Turkish Students Demand Buddhist Temple on Campus, in Protest of Mosque Construction

Religious freedoms in Turkey have been a controversial case in the past century with the abolition of local, independent and religious institutions and unifying all religious authorities under a new state directorate of religion. Ever since the formation of such a state religion, Muslims have suffered a great deal when it comes to practicing their religion. Over the decades the state’s response to individuals and groups that wanted to practice their religion free from state pressure, rose to levels of prohibition on dress codes, behaviors, rhetoric, political representation etc.

The state monopoly over religious affairs and pressure on religious citizens have been a major catalyst behind the rise of political Islam. Ever since the AKP government have come to power in 2002, their neo-liberal agenda has been dominated by an Islamist perspective. This perspective has foreseen an increase in taxes on alcohol, restriction on lifestyles seen as divergence from a Muslim way of life, lifting ban on religious presence in public spaces and construction of many more mosques. In November 2014, government’s religious directorate had announced the plans to construct mosques in the campuses of 80 universities and promote mosque constructions in all universities.

Istanbul Technical University – Faculty of Architecture

One plan has been to construct mosques in every campus for the university students to practice their religion, pray and seek religious counseling; much like the century-ago tendencies in christian universities. One such case has been brought up at Istanbul Technical University, where the rector said “due to the request of students, we will construct a mosque… This is not only for the Muslim students, any religious group is welcome. If there be request, we would construct a synagogue.”

Thousands of students and alumni have received the decision to construct religious buildings on campus as not relevant to education, as funds have been created to be invested in scientific progress. Thus, in protest of the decision, they have started a campaign requesting the construction of a Buddhist Temple on campus to serve the needs of Buddhist students.

The campaign to have a mosque constructed on ITU campus has attracted 713 signatories in 9 months, while the campaign to have a Buddhist Temple on campus has so far attracted around 9.000 signatures in less than 5 days.

The students name their reasons as such:

-The closest temple is 3680 kilometers far from our campus,

-Even a small temple will be enough, as we are not that many,

-We demand a temple, in the name of Siddhartha!

The students have created a Change.org campaign: https://www.change.org/p/rektor-itu-edu-tr-it%C3%BC-ye-budist-tap%C4%B1na%C4%9F%C4%B1-istiyoruz

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Turkish Government Approves “Censorship Bill 3.0″

Turkish government has tried repeatedly over the course of years, to pass restrictive bills that suggest draconian measures to interrupt free flow of information on the internet, thus legalize censorship. Year after year a new bill has been drafted and brought to parliament floor, dozens of thousands protested each time, opposition parties united in standing against government’s censorship attempts, bill would pass and president would sign it off immediately, enabling the effectiveness of the bill. Eventually persistent protests would Show results and opposition parties would apply to the supreme court and court decisions would cancel the bills.

The past few weeks in Turkey’s political agenda has been of a very different nature than what even the Turkish citizens have been used to. First there came the homeland security bill, then passed the prison security bill and now finally we have the internet security bill once again. All these crucial bills have come almost simultaneously. Due to fast-approaching national elections in early June, members of parliament from the opposition parties have already started campaigning and participating in premieres, thus unable to form proper opposition in the parliament. Then again, what good is it when the governing AKP holds close to 2/3 majority in the house with less than half of the votes in the elections.

Even though there has been taken some measures by the opposition to use all legislative methods and means to block the debate on the bill, thus postponing the vote, government has not allowed the debate to take place and directly passed the bills. The internet bill “censorship 3.0” has come all of a sudden when the nation was discussing elections, Kurdish peace process, homeland security bill, prison bill, upcoming centennial of Armenian Genocide Commemoration, etc.

The opposition deputies declare the internet bill as a precaution that the government has brought up in order to have “quiet” during the election period, and not allow any protests or opposition rallies en-masse. Previously, every time the internet bill had failed, the new draft had become even harsher, bringing further mechanisms and tools of censorship into play. The new bill openly states the methods of full government control and bypassing of courts, rules and regulations, violating citizens basic rights and liberties. Supreme court had already cancelled the bill previously when it was less obvious than the new bill, and how the court members will behave now will determine the direction of free speech in Turkey.

