Geneva rejects Turkish request to remove picture of slain teen

A visitor looks at a picture by photographer Demir Sonmez, showing a banner in support of teenager Berkin Elvan, during an exhibition on the Place des Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, on April 26, 2016.
A visitor looks at a picture by photographer Demir Sonmez, showing a banner in support of teenager Berkin Elvan, during an exhibition on the Place des Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, on April 26, 2016. PHOTO: REUTERS
Photographer Demir Sonmez poses in front of his picture, taken during a demonstration on March 14, 2014 and showing a banner in support of teenager Berkin Elvan.
Photographer Demir Sonmez poses in front of his picture, taken during a demonstration on March 14, 2014 and showing a banner in support of teenager Berkin Elvan. PHOTO: REUTERS
Geneva's Place des Nations has become ground zero in the latest freedom of expression battle between Turkey and the West. The Swiss government is not bending to pressure from Turkey.

GENEVA (AFP) - Authorities in Geneva on Tuesday (April 26) rejected a Turkish request to remove an exhibition picture that blames President Recep Tayyip Erdogan for the death of a Turkish teen injured during anti-government demonstrations.

The picture depicts Berkin Elvan, who spent 269 days in a coma after being hit in the head by a police tear gas canister during the anti-government protests that rocked Istanbul in May-June 2013.

He died in hospital in March 2014, aged 15, with his story galvanising opposition to Erdogan's government and the heavy-handed tactics used by the police.

Turkey had asked Geneva's government to remove the picture of Elvan displayed in a photography exhibition across the street from the United Nations complex.

The exhibition was supported by the city and press freedom group Reporters Without Borders.

In a statement, Geneva said it was "committed to freedom of expression" and would "maintain its authorisation for this exhibition", which runs until May 1.

The display of 58 photographs showcases the work of Demir Sonmez, a Swiss citizen of Kurdish and Armenian origin, who told AFP his objective was to highlight "the multiple struggles of the people."

The contentious photograph depicts Elvan with a caption underneath that reads: "My name is Berkin Elvan. The police killed me, on the order of Turkey's prime minister."

Erdogan was prime minister when Elvan was injured on his way to buy bread during the so-called Gezi Park protests.

In an email to AFP, the Turkish consulate in Geneva insisted that Ankara respects "freedom of choice for the artist", but claimed the image was "unfair and unrealistic" with respect to Erdogan's role in Elvan's story.

The picture also caused "displeasure in the Turkish community in Geneva," the email said.

Elvan's death was followed by mass nationwide protests that were also largely put down by the police.