In a previous posting, we noted in passing that Prime Minister Erdogan is suing seven high school students for publicly calling him “lightbulb Erdogan.” Another student faces a two-year sentence in prison for throwing darts at the Prime Minister’s photograph.
Absurd, but no surprise. Students have been a special target of Turkish authorities in their broad crackdown on dissent. According to the latest figures, Turkey has 2,824 students who have either been charged or have been arrested for offenses ranging from insulting the Prime Minister to holding up banners demanding free education.
Defamation laws have become another bludgeon of the strong against the weak in Turkey. Authorities regularly use lawsuits as a means of silencing opposition. And Erdogan doesn’t just sue students; he sues nearly everyone who in some way criticizes him, whether they are students, newspaper editors, song writers or political cartoonists.
Amnesty International’s recent report on freedom of speech in Turkey states,
The use of defamation laws with the purpose or effect of inhibiting legitimate criticism of government or public officials violates the right to freedom of expression. Amnesty International opposes laws prohibiting insult or disrespect of heads of state or public figures, the military or other public institutions or flags or symbols (such as lèse majesté and desacato laws). Amnesty International also opposes laws criminalizing defamation, whether of public figures or private individuals…
Unless Turkey changes its law criminalizing defamation, the Prime Minister and other government officials will continue to use this law to stifle their critics.
The time is now to end these abuses and bring real reform to Turkey.
Get involved and change is possible!
Chair, Turkey Country Coordination Group
Amnesty International – USA