The government on the other hand uses the same excuses to legitimize the will to censor critical voices: “what will happen if children become victims of online harassment, or what will happen if someone insults the ‘untouchable’ figures, and if someone’s basic rights get violated online?” Thus the government suggests that a bill is necessary to directly block access to a website without a court order or further evaluation for up to 48 hours, which will then be followed by access-blocking with the court order. The bill does not specifically mention how long a site will be closed down as it is not stated in the bill.

Member of the parliament from the governing AK Party, Özel has stated that free flow of information may sound nice but politicians and citizens should not be naive to expect unregulated freedom, as unreal propaganda also has tendency to spread very quickly if there is no such control mechanism. Özel also went ahead to defend the bill saying “this bill does not turn our President or Prime Minister into a judge or prosecutor, it merely allows them with authority to shut down access to harmful content; in the aftermath of the incident we would still g oto courts to get warrant to block access. And, the supreme court this time will not cancel the bill.”

The renewed internet bill suggests:

“Updating the Bill on Regulating the Publications on Internet and Combating Cyber Crime, the foreseen changes will enable Prime Ministerial or any ministerial office to request blocking access to or removal of content from certain websites which violate the laws, without the necessity of a court order. The request will be made to TIB (Telecommunications Directorate) and decision to block access will have to be applied in the four hours following request. The 24 hours following the decision will be open for a judge approval, if the decision to cancel is not applied within 48 hours, it will be automatically lifted. If simply blocking a page or certain content does not stop the circulation of the harmful content, then the whole website/root-supplier will be blocked. Those who have created the harmful content will be subject to investigation and all personal information will be supplied by ISPs including the address of the person. Those ISPs or supporters of the harmful content creators, who do not cooperate with the state officials will be subjected to fines covering 3.000 days to 10.000 days. The ISPs that do not fully comply with the TIB requests and court decisions will receive heavy penalties in fines. This law is necessary to have and be applied even without a court order in case there is a matter of national security and public order, or for prevention of other crimes.”

 

Currently there is “estimated” over 100.000 websites that are blocked in Turkey. Citizens are heavily surveilled-on and mass surveillance systems also are being used in profiling citizens based on their ethnicity, language, religion, sexual orientation, political views, consumption habits etc. Internet platform remains as the only partly-free atmospheres in Turkey for opposition groups and in the past few years critical citizens and groups have made serious gains mostly thanks to engagement over social media. Before the coming national elections, governing AKP is polled roughly around 40% and if the results come as expected they will not be able to form a single-party government as the past 13 years. These next few weeks might be the last chance to pass heavily restrictive laws that will have more intervention to citizens private lives. Moreover, the new bill might also be attempting to prevent a next round of “Charlie Hebdo Crisis”, preventing Turkish newspapers to republish the caricatures online.

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Psychological Diagnosis of Erdoğan Brings up Court Case

Director Mustafa Altıoklar at Rehabilitation Center

Mustafa Altıoklar, a famous movie director in Turkey who also happens to be a psychologist, was the guest of a TV program where he was asked to answer questions about his political views. The TV program which hosted many well-known intellectuals and brought forth their critical ideas to general public, had been taken off air. However, the guests of this program have been surrounded by judicial inquiries. Altıoklar had said on TV “Erdoğan has narcissistic personality disorder, and he needs to be given a report for this.”

Upon his words, there was started an investigation and a court case has been opened against him under the reason of “defamation of Erdoğan”. He has initially responded to court case saying “this is not my freedom of expression but statement of my expertise. Since my graduation 30 years ago, courts have always asked me to diagnose criminals and court cases proceeded thanks to my reports. Now when I give such a statement, this is being evaluated under ‘insult to Erdoğan’ and this in fact itself is an insult to all patients with mental disorders. I have not likened him to someone with mental disorders but diagnosed. Some people may not know this but a doctor would never belittle or make fun of a health condition.”

