May Day Battle in Istanbul

Syrian refugee children peeing on the police barricades in Taksim

The city of Istanbul has been turned into a battlefield by the AK Party government once again on the May Day protests. An unnamed curfew has been declared; Prime Minister Davutoğlu stated “there is no prohibition of the May Day, only precautions and security measures by the provincial governors.” Thus he made it clear that officially May Day has not been outlawed -yet! However, streets have been occupied by riot police, roads have been blocked, highways blocked, a planned day-long power cut issued for the central Istanbul, all public transport halted, no cars allowed on streets and all civilians seen around were subjected to arbitrary body-checks from head to toe. The whole city of Istanbul has been treated like an invaded, fallen hero’s motherland, in tied up but conceited.

Taksim Square

Thousands of riot police have been flown to Istanbul from across the country and more than 25.000 riot police (equivalent of national guards) have been deployed to Taksim Square alone, dozens of water cannons, armored shooters, helicopters, and of course dozens of thousands of tear gas canisters have been deployed to and around Taksim. As all the roads leading to Taksim had been occupied by the police so that the workers might not reach Taksim Square and block traffic, even the birds were not flying.

The few civilians who dared to go out of their houses were subjected to several body-check processes in randomly spread check points in every corner of the city. Those who were determined to go to Taksim Square -where 34 citizens had been shot-dead by stated-related agents in 1977- had to walk through many of those check points and get arrested in one of them for ‘participating in an illegal gathering’.

Police without uniforms or ID numbers; reminding people of the Besic of Iran

The city of Istanbul which has much to offer to thousands of tourists every day with its thousands of years old history, also allowed many non-Turks to experience a unique day as the tourists were forced to walk for miles with suitcases rolling around.

The day ended with a total number of detentions around 350, and detentions started early in the morning. Already in the morning, a group from the Communist Party started running from a nearby cafe in Taksim, towards the Republic Monument. They had hid in the cafe whole night, had their breakfast, and just when 20.000 riot police thought they cleared all the square and started spreading the circle, they ran to the monument and waved their flags for a few minutes until they got assaulted and detained. During the detentions, police used excessive force and backwards handcuffs, to which a street dog reacted, reminding people of Loukanikos, the late riot dog of Athens.

Garip of Taksim

Most other groups had designated surrounding neighborhoods to gather and march in bigger groups. Where they would gather in the first place, the police set up massive barricades to force them back. The leaders of the syndicates and unions negotiated with the police, explaining that this is their constitutional right and there are clear court mandates stating that it is illegal to prevent them from celebrating the May Day, police insisted that it would cause risk to national security, public peace and congest traffic if workers were allowed to march to Taksim Square. As the unions declared that they will no longer insist and start to disperse, the police started shooting rubber bullets and gas canisters from all sides without a warning, and pro-government civilians started attacking with clubs and knives to workers. One person got stabbed in his stomach and several others were beaten by pro-government civilians. Later, the perpetrators were left free and the beaten-up victims were detained.

In the meantime, pro-government syndicates were holding an alternative May Day demonstration in the city of Konya, celebrating the good deeds of the government and chanting antisemite and anti-Armenian slogans, calling for unity of Turkish workers against the international plot to overthrow Turkish government. After the alternative May Day demonstration, President Erdoğan gave a speech in Ankara and stated “May Day is my day as well and I do not approve of Taksim as an appropriate location for this. If one wants to have a demonstration or a protest, it has to be at the designated locations that the government decides; if they have enough power they should gather in those designated locations.”

Compared to previous years, this year’s power cut seems to have had a major censorship effect as the number of live-photos and tweets have decreased from the ground zero compared to other years, with the lack of regular connection. In the previous years, when the mobile networks failed to distribute service to the people on the streets, people would remove the password from their household modems and allow free wifi connection to protestors, thus contribute to the free flow of information. As there was no electricity in the districts circulating Taksim, no modem connection was established, and most content was released as in edited form hours after the actual events.

 

Communist Party members running behind the barricades to Republic Monument

ac

Arrest-bus

Later, the person beaten up got arrested and not the perpetrators

Posted in AKP, Censorship, Protests, Turkey | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

PEN calls on governments to safeguard freedom of speech after Charlie Hebdo attacks

On World Press Freedom Day, PEN International (and a long list of global press and free expression organisations – all names available from 30th April) remembers those journalists who were murdered in the January attack on Charlie Hebdo’s offices and stands in solidarity with all those journalists and writers who find their right to express themselves freely under threat. Following the Paris assault, government authorities around the world – including those from India, Russia, Senegal, Kenya, Turkey, France, the United Kingdom and others – have responded by either openly clamping down on journalistic free expression, by calling for greater powers of surveillance on us all, or by the over-zealous employment of broad anti-terrorism legislation.
This public statement, signed by some of the world’s leading free expression and press organisations, is not only a public show of support for all journalists and writers whose freedom of expression is under threat, but a forceful reminder that the greatest threat to freedom of expression and the safety of journalists comes from governments, not from attacks by individuals motivated by an ideology.
PEN urges all governments to uphold their international obligations to protect the rights of freedom of expression and information, as an essential component of a free and democratic society.

