journalists were ordered detained by police, according to the government’s official news sources. It seems likely that agents of the government suspected Dogan of being a member of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a group that fights for Kurdish rights in Turkey, which the government has labelled a “terrorist organization.”

One of the horrible ironies of this story is that the image which Dogan, who is a graduate of Department of Painting Teaching at Dicle University, somewhat expressionistically rendered was originally taken by state authorities. In Dogan’s painting, the angle of view is the same, with the red swatches of Turkey’s national flag visible on the buildings still left standing, but Dogan has made the camouflaged military vehicles in the foreground into spider-like creatures. It seems from all the reports made on the artist’s arrest and detention that state authorities in Turkey have been empowered to use reporting or art that might embarrass or contradict the government as a pretext for imprisonment.

Seph Rodney, PhD, is a former senior critic and Opinion Editor for Hyperallergic, and is now a regular contributor to it and the New York Times. In 2020, he won the Rabkin Arts Journalism prize and in...