In 2014, Turkish Physicians Union had also published a document stating the concerns and worries regarding Erdoğan’s psychological stability and health. Similar to Altıoklar, experts of a scientific field reserve the right to learn, research, declare scientific findings, opinions, results freely under the Article 27 of Turkish constitution . Altıoklar says “when I look at the Prime Minister and talk of his spinal problem, this is not regarded as an insult yet when I –as an expert scientist in my field- diagnose him with a psychological disorder, I am taken to court. Or when I do similar diagnosis for other political leaders and MPs, there is no court case appearing. My diagnosis is simply due to my protector doctor status.”

Altıoklar also stated nine reasons explaining the conditions of narcissistic personality disorder:

  • He thinks he matters the most, there is no one else more important in life than himself.
  • He constantly declares that he has unlimited success, power, intellect, beauty and skills.
  • He prefers to be known as chosen by holy Powers and belonging to a superior entity.
  • He adores himself, wants to be approved by everyone at all times.
  • He believes he has the right to do anything and that all should favor him at all times.
  • He abuses other people’s weak sides to serve for his purposes.
  • He lacks empathy, and does not recognize others’ feelings and necessities.
  • He envies all successful people or believes they envy him.
  • He presents insolent, arrogant and smugger behaviors or attitude.

 

 

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Firearms, Teargas, Trained Dogs against Prisoners in Turkey

Turkish parliament has been rocked by the infamous national security bill over the past few weeks. Government has tried all methods to pass the bills disregarding the constitution and international agreements Turkey is a signatory to. The new bill has been especially criticized for the legal impunity it supplies to the police forces and declaring any citizen as potential criminal. A second bill has now been brought to the parliament floor, regarding the prison guards.

The new prison bill’s 19 articles have already been passed without much debate or anyone noticing really. Since most members of the parliament are busy preparing for the election period, very few members of parliament take the time to study and evaluate the new bill. According to the new prison guards bill, guardians will be allowed to use trained dogs, teargas (even though prohibited from indoors use), pressured water, fire arms against the prisoners “if need be”.

The new bill has been considered as declaration of war against prisoners and lawyers have named their concerns reminding of the massive deaths in prisons due to security operations that targetted prisons prior to AKP’s rule. The draconian bill at the parliament floor has implications that it will disregard the right to life and many other rights; especially combined with the isolation-system through individual cells in Turkish prisons, the depth of the bill can be considered very worrisome.

The official reason on the draft page states that the bill has been taken to pen “in order to improve the individuals who have shown social inadaptability”. The bill foresees use of firearms, teargas, pressured water, and trained dogs to assault on prisoners in cases of revolt, resistance, escape, attempted escape or disturbances in order in prison. One article in the bill also states a special clause which will enable the guardians to use maximum measures in case there is passive resistance from prisoners, and a warning message is not cited necessary for application of these measures.

When to use weapons in prisons?

a screenshot from the movie “Midnight Express” which is about the condition of Turkish prisons

Guardians and “other security personnel” will be allowed to shoot prisoners in case there is a tendency not to submit items which might be of use in case of a resistance. Security forces will be allowed to use serial-shooting if there is attempt at assault on security forces. According to the bill, it is upto the security forces to shoot a prisoner if he were to resist against strip-search or torture, or if the prisoner starts hunger-strike. One other clause is about the surveillance cameras installed in prison cells. Prisoners break these cameras that do not leave any dark spots, since they violate the prisoners’ privacy. According to the new bill, guardians will be allowed to use firearms if a prisoner breaks the camera in his cell.

Other measures cited in the bill vary from pressured water, trained dogs to assault on prisoners and “powders” which remind one of chemical weapons. Not only does this bill allow security personnel to use several means of arms against unarmed prisoners, but also measures to guarantee impunity have been taken. The identities of armed forces personnel who participate in such “interventions” against prisoners will be kept secret according to the bill.

