The pernicious logic of Turkey’s petty charges against free speech

The offending image

The offending image

If the escalating war on the Gülen Movement, dominated recent news from Turkey, it was also marked by lesser items which highlight the dire straits of Turkish human rightsA protester in Samsun was charged with “insulting the Turkish flag” for carrying a banner with a cartoon from the New York Times that showed President Erdogan slicing from a doner emblazoned with the Turkish flag.  A Turkish professor, Elifhan Köse, was sentenced to 11 months for insulting then Prime Minister Erdogan.  In Izmir, the case against Filiz Akıncı, accused of giving Mr. Erdogan the finger, continues.  A lawyer who had – unsuccessfully – attempted to defend two Turkish citizens from defamation charges for insulting Mr. Erdogan is, himself, now facing a probe on the same charges.

These cases are not, of course, new.  Continue reading

Posted in Erdogan, Freedom of Expression, Press Freedom | Tagged , , ,

Friday notes: Gulen Crackdown, Maras, and some good news regarding Pinar Selek

Some brief notes from Turkish human rights news:

Zaman editor-in-chief Ekrem Dumanlı is seen being escorted into a hospital for health screening early on Thursday. (Photo: Today's Zaman, Selahattin Sevi)

Zaman editor-in-chief Ekrem Dumanlı is seen being escorted into a hospital for health screening early on Thursday. (Photo: Today’s Zaman, Selahattin Sevi)

1. Zaman’s Editor-in-Chief Ekrem Dumanlı was released from custody due to lack of evidence, according to press accounts.  Four others, including Samanyolu TV General Manager, Hidayet Karaca, will be held pending trial.  As Amnesty has noted, extended pre-trial detentions have been a serious problem in Turkey.  For example, “Ahmet Şık and Nedim Şener were released after 375 days of pre-trial detention.” Like the current case against Gülen supporters, the Ergenekon case envisioned a massive plot to overthrow the government and raised serious concerns regarding basic judicial fairness.  For many observers, including some in the movement itself, the irony that the Gülen Movement aggressively supported the Ergenekon trials has not been lost.  This fact does not change the basic standards of human rights that we all must uphold. It is with this in mind that Ahmet Şık, one of the most vociferous critics of the Gülen Movement, has been so critical of these recent arrests.

2.  Media reports indicate that commemorations of the 1978 Massacre in Kahramanmaraş have been banned by the local governor.  Such bans have been a perennial problem in this provincial city, but reflect the casual limitations on freedom of expression which still plague Turkish public discourse.  As Bilgin Ayata and Serra Hakyemez have argued,  the AKP, which has been remarkably willing to open up discussion of some horrific chapters in Turkey’s history (most notably Dersim), have nonetheless, been extremely selective (and instrumentalist) in their choices.  Crimes such as those Maraş, in 1978, or in Sivas, in 1993, which might implicate their own devout Sunni base, are much less likely to be seriously addressed.  Worse, the government continues to actively stifle debate, investigation, and remembrance of many of these crimes.

3. And finally, some very, very good news.  Minutes ago, a Turkish court acquitted Pinar Selek for the fourth time.  Let’s hope that this marks the end of a tragic, Kafkaesque trial that has haunted her life for seventeen years.

Howard Eissenstat
St. Lawrence University

Posted in Amnesty International, Freedom of Expression, Impunity, Minorities, Press Freedom | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Dark Days Ahead: Thinking about Turkey’s Tear Gas Purchase

A television capture of raid in June

A television capture of raid in June

I have been going over a number in my head these past few days.  1.9 million.  That, according to Amnesty International, is the number of tear gas canisters and gas grenades that Turkey has ordered from a South Korean manufacturer for 2015.

Given the sorry record of Turkish security forces misusing such weapons, Amnesty has issued an urgent plea to the South Koreans, asking them to suspend the sale.  After all, Turkish police routinely – and illegally – use tear gas canisters as projectiles, often resulting in serious injury and sometimes, as in the case of Berkin Elvan, fatally.  During the Gezi protests of 2013, hundreds and perhaps thousands were injured in this way. In its landmark report on the Gezi crackdown, Amnesty notes:

Police officers were repeatedly seen firing tear gas canisters horizontally at suspected demonstrators as a weapon. A significant proportion of persons injured at the scene of demonstrations received injuries through being struck by gas canisters, many of them fired at close range. The Human Rights Foundation of Turkey reported to Amnesty International that of the applications for rehabilitation made to their foundation, 60% were due to injuries caused by gas canisters…

Berkin Elvan

Berkin Elvan

Continue reading

Posted in Amnesty International, Erdogan, Excessive Force, Freedom of Assembly, Freedom of Association, Freedom of Expression, Gezi Park, Press Freedom, Taksim, Turkey | Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

Çarşı on trial: Turkey’s war on dissent takes a tragicomic turn

2006-05-24_143203_carsiIt would be funny if it weren’t so tragic.  In their determination to root out all opposition, Turkish authorities today called members of the soccer fan club, Çarşı, to court under the same broadly phrased anti-terror statutes that were employed against members of the Gülen movement on Sunday and against countless others in recent years.

There are many things that one can say about soccer fans, but the idea that they represent an organization dedicated to the violent overthrow of the state crosses into the realm of the absurd. 

There was a circus-like atmosphere to parts of the proceedings. Cem  Yakiskan, one of the group’s leaders, joked, “If we had the power to stage a coup, we would have made Besiktas champions” to applause and cheers in the courtroom. The prosecutor’s evidence for the indictment included the fact that one of the defendants ordered “meatballs and pizza” for people attending the protests.

