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Hey Lord of the Ring Fans, Turkish Courts Need a Gollum Expert!

By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on December 02, 2015 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Can you speak Elvish? Know Middle Earth like the back of your hand? Do you believe that Gollum might actually be the hero of The Lord of the Rings series after all? Well, the Turkish court system needs your help!

Dr. Bilgin Çiftçi is currently facing jail time for posting a meme online comparing Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan with The Lord of the Ring's Gollum. But it seems no one in the Turkish legal system is familiar with the incredibly popular books and film franchise. That's where you come in.

We Wants It, We Needs It. Must Have a Gollum Expert

For those of you, like the chief judge and prosecutor in Çiftçi's case, who aren't familiar with Gollum, here's a brief intro: In J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle Earth novels, Gollum was once a hobbit named Smeagol, corrupted and turned into "a small, slimy creature" by his obsession with a magical ring and the unlimited power it represents. (Metaphor, anyone?)

He's both a loveable and repugnant character -- and he's at least somewhat responsible for helping prevent the end of the world. It's that duality that's at issue in Çiftçi's prosecution. Is the comparison of Erdogan to Gollum an insult, or something more nuanced?

Few people involved in Çiftçi's case seem familiar enough with The Lord of the Rings to answer that question. (Surprised? We are. The novels are the second best-selling books ever, behind only A Tale of Two Cities; the movie franchise has earned almost $3 billion.) According to Today's Zaman, an English language Turkish newspaper:

The chief judge gave the decision after Hicran Danisman, a lawyer representing Çiftçi, asked him whether or not he had seen the movie series "The Lord of the Rings." Saying that he had seen only seen parts of them, the chief judge postponed the hearing until Feb. 13, 2016. Danisman stated in a previous hearing that neither the prosecutor nor the chief judge had seen the movies, even though the character of Gollum was at the center of the case.

They'll need several experts, too. The judge wants a panel of two academics, two behavioral scientists or psychologists, and an expert on cinema and TV.

Maybe a Free Speech Expert Too?

As amusing and befuddling as the situation might be, let's not forget what Çiftçi is being prosecuted for: posting a funny picture online. Çiftçi has already been expelled from the Public Health Institution of Turkey and is currently facing up to two years imprisonment for the crime of "insulting a statesman."

Indeed, Turkey, has long had a tenuous relationship with civil rights and free speech. For decades it had banned the letters Q, W, and X. Really. And a recent EU report has accused Erdogan's government of "serious backsliding" on the rule of law, free speech, and an independent judiciary. It's almost, some would say, a bit slimy.

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