Remembering “Operation: Return to Life” from 2000

Hacer Arıkan was severely wounded due to use of chemical weapons during the operation

The bill reminds one of an infamous operation in Turkish prisons in the year 2000, when 20 prisons were raided by armed forces, dozens were killed instantly, dozens of others were raped, and hundreds were left wounded for life due to chemical weapons. One victim of chemical powders described of the feeling she faced during the operation saying “there was no fire, but we felt the flames under our skin”. Lawyers now refer to this one of the darkest pages of history of Turkish prisons and notify the dangers and risks of having a bill that will allow even harsher treatment of prisoners.

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“To Pee or Not To Pee” or How Divert Attention from Turkey’s Police State Bill

Some people said what pro-government media refers to is from “Tom of Finland”

On the first days of Gezi Park protests, when government agents were terrified of a massive uprising, they made up several scenarios to instigate violence among pro-government fanatics, in the hopes of suppressing the protests. The police had failed to reclaim the public spaces, unarmed, unorganized civilians were just too much to deal with for the government and there had to be a force equivalent of that. Some force which would take the streets back in the name of the legitimacy of the governing body. So came the lies about Kabataş assault. The claim was that, some journalists had heard/seen wife of a government official who was assaulted by over a hundred half naked men in Kabataş district -very close to Taksim- her baby was crushed on the ground, men dressed up in leather fetish clothes rubbed their penises on her face and peed on her head, defying her headscarf. It might seem unrealistic, because it is. This statement was supported by several columnists and journalists who claimed to have seen video footage of the incident. Later came the claim that protesters were having drunk orgies in the mosques, de-sacralizing religious premises.

Considering reactions to fabricated news pieces in Turkey and populist responses to these, the claims were very serious. The claims have been taken up by -by then Prime Minister- Erdoğan, and used extensively in political rallies against social movements. Such claims have been even exaggerated further to defy the teenagers shot dead by police, insult their families, criminalize all those that have participated/supported the protests. A promise had been given in one of those speeches, that the video footage is at hand regarding the fetish assault and mosque orgy, and these videos would be made public to show what protesters are all about. The designated date for publication of the videos was declared as “next friday” (referring to the mass prayer of Muslims), however they never showed up. Almost two years have passed, there has been released no video proving such claims, yet there are thousands of hours of video footage showing that no such thing has ever happened. Moreover, the lawyers of the claimants have come clean, stating that they have been part of a lie and no such thing ever took place.

Yet, government officials including Erdoğan himself, insist on the claims. Even though the claims have been disproved, they do not shy away from bringing the topics back to agenda and act as if they have so much salience to be discussed widely in public. The voters have not believed the claims, the opposition have proven them wrong, even supposedly the victims have come clean that the incidents might not have taken place as they were being talked of. One of the mainstream media papers that is known for having direct links to Erdoğan’s son have come up with a headline during the past week suggesting that the whole incident took place in the 52 seconds that is missing from the video footage of 2500 hours. This paper, Sabah has even went so far as to publish a photo of the incident happening, however the “photoshopped” image was edited without any proper skills, that the trees that were supposed to show June 1, had no leaves, and people walking around were wearing winter coats.

15 columnists in total wrote basically the same thing and used identical title

Prior to this headline story, 15 columnists from various papers had written their columns on the same day with the same headline, talking about the incident and opposition’s reaction. When started a movement which suggested that all those who have engaged in government’s psychological warfare plan, would be brought before court and put on trial, then also began more hawkish defense of the claims and actually turning offensive on the protesters again suggesting that the protesters actually wanted to hang the journalists for supporting government. This kind of statement can as well be seen as trying to exploit any kind of victimhood from any situation, and an attempt in turning a major nonsense into something which would translate into votes in 100 days.

