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Assaults Against Freedom of Expression in Turkey


After the mid 2000’s, with the ongoing economic crisis in Europe, Turkey’s accession to Europe has become a side issue and in response, the current ruling party AKP (Justice and Development Party of Recep Tayyip Erdo?an) had become strongly committed to its Islamist-nationalist roots rather than to a wider liberal coalition aiming at defeating the central role that the Turkish military had traditionally pursued in politics.
In mid 2000s, the articles 301 and 216 in Turkish Penal Code (insulting Turkishness, the Republic and the National Assembly of Turkey should be sentenced to up to 3 years of imprisonment) served as an instrument of intimidation particularly against those dissidents critical towards Turkish rejectionism of Armenian genocide and rights of the Kurds as a specific national entity. As well as other dissidents, Hrant Dink was convicted by 301 in a court in Istanbul, his victimhood was reinforced with the deliberate false interpretation of his own words in the supreme court in Ankara just before his assassination.
In 2005, the new Turkish Penal Code (TCK) and the Code of Criminal Procedures (CMK) were enacted. Then in 2006, Anti-Terror Law (TMK) was amended. The new structuring of the criminal law enabled fanatically politicised police elements, prosecutors and judges to associate various forms of political activism with terror. For example, article 220 of TCK enforces punishment of “organized crime”. According to the terms of 220, not only the founders and members of a criminal organization but also those who “propogandize” towards its aim are convicted with “organized crime”. TMK immediately links any “criminal act” to “terror”. Then, with article 7 of TMK, “those who join meetings and demonstrations ‘transformed’ to the propaganda of terrorist organization”, “those adopting symbols and chanting slogans implying his membership of the terrorist organization”, should be convicted with terror crime. Moreover, “if those crimes are committed within buildings, offices, clubs, dormitories, schools and their subsidiary units belonging to associations, foundations, political parties or labor and trade unions, the terms of punishment is doubled.” By article 250 of CMK, “organized crime” is under the jurisdiction of Special Courts (which had been transformed in year 2004 from fascistic State Security Courts of the last two decades with all its files and staff). With CMK article 100 and 102, “strong suspicion” rather than “evidence” is sufficient for arrestment and the suspect can be kept detained for up to three years. The so-called third amendment to judicial law in 2012 did not improve this system that encompasses “political activism” under “terrorism” and practically implements detention as extrajudicial punishment rather than as a precaution against crime.
Now in Turkey, with police raids and mass arrestments accelerating particularly after 2009, according to BDP (Peace and Democracy Party), more than 7000 Kurdish politicians, activist and opinion leaders are kept detained for what is publicly known as KCK (Kurdistan Union of Communities) lawsuit, most of the defendants refusing to plead before the court since their right to defense in native tongue has been denied by the Turkish judicial system.
After the dramatic hunger strikes of thousands of KCK prisoners which lasted for over sixty days in October-November 2012 (which was stopped after a call from the imprisoned Kurdish leader Öcalan), now the amendment for defense in mother tongue has passed, there is an impending fourth amendment to judicial law, and Öcalan’s confinement may be eased to allow him communicate and steer a peace process.
The authoritarian police-jurisdiction system consolidated after 2011 election victory of AKP as well as the repressive political atmosphere in the country had grim consequences over college students and academics as well. In 2012, The Solidarity Initiative for Detained Students (TODI) was able to get hold of more than 700 students kept arrested for terrorist allegations with and without indictment. This figure can easily go above thousands when the younger high school students and those being tried without detention are included. KCK detainees constitute the vast majority, however all leftists are the ordinary target. TODI classifies 15 selected group and individual court cases. The stories are not any different from the relatively public case of Cihan K?rm?z?gül, a student of Galatasaray University in Istanbul. Cihan was arrested after a terrorist Molotov bomb attack to a grocery causing property loss, without any solid evidence indicating his involvement in the act. Soon, although the eye witnessing police failed to identify him, he was kept arrested for 25 months being denied of his rights to education and then he was sentenced to 11 years and 3 months imprisonment. His lawyers, who also have been his professors in the university claimed that this was not a case against “terror” but was a case against “pu?i”, the traditional scarf that he was wearing on the day he was arrested, which symbolically connects any person to Kurdish, middle-eastern identity. The same court previously held the case of Hrant Dink’s assassination. Those who were not able to grasp any element of an “organization” in Hrant’s case were skillful in individually connecting Cihan to a “terrorist organization”.
