Who is insulting Turkey? Intellectuals or ‘lovers of Turkey’?

Turkish Daily News, Thursday, May 24, 2007,

Orhan Kemal Cengiz

Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Codeon “denigrating Turkishness” has become the most famous—or should one say notorious—legal celebrity worldwide. At Hirant Dink`s funeral, some participants were carrying placards saying “the killer 301,” making a reference tothe court case that had been brought against the slain journalist under this article.

Not only Hirant Dink, but also manyother intellectuals, journalists and writers in Turkey have gone, and are still going, through the same painful process. Criminal cases have been brought against them under this article and simultaneously, threats against their lives and the lives of their loved ones have started to reach their computers, mobile phones and sometimes their voice mail accounts.

When these “victims” of 301 came to courtrooms to attend their hearings, they were almost certain that an angrymob, chanting slogans against them and carrying banners declaring them traitors, would be waiting for them in front of the courthouse.

Some statesmen and political figuresprotested the “killer 301” placards carried in the funeral. A law, an article could not be blamed for a murder, according to these circles. However, almost everyone who has been tried under article 301 of Turkish Penal Code has a bodyguard now, appointed by the Security Directorate, to protect them closely, 24 hours, seven days a week. So the question of “Who is denigrating `Turkishness`? ” becomes more complex at this juncture. Is it these intellectuals expressing their non-violent ideas to make this countryfreer and more self-confident, or is it those who condemned these thinking human beings to needing bodyguards to walk safely in the streets? Who isinsulting Turkey?

In Turkey, some circles claim amonopoly over “loving” this country. The rest must love this country in the same way they do. The first rule of this “love” is that you must not question the official ideology, especially the official view of history. The second ruleis that you must deny differences between people living in this country. This“love” culminates in demanding those who “do not love” this country should either “learn” to love it they way they do — or leave. Is this love really? The guidelines for such a “bitter love” have yet to be discovered.

Do you know what is going on inTurkey now? There are still a lot of cases under article 301, very fresh ones. However, people are so afraid that they do not even invite their friends and supporters to their trials, fearing that the press first and then the “loversof Turkey”, the “protectors of Turkishness,” may become aware of their cases and they could become the new targets! Whose shame is this?

I opened my previous article withElif Safak’s remarks and I would like to conclude this one with her magnificent statement: “One should love this country so much as to be able to criticize it. Some think that if one criticizes this country, it is an indication that they do not love it. Can this be true? On the contrary, I criticize it because Ilove it, I find it very significant and I cannot bear it to stay wounded.”

I love this country and its peoplevery much in exactly the same way Elif Safak loves it!

Q & A

Whatdoes article 301 say?

“1. Public denigration of Turkishness, the Republic, or the Grand National Assembly of Turkey, shall be punishable by imprisonment between six months and three years.

2. Public denigration of the Government of the Republic of Turkey, the judicial institutions of the State, the military or security structures shall be punishable by imprisonment between six months and two years.

Whatis wrong with it?

As Amnesty International says:

The permissible restrictions on theright to freedom of expression in the international human rights law are to be strictly construed. Accordingly, any restriction on the exercise of the right to freedom of expression must be prescribed by law. To qualify as a measure”prescribed by law,” any legal provision restricting the exercise ofthe right to freedom of expression must be “accessible and unambiguous,” narrowly drawn and precise enough so that individuals subject to the law can foresee whether a particular action is unlawful.

Article 301 does not meet the requirement of being “accessible and unambiguous,” but rather its wide and vague terms mean that it may be applied arbitrarily to criminalize a wide range of peacefully expressed dissenting opinions.

In short, Turkey should get rid ofthis article as soon as possible.

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