When the claims have been disproved and even the claimants have come clean to suggest that they might have been wrong under the heat of the moment, why would government and government-linked journalists continue with such lies? When one takes a look at the timing of the Kabataş claims, it is possible to see that it came up on the first of June, the day before pro-government fanatics took up clubs and hit the streets to hunt down protesters and collaborated with police to kill protesters. If one is to consider the modern Turkish history, it is possible to see that the government’s plan with such claims might have been much bigger -perhaps expectations were as high as 1955’s 6/7 September, or the Çorum Massacre, Maraş Massacre, Sivas Massacre etc. where thousands died and even more had to relocate- yet the engagement level with pro-government violent actions show that perhaps there is a rise in the media literacy rates in the country, or people have not believed such outrageous claims at all.

Even though this low level of engagement can be seen as a positive development compared for a century of history written in blood-ink, there is still a disturbing fact and that is the government’s “normal” reaction to such social movements and reverting back to psychological warfare tactics to start civil unrest to justify physical suppression of protests and even use of arms. Beating to death of Ali İsmail Korkmaz, the day after the claims have been broadcast on all media platforms related to the government extensively might serve as an example to explain the scope of influence of fabricated news and psychological warfare which can have deadly effect.

Yet, two years have passed and Turkey today is on a very critical crossroads. Economy is heading down the cliff, EU relations have stagnated, negotiations for full accession have come to the point of no discussion, visa liberalization talks revolve around a maybe possible date of 2030, a government official has asked all islamists to take up arms against the Kurds, and most importantly, the most recent national security bill which will bypass the constitution and international agreements that Turkey is a signatory to. Amid all these discussions, and while the national security bill to which all three opposition parties are protesting with all they have are being discussed, why talk about something that has long been proven wrong?

A photoshopped image from Kabataş supposedly showing June 1, 2013; there is a submarine in the middle of the road, 100 silhouettes, people with coats, and no leaves on trees for a summer.

There is a simple answer to this question: it serves to a great extent in Turkey. Whenever there is a salient topic which needs to be addressed not only at the parliament floor but also at social debate atmosphere, if the government does not see it fit for making gains in the upcoming elections, then the citizens get to hear an alternative agenda to discuss and once they get tired of the topic, no one

Police already does not hesitate to take out MP5 rifle and point it at protesters, with the new national security bill, they will be allowed to pull the trigger and get away with it.

questions what has just passed in the parliament.

The level of absurdity regarding the pseudo-agenda topic -Kabataş assault- has come to such a level this time that the international press has shown so much interest and the news have appeared in several internationally renowned papers even. However, here the real strength of the concept of media pluralism becomes really important; since, unfortunately for the Turkish audience, there does not exist independent media in Turkey, as all media organizations have a certain kind of affiliation, thus some people they are not allowed to criticize harshly. Most people in Turkey follow these media outlets in one way or another; and a big majority do so fanatically, without ever questioning the truth value. Having already come to the election period, all these look so depressing. Yet, across the country, since Gezi Park protests there have been constant protests and strikes, against all odds; and some of them have been delivering results, one by one, in time…

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Identical Headlines in Turkish Papers to Defend Fabricated News of Kabataş

On March 5th, Turkish readers have witnessed a new low in press freedom and media pluralism in the country. Even though Turkey has been scoring terrible at international press freedom ratings and there have been several notorious cases when bad journalism has caused a lot of harm, a new record has been achieved thanks to 14 columnists from several newspapers. All the columnists in this case have used the same headline to defend a fabricated piece of news and tried to generate a kind of victimhood out of a lie that was constructed to instigate a counter-protest during in June 2013 and start violence in streets.

During the Occupy Gezi protests, a journalist had tweeted a notorious message stating that a gang of over a hundred half naked men in leather fetish clothes had attacked a turbaned woman with a stroller in Istanbul’s Kabataş district, chrused her baby on the ground, peed on her head and rubbed their penises on her face. This highly “imaginative” lie had been taken up by several other journalists and columnists, the person who was acclaimed to have experienced this incident later came up with doctor reports that she had been attacked. Later -by then Prime Minister- Erdoğan also piled up on the lie and stated that there is video footage of all that has happened and all would be publicized “soon”.

