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Turkey court orders conditional release of cartoonist

Cartoonist Nuri Kurtcebe was sentenced to 14 months last year for insulting President Erdogan
Thousands of Turks have been charged with insulting Erdogan (AFP)

A Turkish court on Tuesday ordered the conditional release of one of the most prominent cartoonists in the country, a day after he was jailed to serve a 14-month sentence for insulting President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, local media reported.

Nuri Kurtcebe, 69, was detained and taken to prison on Monday after police found him on a bus travelling in the northwestern Turkish city of Yalova. 

But his lawyer Erdem Akyuz told local media that a tribunal ruled on Tuesday evening that the cartoonist should be released on probation.

"My client Nuri Kurtcebe will resume his work, his drawings and his cartoons after having been deprived of his pencils and ink for two days," Akyuz was quoted as saying by the private Dogan news agency.

Kurtcebe had been handed the jail term last year for several caricatures he drew in 2015, but he launched an appeal and remained free pending the ruling. 

His lawyer said earlier on Tuesday that authorities were enforcing the sentence after an appeal was turned down by an upper court.

"What's recognised all over the world is that artists express their work freely and that politicians, compared to others, are more tolerant to criticism," Akyuz had said.

It is not clear in the court's ruling which cartoons were the source of the charges, according to Akyuz.

Kurtcebe, whose daily cartoons were published in the Aydinlik newspaper, also drew for a number of publications including Hurriyet and opposition Cumhuriyet newspapers as well as satirical magazine Girgir.

Musa Kart, a Cumhuriyet cartoonist sentenced to almost four years in jail in April on charges of aiding "terrorist organisations" along with several other staff, lashed out at the court's verdict.

"It seems that the ruling party has not yet given up on its idea of neutralising cartoonists with prison sentences," he told Cumhuriyet.

Turkey is heading for parliamentary and presidential elections on 24 June when Erdogan is seeking a new mandate under newly expanded powers.

Thousands of Turks, from a top model to high school students, have been prosecuted on charges of insulting Erdogan since he became president in 2014. The crackdown intensified after a failed coup in 2016.

Polls show that Erdogan may fall short of reaching the majority he needs to win the presidential election in the first round. However, the Turkish president is expected to gain a majority in the second round two weeks later, a survey by pollster SONAR showed on Tuesday.

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