Two Minutes to Fight for Freedom in Turkey

Supporters of Fazil Say, a world-renowned Turkish pianist who went before an Istanbul court on charges of insulting Islam and offending Muslims in comments he made on Twitter (Photo Credit: STR/AFP/Getty Images).

Supporters of Fazil Say, a world-renowned Turkish pianist who went before an Istanbul court on charges of insulting Islam and offending Muslims in comments he made on Twitter (Photo Credit: STR/AFP/Getty Images).

In Turkey, freedom of expression is under attack. But you can make a difference. And it will only take two minutes of your time to add your voice to calls for real freedom in Turkey.

The Criminalization of Dissent

The situation is grave. Overly broad anti-terrorism laws have led to the prosecution of people for their ideas. An elderly grandmother has been convicted under terrorism charges for calling for peace between Turks and Kurds. Students, publishers, scholars and lawyers…all have been targeted under laws that confuse peaceful dissent for criminal violence. Moreover, Turkey has retained a series of laws that directly limit freedom of expression. In its most recent report, Amnesty International documents case after case in which Turkish authorities continue to attack individuals for peacefully expressing their ideas.

The force of these laws ripple through Turkish society. There is a concerted effort to depoliticize universities. The arrest of scores of journalists has justifiably damaged Turkey’s international reputation.


Why is Turkey Prosecuting Yet Another Artist?

Supporter of Turkish pianist Fazil Say holds a sign in support of Say.

A supporter of world-renowned Turkish pianist Fazil Say holds a cardboard reading “Fazil Say is not alone” during a protest held outside an Istanbul court on October 18, 2012. (Photo credit: STR/AFP/Getty Images)

It is a cold winter for freedom of expression in Turkey. Thousands are in prison or in pre-trial detention under Turkey’s bloated anti-terrorism laws, including nearly three thousand students.

Artists have been targeted as well. Five members of the protest band, Grup Yorum, have reportedly been taken into custody on terrorism charges (their lawyers have alleged that members of the group were tortured in a previous case). And Fazıl Say, arguably Turkey’s most respected classical music artist, is on trial for “religious defamation.”

Say is one is a long, unhappy series of prominent artists and intellectuals, including Nobel Prize laureate Orhan Pamuk,  who have been targeted for prosecution in Turkey because of opinions they have voiced.


Turkish Human Rights and the Syrian Conflict

Recent tensions along the Turkish – Syrian border have captured the world’s attention and sparked tough talk in Ankara.  Turkey’s parliament has approved cross-border operations and the Turkish military has increased its presence on the border.  Artillery fire across the border is a daily event and, after Turkey stopped and searched two flights bound for Syria, each country has banned the other from using its airspace.  Yet, there is no war fever on Turkish streets.  Part of the reason for this lays in longstanding Turkish traditions; an important strand of Republican popular memory highlights the “foreign entanglements” of the Ottoman Empire as a mistake not to be repeated.  Just as important, however, are the ways in which the Syrian crisis is understood within the context of Turkish domestic politics and the on-going repression of activists and dissidents within the country.

Although Turkey has been touted as “a democratic model for the Middle East,” the reality is far more complicated.   This, after all, is a country where expressing unpopular views can land you in jail.  World renowned pianist, Fazıl Say, for example, is on trial for tweets deemed “insulting to religious values.”  Poking fun at politicians can also land you in big trouble.  Recently, a man was sentenced to more than a year in prison for making fun of the Turkish president, Abdullah Gül.  Needless to say, there is no Turkish equivalent of the Daily Show.  The Turkish record on press freedoms continues to be “bleak” according to a recent review by Marc Pierini for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, with many journalists in prison or on trial and a growing culture of self-censorship.