The claims have been ridiculed by the Gezi protesters excessively

Even though there has passed over 1,5 years, no video of an attack has been released. The security camera footage has been found though. In the video, the person who is acclaimed to have been attacked is visible, however there is no gang, not one “half naked man wearing leather fetish clothes” and no incident of an attack in the vicinity.

Previously, one of the journalists who had claimed to see the video footage of gang sexually assaulting a woman had come clean and said “there is no such video and me insisting to have said it was utter stupidity”. Recently the lawyer of the journalist who originally had tweeted the message, appeared on TV stating that it was actually fabricated news and admitted the lie. Upon this, the pro-government media has taken up this case again and marked a new low in the field of “bad journalism”. From several newspapers, 14 columns have actually been published with the same headline and with more or less the same content. Previous low record of seven newspapers publishing the same headlines has thus been surpassed.

The discussion regarding the Kabataş lie had resurfaced when at a live TV program the renowned journalist İsmail Saymaz had said “you will be put on trial” to those who had acted as part of the Kabataş provocation of the government. Several journalists left the TV program upon hearing the presumption of Saymaz, and very quickly all 14 columns have appeared in various newspapers.

The columnists then elaborated on the publications and stated that their aim was to show solidarity with those who had initially written about the “Kabataş incident” as the lawyer had come out on live TV and admitted the fabrication of the news.

A call for massacre?

Turkish history has seen several psychological warfare operations that are initiated via fabricated news and manipulation of perception through use of media propaganda. Several massacres and pogroms even took place in this part of the world due to such headlines and fabricated news; and such claims as Kabataş can be assessed in the same manner. Upon repeated use and exaggeration of fabricated news such as “gang of half naked men sexually assaulting a turbaned woman” or “drunk orgies in mosques”, the governing party had aimed to instigate Turkish islamists to violence. Combined with the popular pro-Erdoğan slogan of the time “let us crush Gezi”, this strategy of fabricating news and media manipulation proves extremely dangerous.

Fortunately, even the targeted audience of such columns and fabricated news pieces must have found these statements to be extremely imaginative that very few people seemed to believe and act on it. However, in spite of the lack of video footage showing the attacks or orgies, the political leadership continues to recite these fabricated events and use them as facts right before the election process accelerates in Turkey.

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Journalist Stabbed to Death in Istanbul Because of a Snowball!

Nuh Köklü

Journalist Nuh Koklu had been playing snow fight with his friends on the evening of February 18 in Istanbul’s Kadıköy district when he was going back home from Homeland Security Bill sit-in that ended earlier at Kadıköy’s ‘Bull Square’. The area is known for its relaxed atmosphere and peaceful neighborhood except for police’s violent attacks on peaceful protests. During the snow fight, according to the Turkish media, a snowball hit a shop window, which caused the shopkeeper’s anger.

Angry shopkeeper got furious over a snowball, went out to attack the youngsters playing in the street. As the spice seller realized that the club is not effective in beating youngsters, and when he was outnumbered and pushed back in his attack, he went inside his shop, grabbed a knife running after the young people. One from the group fell on the ground, shopkeeper attacked, Nuh went in to protect his friend. The shopkeeper stabbed Nuh Koklu’s heart repeatedly.

The shop of the killer shopowner has been marked “Murderer” by some friends of the journalist

Nuh was taken to a hospital nearby but he had died. The shopkeeper is also taken to a hospital. The witnesses say the shopowner had shouted “go tell the police, I have enough reports for psychological state… They would have to release me before you know it anyways!” The reports killer shopowner refers to are the ones cited in Turkish Penal Code’s article 46.

President Erdoğan’s Rhetoric Had an Effect?

This incident took place not long after Turkish President Erdoğan’s notorious comments regarding the legality of violence applied by shopkeepers. At a speech he gave at the union of shopowners, Erdoğan had said “shopowners of this country are protectors of honor, peace and stability on streets, they are the soldiers, guardians, police of streets; when the moment comes they suppress coup attempts.” These remarks had drawn reaction by many people in Turkey, especially from the supporters of protest movements who still felt the grief and anger for over a dozen killed protesters.

