Books, Bombs and Banners: Freedom of Expression in Turkey

When the Turkish Publishers Union granted Bedri Kadanir and Ahmet Sik their “freedom of  expression and thought” award may 26, Kadriye Adanir asked,

“My brother did not kill a person, he merely published a book. Why is there so much fear about a book? He is being tried on anti–terrorism charges.”

Her brother, the Kurdish publisher Bedri Adanir, has been in prison a year and a half in Diyarbakir while awaiting trial. Ahmet Sik, on the other hand, never got the chance to publish his book; digital copies of it were seized by the police last March 24, and Sik has been in prison awaiting trial ever since.

In defending the rather unusual step of confiscating a book and arresting its author before the book was even published, Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan told the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe:

“It is a crime to use a bomb, but it is also a crime to use materials from which a bomb is made. If informed that all materials needed to construct a bomb have been placed in a certain location, wouldn’t the security forces collect these materials?”

But the only “bomb-throwing” that Ahmet Sik ever engaged in is rhetorical: he is an investigative journalist and the book in question was a report on the role of an important religious movement in Turkish politics.

Apparently, publishing—or even writing—some books in Turkey have become the equivalent of bomb making and, given Turkey’s anti-terrorism laws, grounds for imprisoning publishers and authors.  Not only are books dangerous, however; so are banners.  Two students had the temerity to raise a banner during a speech by the Prime Minister in Istanbul 14 months ago, and have been in prison ever since.  The banner’s threatening slogan?  “We want free education.”

Amnesty International’s recent Human Rights Report ‘s section on Turkey noted that in 2010 “people were prosecuted under different articles of the Penal Code because they had criticized the armed forces, the position of Armenians and Kurds in Turkey, and ongoing criminal prosecutions. In addition, anti-terrorism laws, carrying higher prison sentences and resulting in pre-trial detention orders, were used to stifle legitimate free expression. Kurdish political activists, journalists and human rights defenders were among those most frequently prosecuted.”   Things have only gotten worse in 2011.

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