Artist flees Turkey after brush with leader

An artist who was cleared of mocking Turkey's prime minister by portraying him as a dog in a collage has fled the country after hearing his acquittal has been overturned.

Michael Dickinson, 59, returned home to County Durham after hearing a late-night TV report last week saying the acquittal had been quashed and a new trial was pending.

"I was shocked. I couldn't believe it. I was told by a woman, whose husband had seen it, and I said 'He must be dreaming'," he said.

"I caught a plane out as soon as I could, leaving most of my possessions behind, including my books, furnishings and computer.

"I was sad to leave after 23 years in Turkey, but I don't fancy another taste of Turkish hospitality in incarceration."

Mr Dickinson is expecting the trial to go ahead in his absence where his lawyer will represent him.

In September the artist was cleared by a court in Istanbul after a judge decided the controversial collage of Tayyip Erdogan was art and not insulting.

The piece, called Good Boy, showed Mr Erdogan as a dog with a stars and stripe leash and nuclear missile tail.

The Turkish court said that although Mr Dickinson's work "had some insulting elements" it could be considered within the limits of criticism and he was acquitted.

In 2006 Mr Dickinson exhibited a collage entitled Best in Show depicting the Turkish PM as a dog receiving a rosette from President Bush.

Mr Dickinson, who is originally from County Durham, is now staying with friends in the Consett area.

"I came back thinking I would be safe, but I've since learnt that Britain has an extradition treaty with Turkey and that if there was a request, Britain could send me back to Turkey if they so wished," he said.

"I initially thought this was out of the question, but a number of highly unlikely and controversial extraditions have occurred, so I can't say I even feel secure now in the land of my birth and the land supposedly of free speech.

"There have been controversial and unlikely extraditions, even to countries where it's known that torture is used.

"I would love to return to Turkey, but I would want to do so after being acquitted, not forced to return to face trial.

"It has been a nightmare. There is just one judge in the court and he decides. There is no jury system."

Charles Thomson, co-founder of the Stuckist art movement of which Dickinson is a member, has campaigned on his behalf.

He added: "It seems when the media spotlight is on, Turkey becomes remarkably tolerant, and when the international press go away, so do human rights."