Ali İsmail Korkmaz

Erdoğan’s speech came not long after the trial of murderers of Ali İsmail Korkmaz, who was beaten to death by police and shopkeepers during Occupy Gezi protests. Rhetoric adopted by government members seems to have a much greater impact on society when it comes to justification of violence and legitimacy of monopoly over violence.

Nuh Köklü during a strike

Nuh Koklu had been part of unions and a leading figure in some strikes. Although he had been an unemployed journalist lately -like thousands of others- he has been informing his audience as an independent reporter. The last ever tweet he shared read “paranoid governments’ biggest fear is a people united; it is time of a univocal reaction to all kinds of troubles now.” According to his friends, Nuh’s last words were “Please let this be a dream!”

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Cumhuriyet Daily’s Administration Relieved of Duty after Charlie Hebdo Publication

In the aftermath of the Paris Massacre earlier in January, Cumhuriyet Daily had taken a courageous step and printed Charlie Hebdo in Turkish. It was one of the two newspapers that were allowed to print content, and they attracted the outrage by islamist groups in Turkey. With the news of Cumhuriyet printing Charlie Hebdo in Turkish getting revealed, leaders from the islamist-rooted governing AK Party declared that their followers only should carry out their democratic rights and organize peaceful protests, never turn violent, and simply use judicial means to contest blasphemy.

The chief executive editor of Cumhuriyet Daily has been relieved of duty as of the first of February, after police raided the print house, thousands protested in front of the newspaper headquarters, thousands of death threats have been directed at staff and journalists of the paper. The relief message has been published on Cumhuriyet’s online version explaining that the chief editor Utku Çakırözer will no longer continue his job which he had started earlier in September 2014. The relief message also included a paragraph explaining that general administrative coordinator and editor in chief had proposed their resignation letters, and they were accepted by the board. The explanation also mentioned the apprehension regarding the low reach to general audience and the will to expand scope of readers.

Even though the duty relief and resignations do not mention a word of Charlie Hebdo publication in Turkish, the readers of the paper might draw the parallel between the Mohammed caricatures and the changes in administrative structure of the daily. The removed chief executive editor wrote a series of twitter messages giving the news of his removal to his followers stating that during the time of his duty the primary concern has always been the individual rights and liberties and the defense of them at strongest level possible, contesting censorship and corruption, always considering the public benefit in struggles, a courageous publication policy.

After thousands of death threats targeting the journalists and staff of Cumhuriyet, and several attempts to attack, some NGOs had organized a support rally and distributed Cumhuriyet on streets in Istanbul.

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Reduced Prison Sentence for Murderers of Teenager during #OccupyGezi

Ali İsmail Korkmaz, a lively teenager at the age of 19. A university student. Socially aware and responsible young person. He was beaten to death during Turkey’s Occupy Gezi protests in Eskişehir by a team of policemen, shopkeepers and pro-government fanatics. The young man was one of the 14 people who were murdered by police or state related people during the protests, and the court case regarding him took a very rocky road as there have been several attempts to hide evidence, prevent court case, protect murderers, change the city where court proceedings would take place; as in many other state-related crime cases.

Two of the murderer policemen received 10 years prison sentence, while two other policemen were acquitted. Three civilians who were involved in the beating to death received 6 years prison sentence while another civilian received 3 years prison sentence and given that he has already been in prison for over a year he has been released from his sentence.

Turkish judiciary works in a complicated way. Most of the court cases involving murder and rape get punished with reduced prison sentences –if punished at all- if the suspects wear a suit and talk kindly during the processions. This was the reason why most of the murderers involved in this case received so little sentences.

The observers have reacted to this decision right after the verdict, on the grounds that this is not justice for killing a teenager for participating in a peaceful protest. Ali İsmail’s mother cried at the verdict shouting “down with your justice, down with people like these.” Mothers of other murdered children were also present at the court house. Upon this incident started some shouting in the court room and a policeman took out his gun.