Yet the absurdity of this court case should not hide the serious threat that such prosecutions represent. Continue reading

Posted in Amnesty International, Erdogan, Freedom of Assembly, Freedom of Expression, Gezi Park, Press Freedom, Taksim, Turkey | Tagged , , , , , , , ,

Amnesty: Arrests in Turkey continue pattern of criminalizing dissent

Police officers entered the building to detain Ekrem Dumanlı and were met by staff from the newspaper who held posters that read 'Free media can not be silenced!' (Photo: Today's Zaman)

Police officers entered the building to detain Ekrem Dumanlı and were met by staff from the newspaper who held posters that read ‘Free media can not be silenced!’ (Photo: Today’s Zaman)

In a public statement issued today, Amnesty International urged “Turkish authorities  to release journalists detained in a wave of arrests yesterday, unless they have credible evidence that they have committed a recognisably criminal offence.”

The statement noted with concern that the arrests had targeted “senior journalists in a section of the media that has played a leading role in covering allegations of corruption by government officials, [raising] serious questions about the authorities’ motivation for their detention.”

Continue reading

Posted in Amnesty International, Freedom of Expression, Press Freedom, Turkey | Tagged , , , , , , ,

Amnesty International calls on South Korea: Stop tear gas shipments to Turkey!

Amnesty International has issued an urgent call to South Korea to “stop the planned shipment of massive amounts of tear gas to Turkey, where the security forces have frequently abused riot control equipment amid repression of peaceful protests.”

© Eren Aytuğ / NarPhotos — with Safiye Karaer.  Used by permission

© Eren Aytuğ / NarPhotos — with Safiye Karaer. Used by permission

Continue reading

Posted in Amnesty International, Excessive Force, Impunity | Tagged , , , , , ,

New wave of attacks target journalists in Turkey

News reports this morning describe large scale police operations across Turkey today.  The main target appears to be media associated with the influential Gulenist movement, once an important part of the AKP coalition, but, for the past year, targeted by President Erdogan as a treasonous “parallel state.

As journalist Yesim Comert tweeted this morning, Turkey has, with the arrests this morning, regained its position as “the country with the largest number of detained journalists in the world.”

Continue reading

Posted in Amnesty International, Freedom of Expression, Press Freedom | Tagged , , , ,

Compelling video updates story of Hakan Yaman, brutally beaten during the Gezi Protests

Amnesty International has released a compelling video interview with Hakan Yaman, who was brutally beaten during the Gezi Protests in 2013. The interview occurred during a tour of several European countries, which allowed Hakan to meet with Amnesty staff and activists, government officials, and participate in public events.

Hakan, the father of two,  is one of the thousands of victims of shocking police violence which Amnesty  described in its ground-breaking report on the suppression of freedom in Turkey during the Gezi protests. Mistaken for a protester, he was attacked by police who beat him, and dragged him on top of a street fire.  As a last piece of brutality, one police officer gouged one of his eyes out before leaving him for dead. Continue reading

Posted in Amnesty International, Excessive Force, Gezi Park, Impunity, Turkey | Tagged , , , ,

The Pinar Selek Case: The “Ground Hog Day Prosecution”

Bill Murray and unnamed groundhog in Groundhog Day (1993)

Bill Murray and unnamed groundhog in Groundhog Day (1993)

One of the great romantic comedies of my youth was Groundhog Day, the story of a misanthrope news reporter doomed to repeat the same awful day over and over again until he got it right.

The news today that a Turkish prosecutor has reopened the case against Pinar Selek  shows that the Turkish justice system is similarly caught in a tragic loop of bad choices.  With the prosecution once again demanding a life sentence for Selek, the judicial system doesn’t seem very close to getting it right either.

But that’s where the comparison ends.  There’s nothing funny about this continued judicial travesty.

Pinar Selek

Pinar Selek

Continue reading

Posted in Turkey | Tagged , , , , , , , ,

Urgent Action Issued in case of conscientious objector Haluk Selam Tufanlı [Updated 12 December]

Amnesty International has issued an Urgent Action in the case of Haluk Selam Tufanlı, a conscientious objector who this week was imprisoned by a military court in Northern Cyprus after he refused to take part in a one-day military training in 2011.

Conscientious Objector  Haluk Selam Tufanlı

Conscientious Objector Haluk Selam Tufanlı

Tufanlı had already carried out his compulsory military service ‘under duress’ in 2009-10. In December, 2011, he declared his conscientious objection.  Since declaring his conscientious objection, he has refused to present himself every year for the mobilization call. Military court proceedings for his refusal to take part in the military training in 2012, 2013 and 2014 have not yet began.

Amnesty International considers Haluk Selam Tufanlı to be a prisoner of conscience imprisoned solely on the basis of him exercising his right to conscientious objection to compulsory military service and calls for his immediate and unconditional release.

Take action NOW!

For information on how to take action in English, click here.

For information in Turkish, including an online mailing form, click here.

UPDATE 12 December 2014

Amnesty has received word that Tufanlı was released from prison on 12 December. No further action is required at this time.  Many thanks to those who sent appeals.

Speaking by phone to Amnesty, Tufanlı said:

The judge told me I have the right to a defence, which I used, stating my conscientious objection, and then disregarded my defence in his verdict. We will take this to the European Court of Human Rights….I am well, and confident in the fact that this struggle for recognition of conscientious objection as a right is taking place around the World and that one day, we will win.

Posted in Northern Cyprus, Prisoner of Conscience, Urgent Action | Tagged , , ,