An Indictment

Free speech continues to matter for this blog. Here in Turkey, the “Academics for Peace” are signers of a petition calling for an end to what the petition calls a “deliberate and planned massacre.” On July 17, 2018, three more of these Academics were given suspended sentences of fifteen months for “propagandizing for a terrorist organization.” There is a story on this by Tansu Pişkin on Bianet. A suspended sentence means the convicted person is on probation for some years. When I met up recently with a Peace Academic who had already been given a suspended sentence, he laughed it off.

The bill of indictment (iddianame) for each Peace Academic is 14 pages long. I know this, because I signed for the version that was delivered to our flat. The courier gave me a worried look when he handed me an envelope from the 36th Aggravated Felony Court.

An educated, intelligent person did a lot of work on the indictment, to create an argument that academics who condemn their own country for violence are

  1. insulting their country,
  2. thus doing something that no country permits, and
  3. actually doing the work of the terrorists whom their country is fighting.

Analyses of the argument are gathered at the blog, Academics for Peace—A Case Study: Documenting and Contextualizing the Instrumentalization of the Law in Turkey (curated by Academics for Peace Germany e.V.).

I want to look at what the indictment says specifically about freedom of speech, using the English translation at the blog just mentioned. There is a general assertion about what free speech is not:

Including under-developed countries, no state or government in the world fighting terrorist organisations shall deem deems [hiç bir devlet ya da hükümet…değerlendirmez] the statements of persons that accuse it of committing a “massacre”, that degrade it or make propaganda in a way that legitimates or promotes the methods of force, violence, and threat of [i.e. used by] terrorist organisations that aim to abolish its existence, [to be] within the borders of freedom of thought or the right to critique.

Here I have suggested a correction and two clarifications of the translation; suggested new words are underlined. In its logical interpretation of the Turkish, the translation is probably correct. However, I think the Turkish is ambiguous and can also be interpreted as follows:

Including under-developed countries, no state or government in the world fighting terrorist organisations deems the statements of persons making propaganda that gives legitimacy to the force-, violence-, and threat-containing methods of terror organizations that accuse it of committing a “massacre,” degrade it, [and] aim to abolish its existence, or encourages the application of these methods, [to be] within the scope of freedom of thought, or right of critique.

For those who can use it, the original is as follows.

Az gelişmiş ülkeler dahil olmak üzere dünyanın neresinde olursa olsun terör örgütleri ile mücadele eden hiç bir devlet ya da hükümet, kendisini “katliam” yapmakla suçlayan, küçük düşüren, varlığını ortadan kaldırmayı hedefleyen terör örgütlerinin cebir, şiddet veya tehdit içeren yöntemlerini meşru gösterecek ya da bu yöntemlere başvurmayı teşvik edecek şekilde propagandasını yapan şahısların beyanlarını düşünce özgürlüğü ve eleştiri hakkı kapsamında değerlendirmez.

I have a memory of a BBC interview in which an Israeli official (perhaps Benjamin Netanyahu when he was Foreign Minister) said no country could negotiate with terrorists. Told that Britain had done just this, to bring peace to Northern Ireland, he said something like, “You may do it, but we cannot.”

A country is going to apply its own principles. Nonetheless, the Turkish prosecutor goes on to speak of certain other countries. In doing so, he (I presume “he”) uses both underlining and italics—boldface is an option used elsewhere in the indictment, either separately or in combination with italics, underlining, or both; underlining and italics are also used separately; thus, all told, seven different methods of emphasis are used:

For example, an academic would not be able to accuse the United States of America or any member state of the European Union of carrying out a massacre against Al-Qaida and ISIS, whom they have actively been fighting. The legal systems of the respective countries would never let this happen

When I still lived in the United States, I participated in several protests of American wars, and I freely posted condemnations of American warfare on my office door at a state university. By my assessment, the ongoing American drone attacks on Al-Qaida suspects and others are criminal massacres.

Unless the Turkish prosecutor means to assert that there is no such thing as a war crime, and thus no possibility that Turkey may apply disproportionate force against its perceived enemies, then citizens have a right and a duty to question what their country does, even during war. Call this my opinion, but I think it is only logical. If a country is not infallible, people get to criticize it. Even the founder of the so-called Islamic State said as much:

I am not better than you or more virtuous than you. If you see me on the right path, help me. If you see me on the wrong path, advise me and halt me. And obey me as far as I obey God.

