Gollum wasn’t all that bad, right?
Believe it or not, the question at hand is a major point of contention in a Turkish libel case.
Bilgin Çiftçi, a physician from southern Turkey, posted on Facebook a picture comparing the infamous "Lord of the Rings" character, Gollum, formerly known as Sméagol, to Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
In the Middle Eastern country, insulting a public figure is a crime, and in recent years, censorship has intensified. Out of 180 countries on the World Press Freedom Index, Turkey ranks 149th.
Following his posting in September that possibly pokes fun at Mr. Erdoğan’s facial expressions, Dr. Çiftçi was fired from his job at the Public Health Institution of Turkey.
Then, as reported by NBC News, an anonymous source complained about the Facebook post to a local prosecutor, who pursued the case.
But in the Aydın 3rd Criminal Court Tuesday, the defendant’s attorney, Hicran Danışman, found out that chief judge Murat Saz had only seen snippets of the film adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s magnum opus.
Unable to thoroughly assess the nature of Gollum’s character, the judge ordered a panel of five experts to investigate whether an allusion to the grotesque and evil-ring-obsessed creature constitutes as an insult.
"I am very surprised by the decision of the judge," Mr. Danışman said.
According to Today’s Zaman, a Turkish paper, Çiftçi never believed Gollum was a bad character. The group of experts include two scholars, two behavioral scientists or psychologists, and an expert of film and TV.
In the story, Gollum is a ghoulish cave dweller with a magic ring-induced case of split-personality disorder and a love for rabbit. In perpetual anguish over losing the eponymous “Precious" ring, Gollum agrees to help Frodo Baggins in his tumultuous quest to destroy it. Along the way, Frodo’s kindness brings out the softer side of Gollum – Sméagol, his former self, an innocuous hobbit before he came into possession of the ring.
Despite his grotesque hunting habits and a tendency to fat-shame Frodo’s right-hand man, Samwise Gamgee, Gollum ultimately delivers his promise of leading the two protagonists to Mount Doom, where he and the ring both fall to their demise into a river of evil-exterminating lava.
Under Erdoğan’s decade-long reign, crackdowns on media have become rampant, his critics say, pointing to the slew of pro-opposition newspapers and TV outlets that have been raided and dozens of journalists arrested.
In the first half of 2015, Turkey was responsible for 60 percent of all the requests to Twitter to remove posts, and has blocked more than 6,000 websites.
But government officials are quick to dismiss claims of tyrannical censorship.
“About press freedom in Turkey, everybody sees the insults made against our president, [our political party], and me on the press and in the election campaigns,” Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, said in a statement regarding the raid of a TV station in October.
“Everybody expresses their opinions freely,” he added.
As for opinions involving Gollum? The world will have to wait and see. Judge Saz has adjourned the case until next February, when he will make a decision based on the testimony of the "Lord of the Rings" experts. If convicted, Çiftçi faces a sentence of up to two years.