In the aftermath of the verdict, observers were escorted outside where there was an abundance of riot police squads and water cannons ready in Kayseri. The angry crowd started protesting the court’s verdict, wanted to declare a press statement that this justice is only serving the murderers and not the victims. Police intervened with the press statement and attacked with tear gas, water cannons and batons.

During and after Gezi Park protests –back then prime minister- president Erdoğan had declared the police as heroes of an epic victory. Policemen’s defense speeches focused on how protesters were criminals that pushed Ali İsmail to his death and how they were only doing their job by preventing social protests. Protest laws in Turkey are still quite strict, not allowing any protest after it gets dark and no protest call that’s not approved by the local governor and police chief gets clearance.

Even though the prosecutor had initially asked for life sentence for the policemen, yet the previous defense of the policemen inviting the police chief, governor, minister of interior and prime minister Erdoğan as suspects to court case had put a pressure on the trial, changing its course. Bar head Kocasakal gave a statement about the trial saying “in rule of law, even if you are 100% sure that someone is guilty, you can not take up arms and beat someone to death; you take him to court and justice gets served.” However, when police in Turkey is asked why they suppress peaceful protests violently, they usually give the answer that they are following orders, or that they contribute to prevention of a military coup.

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Turkey’s Third Censorship Bill; Criminalizing Content-Sharing

Over the past few years Turkey has passed several censorship bills that have drawn upon heavy criticism nationally and from all around the world. As censorship circumvention has also taken off, these bills have practically been un-useful and failed to stop circulation of the “banned content”. Turkish government has drafted a new bill to criminalize sharing of the banned content and enhance censorship mechanisms online. The new bill foresees “rapid” content removal as well as blocking access without a court order if the government “orders” the content to be removed or blocked access to.

According to the details of the new bill, Telecommunications Directorate (TIB), Prime Ministerial Office and ministries will be allowed to declare decisions to block access to a website or remove content. These decrees have to be met in the next 4 hours after announcement. TIB will also have access to ISP Union and will hold the key to internet nationally.

The bill restates the same clauses as the previous bills with regards to banning anti-government content that reveals corruption. The cited reasons for unwarranted access-blocking and content removal include –again- “protection of the individual’s life an possessions, national security, public order, prevention of crimes, preservation of social health.” For these reasons the government will not require court decision and simply give an order for content removal.

Sharing becomes a crime!

The new bill also makes it criminal to share content that the government has declared harmful or banned. TIB will be able to sue the citizens who create, write and share the content that has been declared banned, and the doers of this crime will be fined by the courts. The individuals who share the content are not alone in this criminalization; the ISPs will be required to comply with government “orders” and if they fail/reject to do so, they will be fined upto 500.000 TL. Depending on whether the state or individuals as a result have been negatively affected by the sharing of “illegal” content, the ISP’s certificate will be cancelled and it will not be allowed to operate.

Last year the AKP government had tried to pass a law that was accepted in the parliament, approved by the president but eventually got cancelled by the Supreme Court due to inconsistency with the international law, EU acquis, constitution and human rights. After this one failed, the government prepared a second bill which also got cancelled. The government has “updated” the clauses of the same censorship bill and drafted an even more draconian one this year.

Illegal Content in Turkey

The government insists that illegal content has to be stopped and those responsible for circulation must receive due punishment; however there needs to be made a clarification that most of the so called illegal content in Turkey refers to leaked documents proving an enormous government corruption or cooperation with Al-Qaeda. The meaning of illegal content in Turkey for some reason has mostly been very political and bills like this serve as a censorship mechanism for the independent media.

When government had tried to enhance the internet regulations bill 5651 in 2009, over 70.000 people had mobilized and had a protest rally, upon which the bill had been softened. Even though bigger protest rallies have been organized in the past year with regards to free press and internet, government has been attempting to block access to content that would weaken the government’s image before the upcoming elections. Currently there are around 100.000 websites that are estimated banned in Turkey, and unknown number of blocked links.

 

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