It is not only the authoritarian jurisdiction but the repressive higher education system that makes life painful for a politically conscious young individual. Turkish universities are governed by a central authoritarian institution located in Ankara, namely the Higher Education Council (YOK) which was established after the military coup in 1980. The university bureaucracy is predominantly appointed by YOK. Figures revealed in 2012 in the National Assembly in Ankara show that in 2010 and 2011, more than 7000 students were held subject to YOK’s disciplinary proceedings, more than 4000 were temporarily debarred of their rights to education and 55 were expulsed. In many universities, the repressive university elite even deny the rights of their students to take their exams during their imprisonment, falling far behind the Turkish code of criminal execution.
The academics had become a target of the increasingly repressive regime as well. During the police raids and mass arrestments targeting Ergenekon, the alleged terrorist organization of deep-state elements which had been active in organizing paramilitary activities against Kurdish liberation movement during 1990s, well known senior intellectuals were arrested as well. The same organization is charged for plotting a military coup against AKP in 2003-2004 with involvement of over ten writers and academics now being tried for their conspiracy. Ergenekon lawsuit is open for more than four years, some of the accused are kept detained for three years, and some seniors face significantly declining health conditions yet without any court verdict. Ergenekon and other cases decreeing military intervention plans (such as Balyoz) were first welcomed by a large social coalition but now the hope for a just resolution fades as public becomes more convinced that the trials are actually aiming at political cooptation of masses and the opponents’ defeat rather than peace and justice.
The repressive atmosphere is targeting particularly the academics in social sciences who had been working on critical issues mostly related to the Kurdish question. In June 2012, the Transnational Work Group on Academic Liberty and Freedom of Research in Turkey (GIT) has published its report on violation of rights in the academia. The report cites cases of Professor Bü?ra Ersanl? and Deniz Zarakolu, who were accused for conspiracy with terrorism for their involvement in the politics academy of the legal Kurdish party BDP and were arrested in 2011. Ersanl? was released after eight months detention and both are being tried in the KCK lawsuit. The report cites the difficulties that the dissident academics faced in promotion and appointment in their institutions. Apart from numerous routine discipline proceedings that occur in various universities in Turkey, Nesrin Uçarlar and Özgür Sevgi Göral were particularly intimidated by various means by several institutions for their research and opinion on Kurdish cultural and political rights. Onur Hamzao?lu, a professor of public health was held subject to lawsuits and disciplinary proceedings since he shared solid findings of his research on industrial toxic wastes and their carcinogenic impact in a township colloquially known as “carcino-city”, which hosts an industrial complex. Beyza Üstün, a professor of environmental engineering was publicly intimidated by the minister of hydraulic works for her vocal position against water development projects that robs water from people and environment for the benefit of corporations. In some universities, deunionization of labor has become the norm and labor-friendly academics had become the target of ruling elite.
Recently, the Higher Education Council (YOK) has prepared a Higher Education Law Draft, which reinforces its stronghold over higher education with specific amendments allowing for political and private sector participation and mechanisms for corporate accreditation in research and education. If the new law is enacted, flexible employment and performance based renumeration of academic will become the norm. Moreover, higher education will be transformed to a market open to profit seeking corporations.
Recently, when Recep Tayyip Erdo?an visited a technology complex located in the Middle East Technical University (ODTU) in Ankara with a police force over 3600 troops, he was met with the protests of first the students, and then the academics revealing their dislike of the political processes summarized above. Two days ago, over 1000 academics met in Ankara to express their dissent on the Higher Education Law Draft.

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