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Expert Witnesses Debate Lord of the Rings Character Gollum in Turkish Criminal Trial

The Washington Post reports on a trial for a doctor in Turkey which provides an interesting use of expert witnesses by asking five experts to discuss the nature of the character Gollum.  The case arose when the defendant shared an internet meme comparing the Turkish president to the creature, potentially committing the crime of insulting the head of state.

Turkish Doctor Compares President to Gollum

Dr Bilgin Çiftçi of the Aegean province of Aydin in Turkey was arrested earlier this year for the crime of insulting a public official when he shared a meme on Facebook which compares Turkey’s president to the J.R.R. Tolkien created character Gollum.  Gollum has been portrayed in Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies as a computer-generated creature with wispy hair, sharp and rotting teeth, large ears, and a pale skinny body shape – an image very few associate with attractive or handsome.  The creature’s mannerisms are barbaric, childlike, and uncivilized, Gollum has been widely considered by many to be an antagonist to the main characters of Tolkien’s story having pursued both Bilbo and Frodo Baggins as they held possession of the One Ring which he desired.  Although Gollum had moments of character conflict which resulted in helpful behavior towards Frodo, many of his actions seem to be driven by a single-minded and evil plan to obtain the Ring for himself, often at the expense of the lives of those who were charged with destroying it.

Given the commonly held negative view of Gollum – particularly in terms of physical appearance and mannerisms – Turkish officials responded to the Facebook post by arresting Dr. Çiftçi and accusing him of insulting the president with a meme which showed three pictures of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan side by side with three pictures of Gollum and text pointing out the similarities.  In response to the accusation, Çiftçi has argued comparing the Turkish president to the creature Gollum is not an insult because Gollum can be viewed as a good guy or even a hero by many fans of the Lord of the Rings series.  To evaluate the quality of this defense the court will rely on testimony from five expert witnesses who will discuss the full implications of a comparison to Gollum.

Expert Witnesses Debate Gollum Comparison

According to Çiftçi he was not insulting President Erdogan when he compared him to Gollum because the character’s position as a villain is questionable.  Çiftçi pointed out that Gollum was most commonly allied with the protagonists in the story as a guide, and even was the one who caused the ring’s destruction – even though he did so inadvertently by biting off Frodo’s finger before falling to his death in the fires of Mount Doom with the ring in hand.  Çiftçi’s attorney asked for the chief judge presiding over the case to provide an analysis of Tolkien’s complex character, and the judge, who admitted he was not familiar with the Lord of the Rings lore, responded by calling for a panel of expert witnesses to evaluate Gollum’s nature.

The panel of experts who will evaluate what is being called “the pride of Gollum” will consist of two academics, two behavioral scientists, and one cinema production expert.  These experts will review all writings and film adaptations associated with J.R.R. Tolkien’s Gollum character and issue an opinion to the Turkish court which will be used to determine whether or not Çiftçi’s Facebook post will be considered an insult punishable by jail time.

High Stakes in Gollum Expert Witness Analysis

Gollum’s character died in 1955’s Return of the King, and Tolkien followed in 1973, so the outcome of Turkey’s Gollum expert analysis will not matter to those whose character is under question.  However, for Dr. Çiftçi the analysis will be critically important.  If the Gollum expert witness panel determines the comparison was insulting the doctor faces up to two years in a Turkish prison.  Although prosecution for comparing a president to a fictional character is a strange concept here in the US, the Erdogan administration has developed a notorious reputation for aggressively pursuing citizens who insult him with 105 indictments for the crime of insulting the head of state since August of 2014.

Commenting on use of expert witnesses outside of the American legal system is not common, but this case – while humorous to some respect – highlights the necessary variety of expert opinions in trials across the globe.