WORLD PRESS FREEDOM DAY 2015

Joint statement 116 days after Charlie Hebdo

On World Press Freedom Day, 116 days after the attack at the office of the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo that left 11 dead and 12 wounded, we, the undersigned, reaffirm our commitment to defending the right to freedom of expression, even when that right is being used to express views that we and others may find difficult, or even offensive.

The Charlie Hebdo attack – an horrific reminder of the violence many journalists around the world face daily in the course of their work – provoked a series of worrying reactions across the globe.

In January, the office of the German daily Hamburger Morgenpost was firebombed following the paper’s publishing of several Charlie Hebdo images. In Turkey, journalists reported receiving death threats following their re-publishing of images taken from Charlie Hebdo. In February, a gunman apparently inspired by the attack in Paris, opened fire at a free expression event in Copenhagen; his target was a controversial Danish cartoonist who had depicted the prophet Muhammad in his drawings.

But many of the most disturbing reactions – and the most serious threats to freedom of expression – have come from governments.

A Turkish court blocked web pages that had carried images of Charlie Hebdo’s front cover; Russia’s communications watchdog warned six media outlets that publishing religious-themed cartoons ‘could be viewed as a violation of the laws on mass media and extremism’; Egypt’s President Al-Sisi empowered the prime minister to ban any foreign publication deemed offensive to religion; the editor of the Kenyan newspaper The Star was summoned by the government’s media council, asked to explain his ‘unprofessional conduct’ in publishing images of Charlie Hebdo, and his newspaper had to issue a public apology; Senegal banned Charlie Hebdo and other publications that re-printed its images; in India, Mumbai police used laws covering threats to public order and offensive content to block access to websites carrying Charlie Hebdo images. This list is far from exhaustive.

Perhaps the most long-reaching threats to freedom of expression have come from governments ostensibly motivated by security concerns. Following the attack on Charlie Hebdo, eleven interior ministers from European Union countries including France, Britain and Germany issued a statement in which they called on Internet service providers to identify and remove online content ‘that aims to incite hatred and terror.’ In the UK, despite the already gross intrusion of the British intelligence services into private data, Prime Minister David Cameron suggested that the country should go a step further and ban Internet services that did not give the government the ability to monitor all encrypted chats and calls.

This kind of governmental response is chilling because a particularly insidious threat to our right to free expression is self-censorship. In order to fully exercise the right to freedom of expression, individuals must be able to communicate without fear of intrusion by the State. Under international law, the right to freedom of expression also protects speech that some may find shocking, offensive or disturbing. Importantly, the right to freedom of expression means that those who feel offended also have the right to challenge others through free debate and open discussion, or through peaceful protest.

On World Press Freedom Day, we, the undersigned, call on all Governments to:

  • Uphold their international obligations to protect the rights of freedom of expression and information for all, especially journalists, writers,  and artists and human rights defenders  to publish, write and speak freely;
  • Promote a safe and enabling environment for those who exercise their right to freedom of expression, especially for journalists, artists and human rights defenders to perform their work without interference;
  • Combat impunity for threats and violations aimed at journalists and others threatened for exercising their right to freedom of expression and ensure impartial, speedy, thorough, independent and effective investigations that bring masterminds behind attacks on journalists to justice and ensure victims and their families have speedy access to appropriate remedies;
  • Repeal legislation which restricts the right to legitimate freedom of expression, especially such as vague and overbroad national security, sedition, blasphemy and criminal defamation laws and other legislation which is used to imprison, harass and silence journalists and others exercising free expression;
  • Promote self-regulation mechanisms for print media;
  • Ensure that the respect of human rights is at the heart of communication surveillance policy. Laws and legal standards governing communication surveillance must therefore be updated, strengthened and brought under legislative and judicial control. Any interference can only be justified if it is clearly defined by law, pursues a legitimate aim and is strictly necessary to the aim pursued.
Posted in Censorship, media freedom, Social Media, Surveillance State, Turkey | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Turkish Student Gets Prison Sentence for Sharing Satirical News

Former Governor of Adana, Avni Coş

Zaytung is a Turkish satirical news network. The crew behind Zaytung has been writing funny parody versions of real news, creating absurd-fake stories, mostly generating hilarious satirical pieces for years. With the Turkish media’s fall into government’s hands, mainstream media has been surpassing Zaytung in parody-appearance more and more. Many citizens confuse Zaytung with other kinds of media sources, as the distinction between mainstream media and satirical news is blurring. Most recently, a university student has been sentenced to one year prison sentence for sharing an article from Zaytung, regarding –by then- governor of Adana Province, Avni Coş.

