Is there any other person you trust to decide which ideas and speech you are entitled to hear — or which are too dangerous for you to hear?
Is there any other person you think should have the ability to decide what criticism of the Government is respectful enough?
Would you cede your autonomy to decide what you to hear to a Government? Probably not.
The Turkish government does not agree. Evidently Turkey’s AKP Government in Ankara believes it is fit to be this authority, and not just domestically. Its urge to censor negative press seems to be going global.
The Government of Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Ankara recently summoned the German ambassador to demand the deletion of a satirical music video which highlighted his government’s aggression against the Kurdish people, his brutal repression of protestors, and his weak position on equal rights for women. Turkey also insisted that a German comedian be prosecuted under an obscure German law for insulting the leader of a foreign country.
Turkey seems to be spending more time policing the image of Erdogan abroad than the serious security situation it is facing.
Turkey’s latest authoritarian crackdown on the rights of its citizens to freedom of expression should come as no surprise to anyone who has been following the country’s path towards an increasingly Islamist, authoritarian government.
Erdogan’s renowned thin-skinned government has, in the past two years, opened at least 1,845 cases over insults to the president, such as, for instance, comparing the president to Gollum fromLord of the Rings.
|Last year, Dr. Bilgin Ciftci of Turkey posted photos on Twitter juxtaposing President Erdogan with the fictional character Gollum. Ciftci was immediately fired from the hospital where he worked. Then he was brought to court for insulting Erdogan, an offense punishable by up to four years in prison.
In March, a court placed the newspaper Zaman in the control of state administrators, with no clear reason given, arguably breaching Article Three of the European Convention of Human Rights:
“2. Everyone charged with a criminal offence has the following minimum rights:
“(a) to be informed promptly, in a language which he understands and in detail, of the nature and cause of the accusation against him;”
Zaman has apparently never received information of the charges against it, or the reason for the court order placing its activities and infrastructure under state control — moves breaching further sections of Article 3, which specify the right to be able to “construct a defence”. Without knowing what charges it faces, Zaman is unable to do that.
In addition, Turkey’s World Press Freedom Index ranking has plummeted to 149 out of 180: below Zimbabwe (131) and Burundi (145).
Turkey also continues to imprison possibly the highest number of journalists of any nation — according the Committee to Protect Journalists, the assessed number is 14 out of 199, worldwide. Other sources claim the number is closer to 30, and still others suggest that Turkey has had the greatest number of incarcerated journalists globally.
Whatever the true number, it is shameful that a NATO member, pledged to uphold the values of democracy as a signatory of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), ranks among some of the worst abusers of press freedom, including Iran, China and Saudi Arabia.
The Turkish government led by Erdogan seems to be undergoing a public transformation into an increasingly totalitarian state. Turkey has been abandoning the pro-Western principles of Kemalism and pivoting, with a more oppressive and expansionist outlook, toward Ottoman Islam.
Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu was willing and overtly “proud’ to show solidarity with the massacred Charlie Hebdo satirists in Paris by joining the Marche Republicaine against those who would attack freedom of speech. At home, however, Davutoglu pursues a domestic agenda that not only infringes upon media freedom, but also on the freedoms of individual citizens in fundamental breaches of ECHR legislation. Davutoglu, for example, has suggested women being equal to men causes suicides.
Turkey has also attempted, during Erdogan’s period of governance, to ban both Twitter — for “incit[ing] political dissent” — and YouTube — for “promot[ing] the act of religious defamation (article 216).” Erdogan blocked Twitter during responses to terror attacks and public protests, and attempted to quell any protest against his government.
Under the pretense of “counter terrorism,” Erdogan has repeatedly been attempting to strangle the channels of discussion and the organizing of protests.
In any state claiming that protests are linked to terrorism and blasphemy is unjustifiable. These are classic intimidatory tactics. They illustrate why the West must begin to criticize Erdogan’s regime to a greater extent on its infringement on freedom of speech, rather than to make deals with it.
Had Charlie Hebdo been a Turkish publication, its material would most likely have been branded illegal or brought under state control: it would likely no longer exist.
Despite the ruling by Turkey’s judiciary that Erdogan could not eliminate access to Twitter, he nevertheless continues to advance his agenda of censorship.
This position Erdogan holds, of branding opposition to his regime as blasphemy, creates a religious divide between those who are “pure” and those who are “dangerous.” Further, as mentioned, the notion that an idea is too politically toxic to be discussed contravenes the principles of free speech and freedom of expression that Turkey pledged as a signatory to the European Convention of Human Rights.
Turkey’s lurch to establish its government as some form of unassailable authority beyond questioning again breaches the ECHR, this time Article 9:
“1. Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief, in worship, teaching, practice and observance. “
Turkey is also likely to fall afoul of Article 10 of the ECHR:
“Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers.”
Turkey’s blocking of social media, which targets communication with the outside world, also clearly infringes on the “regardless of frontiers” stipulation.
And finally, Turkey’s actions are also clearly in breach of Article 11
“Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and to freedom of association with others, including the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.”
The European Union and the liberal democracies have remained silent on Turkey’s aggressive campaign against civil liberties. But it is time to stop betraying Turkish liberals, democrats and Kurdish people facing persecution for their views — before it comes “soon to a theater near you.”
Countries in the West sometimes seem to fantasize that Turkey, with half of Istanbul in Europe, can therefore can modernized, be become progressive and work with the West.
They distance themselves and turn a blind eye to the Turkish government’s assaults on human rights. Before Turkey is capitulated to even further, or again considered for membership in the European Union, shining a serious light on the country seems long overdue.
Robbie Travers, a political commentator and consultant, is Executive Director of Agora, former media manager at the Human Security Centre, and a law student at the University of Edinburgh.