I quoted and discussed this in an article about facts in August, 2014.

The indictment of the Peace Academics mentions protests and vigils on behalf of three of their number, who were imprisoned for reiterating their support of the original petition. A fourth was imprisoned when she returned from a trip abroad. The prosecutor seems to believe that exercise of freedom of speech can be evidence of criminal intent:

In order to shape public opinion, the relevant academics held various press conferences, carried out so-called watch duties, organised demonstrations and, in order to present the detained academics as victims, they tried to carry out protests on the themes of “freedom of thought and expression” and “the right to criticize” by way of all kinds of written and oral means of communication, using in particular the media, and used all this as a cloak [paravan] for the committed crime.

A case can be made that it is never a good idea to insult a person. I understand an insult as something that causes a loss of self-respect. Legal punishments ought not to cause this, but to engender repentance. This is presumably the reason for the American term “penitentiary,” although the intended meaning of the term seems to have been forgotten, and prisons do seem to insult their inmates, in the sense described.

A legal punishment ought not to insult; neither, I think, should the law attempt to punish insult. Mature persons normally have better ways to deal with insults. If there are exceptional cases, I have not thought of one. However, the prosecutor of the Peace Academics has:

It cannot be within the limits of the freedom of thought to attribute a concrete act or stance to a person or institution that would compromise its honour, dignity, esteem or prestige [onur, şeref, haysiyet ve saygınlığını rencide edebilecek] or to make claims regarding that person or institution that are contrary to the facts. Even in the most libertarian states [en özgürlükçü sistemlerin olduğu devletlerde dahi], expressions of insult [hakaret içeren ifadeler] are not protected and propaganda for terrorist organisations is not tolerated.

The current President of the United States of America is routinely insulted with impunity, both at home and abroad. Just look at the Trump baby blimp recently flown in London.

The indictment mentions Spain and the UK as prohibiting support of ETA and the IRA. Next is the US:

In the United States of America, which was targeted by international terrorist organisations in recent years, the Supreme Court, with a view to the interests of the country, has prohibited terrorist organisations to give statements aimed at manipulating and distorting truths and threating the country. Besides, in the USA, not only those that make propaganda for terrorist organisations, but also those assumed to be connected to these organisations face heavy sanctions, get deported or banned from entering the country.

No documentation is supplied for such claims. All I can think of here is that giving material support to terrorist organizations may be forbidden in the US, and this has caused trouble for Palestinian and Irish charities. The “sanctions” referred to in the indictment evidently concern non-citizens. The Academics for Peace are Turkish citizens, and they are not collecting donations, but are demanding an end to violence committed in their name.

The Peace Academics do not liken the Turkish state to any other. However, according to the prosecutor, they might as well have likened Turkey to the Nazis. The following is from the last paragraph before the Conclusion of the indictment; I have supplied a closing quotation mark, which is missing from the original Turkish:

Moreover, the ECHR “accepts that all kinds of ungrounded, malicious and defamatory statements can be arranged/corrected [düzlenebileceğini] by the norms of criminal law. Given that the ECHR, for instance, rejected accusations regarding Nazism that indirectly bring to mind a massacre, it should not be compatible with the law to legitimize the methods of force, violence and threat of the PKK/KCK or to make propaganda in a way that encourages the employment of these methods by accusing the state, the government, the judiciary, the army and the security forces of committing a massacre.

Given the lack of documentation, I can only guess the meaning here. Perhaps the European Court of Human Rights judged that accusing a government of Nazism was out of bounds, because the government was not actually doing Nazi-like things. What Turkey is being accused of sounds Nazi-like; however, since Turkey is not Nazi-like, the judgment of the ECHR applies. Something like this would seem to be the logic. I can only wonder what the ECHR thinks about the present case.

The photographs above are by me, from in and around (and in the last case, on the way to) the courthouse at Cağlayan, Istanbul, April 18 and June 6, 2018. The security guards were polite when I went in on the latter day. I did not go into the courtroom itself; the room was needed for the families of all of the students of Boğaziçi University who had been arrested for protesting the government. Again there is a story by Tansu Pişkin on Bianet

Corrected and edited for style, August 2, 2018

2 Trackbacks

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