Free speech remains under attack in Turkey…
ISTANBUL- Journalist Nicholas Birch has this article out on the persecution faced by Turkish journalists.
A signatory of the European Convention on Human Rights, which enshrines the right to freedom of opinion and expression, Turkey was subject to heavy Western criticism in 2006 and 2007, when leading Turkish novelists Orhan Pamuk and Elif Safak were charged with “insulting Turkishness.” [For background see EurasiaNet’s archive].
The West lost interest when the celebrity novelists’ trials ended in acquittal. Yet, as the flurry of recent media trials shows, journalists still face prosecution for doing their job. Indeed, there is evidence that courts are interpreting existing laws more stringently these days.
Western reporters in Turkey are essentially free to report whatever they want in Turkey, but the story is much different for local journalists, who face regular intimidation, threats, attacks, and arrests. 18 journalists have been murdered in Turkey since 1992.
This is similar to many other countries I have visited. Nepal, for instance, is one of the most dangerous places in the world for local journalists yet foreign reporters are rarely at risk. The local journalists are writing in the population’s local language and often times with a particular slant that may not be in line with the local political or business powers.
Turkey is different as it has very strict anti-terrorism laws. There are the legal measures in place to prosecute journalists for writing anything that is “insulting to Turkishness” or that a judge finds might incite terrorism.
From Birch’s article:
Reporter Irfan Aktan quoted Piling, a member of the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, a Kurdish rebel group that has been fighting the Turkish state since 1984, in a long article he published last September in a Turkish magazine about divisions within the PKK between hawks and doves.
“He points to the hand grenades strapped to his belt. ‘There is no point in talking. These should do the talking,'” Aktan wrote, quoting Piling.
In early June, an Istanbul court found Aktan guilty of “making propaganda for a terror organization” and sentenced him first to 18 months. Later, because he had been “well-behaved” in court, the sentenced was reduced to 15 months.
Aktan’s use of Piling’s statements, the judge ruled — along with quotes from another PKK member, and mention of a pro-PKK magazine — constituted a “clear incitement to violence.” The court ordered the magazine that published the piece, Express, to pay a fine of 16,000 lira (about $10,000).
Given that Turkey is still insisting it aspires to join the European Union and will uphold those rights and freedoms, the consistent persecution of journalists and writers must stop. Progress and change only come when there is the ability for dialogue and a free press is the most basic part of beginning that. Turkey may be growing economically strong and increasing its global power, but before it can be the nation it aspires to be it must first look to creating a space where dialogue and free speech are possible.