Hate speech or freedom of expression?

Ahmet Türk after being released from hospital in April

Back in April while in Samsun, Ahmet Türk took a right hook to the face and ended up in hospital with a broken nose and gashes on his forehead. Türk, former head of the now defunct DTP, was attacked by a young, disgruntled Turkish nationalist, Ismail Çelik. Çelik was arrested immediately. Türk, gracious as ever, did not press charges against his assailant.

A couple days later, Hürriyet newspaper journalist Yılmaz Özdil wrote a column called ‘The Punch’ in which he said, ‘[t]he punch was put in the place of the “hammer of justice.” The person who punched Ahmet Türk on his nose became the interpreter of the feelings of many people in this country. […] Because the nonsense of the “opening” process that legitimated terrorism is not a one-sided issue. On the other hand it initiated the creation of “bandit heroes.”’

Hürriyet journalist, Yılmaz Özdil

The day after Hürriyet ran the column, 36 lawyers of the Diyarbakır Bar Association filed a criminal complaint against Özdil. In June, the Press Council High Commission, which heard the case against Özdil, unanimously dismissed all charges against him saying that the column did not violate article 13 of the Professional Press Principles. They added that it ‘did not encourage violence and tyranny and did not offend values of humanity,’ but rather his praise of violence was merely an ‘idea.’

Yesterday the Chief Prosecution of Diyarbakır finished up its own investigation, and, surprise, came to the same conclusion. It announced that Özdil’s column fell completely within the bounds of freedom of expression. ‘The action remained within the right to voice a personal opinion as it is a journalist’s duty and within the scope of the freedom to criticise,’ the prosecution concluded.

A journalist’s duty…to criticise? In Turkey? But would that ever apply to a Kurdish journalist who felt he or she had the duty to criticise? Would that be within their ‘scope of freedom’? Absolutely not.

Former Bar Association President Sezgin Tanrıkulu called Özdil’s article ‘hate speech’ saying that the attack was a hate crime and the column tried to ‘justify the attack.’ ‘[The column] encourages the people to that sort of actions [sic] and it suggests that a large part of society tolerates the attack,’ Tanrıkulu indicated. The European Court of Human Rights does not consider hate discourses to be protected by the freedom of expression.

Freedom of the press has many traps in Turkey, which ranks 122nd of 175 countries in a press-freedom index published by Reporters Without Borders. More than 700 cases involving journalists are pending in the courts, according to the general secretary of a Turkish journalists association. Roughly 60 journalists are in jail. Typically a journalist ends up in jail for criticising the government or writing anything positive about the Kurds.

Ismail Çelik, grabbed after the assault

Meanwhile, Ismail Çelik was released in June after two months behind bars. Çelik’s lawyer said that he will not apologise to Türk but rather to the ‘Turkish people’ and the ‘state.’ The lawyer added that ‘Ismail did not do anything to cause so many martyrs in 40 years, but those who are close to the PKK like Ahmet Türk and the BDP did.’ Çelik is due to appear in court again on 27 July.

Bayram Bozyel, the chairman of the pro-Kurdish Rights and Freedoms Party (Hak-Par), called the attack ‘a reflection of the deep anti-Kurdish feelings of the racist segment of society.’

sources:

Zacharia, Janine. As Turkey looks to West, trial highlights lagging press freedom. Washington Post, 05 July 2010.

Önderoğlu, Erol. Prosecutor Deemed “Fist” Column as Freedom of Expression. bianet, 12 July 2010.

Köse, Mehmet. No apology as Türk’s assailant released pending trial. Today’s Zaman, 19 June 2010.

Pelek, Semra. Press Council Deems “Punch” Article in the Limits of Press Freedom. bianet, 17 June 2010.

Journalist Sued for Comment on Attack on Kurdish Politician. bianet, 16 April 2010.

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