The article in question is from the Republic Day celebrations, showing a photo of the governor with the title “Governor Coş has more force than the President and has declared autonomy in the province he governs.”

Many memes have been produced regarding the Governor’s parade entry

Governor Coş had become known nationally after he had called a protestor citizen “gavat” which means “whoremonger who sells his wife”. Governor Coş now occupies the news agenda with taking the Zaytung news seriously. Governor and the prosecutor who handled the case sued the university student for sharing the satirical news online and freshman student Meral Tutcalı from Anatolian University Sociology Department received one year prison sentence for the crime of “insult to state officer”.

The student commented on the sentence and stated that this is just another step in silencing any kind of dissent and critical citizens by applying laws of pressure and intimidation.

Posted in AKP, Censorship, media freedom, Social Media, Turkey | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Prison Sentence for Porn Containing “Unnatural Sexual Acts” in Turkey

An Ottoman miniature depicting gay men

Turkey continues to target sexuality of the citizens with laws and new directives. Previously upon –by then Prime Minister- Erdoğan’s remarks about co-ed housing, several citizens had received visits from police for not complying with general social norms. In the past few days, a new decision has just been declared by the Constitutional Court regarding porn material. Just as the heads of state had named their worries regarding extramarital sexual acts, now the heads of justice have approved of imprisonment of a citizen for having “unnatural porn videos” according to the law number 226/4 of the Turkish Criminal Code. The explanation of the penalty states that the criminal has been caught with content showing unnatural acts of sexual behaviour, specifically porn that shows oral, anal and homo/bisexual acts, thus can be imprisoned for 1-4 years.

Law number 226/4 of the Turkish Criminal Code states “those who possess, import, stock, transport, sell, allow others to use, archive textual/audio/video material which includes sexual acts showing violence, animals, dead human bodies, or unnatural ways of intercourse, can be imprisoned for 1 or up to 4 years sentence, or be fined for the value of 5.000 days of sentence.”

According to a report by Kemal Göktaş, reporter for Daily Milliyet, police has raided a work place in the city of Aydın for “screening of immoral content” and caught the owner with a USB-stick that contains porn material. The owner of the disk stated that he downloaded the material online and only watched himself, not screening for an audience. However, the suspect has been sued for possession of content which shows intercourse that includes unnatural acts of sexual behaviour.

The court that handled the case applied to the Constitutional Court of Republic of Turkey to request a cancellation of the sentence. The detailed plea suggested that every citizen of the Republic of Turkey has right to life, protection of physical and mental health, and personal development according to the article 17; right to privacy according to article 20; and right to education according to article 42 of the constitution; thus the issued sentence violates these constitutional rights. The plea also emphasized that statement of “unnatural acts of sexual behaviour” was not definitive, and there is no official prohibition of sexual acts involving oral or anal intercourse in any written law in Turkey. A further statement emphasized any two consenting individuals can legally want and have oral or anal intercourse, it is a contradiction to criminalize the watching of it.

Constitutional Court has rejected the plea –with 4 aye and 12 nay votes- stating that the law which has been requested to be cancelled is aimed at targeting the spreading of textual/audio/video content that contains the sexual acts, while not prohibiting the acts themselves. Constitutional Court’s detailed explanation suggested that the court aims to protect the general morality of the society en masse by applying a general law; and it is impossible to cite every single unnatural sexual act which may come up in various ways. Constitutional Court’s decision also cited the constitutional rights and emphasized that the acts in question have nothing to do with mental development or education of citizens.

The AK Party government of Turkey has an Islamist agenda which more than often reverts to prohibition of divergence from general morality and puritan measures against individualism and personal life styles. Porn has been used as an excuse for excessive censorship measures in Turkey over the past decades and continues to play a major role in targeting free speech. From time to time it is possible to hear high level politicians referring to critiques of these decisions as “Porn Lobby”. The latest decision of the Constitutional Court can be used to prohibit possession, purchasing, selling of even Kama Sutra. All these acts of prohibition and pressure on individual life styles has drawn reaction from the society and brought back the satirical comments calling for establishment of a Ministry of Bedroom Affairs.

 

Posted in AKP, Censorship, Digital, Individual, Turkey | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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

Posted in AKP, Turkey | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in AKP, Censorship, Digital, media freedom, Social Media, Surveillance State, Turkey | Leave a comment

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.

 

 

Posted in AKP, Turkey | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in AKP, police, Protests, Turkey | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

“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…

Posted in AKP, media freedom, Protests, Turkey | Tagged | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in AKP, media freedom, Protests, Turkey | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment