Dr Ugur Tok

To Whom Erdogan Can Touch and Can’t?

Wikimedia Commons
Mural depicting human rights in Turkey.

UN Human Rights Office has published a comprehensive report on the massive human rights violations under the long-lasting State of Emergency declared in the aftermath of the aborted coup in Turkey. According to the report, “routine extensions of the state of emergency in Turkey have led to profound human rights violations against hundreds of thousands of people – from arbitrary deprivation of the right to work and to freedom of movement, to torture and other ill-treatment, arbitrary detentions and infringements of the rights to freedom of association and expression”. In other words, the government has been conducting large scaled persecution against all dissidents from all walks of life including academics, teachers, doctors, judges, journalists and so on. The report shows that Kurds and Gulenists, among others, are the main targets of the wrath of Erdogan government.

In December 2017, another report on the situation in Turkey was published by the UN Special Rapporteur on torture. It has revealed the extensive practice of torture and ill-treatment in Turkey’s detention centres. Nils Melzer, the Special Rapporteur, underlines that Turkey’s rhetoric of “zero tolerance for torture” doesn’t match with the practices he identified during his visit to Turkey. Like the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Melzer too states that members of the Gulenist movement and Kurds constitute the largest number of the victims of a severe crackdown.

Both reports also cover the unlawful practices that other groups face in the country. For example, academics known as “Peace Academics” are mentioned as another group of victims persecuted by the government for expressing their anti-violence opinion regarding the ongoing situation in the South East of Turkey.  In the same vein, doctors who oppose Turkey’s Afrin Offensive saying “No To War” have been persecuted. Their statement “War is harmful to the human health” is considered “terror propaganda by the government and triggered a crackdown on themselves. Also, Cumhuriyet journalists who have been prosecuted and arrested for reporting secret affairs of the Erdogan government with radical groups in Syria are referred another group of victims.

The Turkish government targets not only individuals and groups for their opposing stances but also it has declared war on the information and knowledge itself. According to the High Commissioner’s report, the government has shut down tens of universities, nearly 200 media outlets, more than a thousand of schools alongside the ban on Wikipedia, blocking of Kurdish satellite TVs and over 100.000 websites. Bearing the words of Erdogan “We will eradicate Twitter” in mind, Turkey’s leadership in the number of suspended social media accounts and thousands of jailed people because of their social media posts tell a lot about the fight against information carried out by the government. It goes without saying, journalists who report any illegal affair of the government or criticise it don’t have right to live at their home. They should be placed behind bars where they belong to. With this logic, nearly 150 journalists are in jail, and more than 300 are being prosecuted.

One can’t help wondering whether there are people who are not punished by the government for expressing their opinion. The answer is surprising. There are some people who have never been touched even if their actions and words constitute a breach of more than one law. For example, Nurettin Yildiz, a pro-government cleric, can defend child abuse under the name of “marriage with little girls”. He publicly said “There can be marriages between children or between a child and an adult. For example, a marriage between a 7-year-old girl and a 25-year-old man, or a 7-year-old boy with a 25-year-old woman. There are no inconveniences preventing their marriage”. The same cleric is known with his harsh remarks on gender relations such as “women can’t appear on TV screens, pregnant women can’t walk in the streets, women and men can’t take the same elevator”. Yildiz hasn’t been detained nor prosecuted so far for his discriminative and hate speeches. Instead, the government banned all news criticising his remarks and ideas.

Ensar Foundation is another pro-government group that is protected by the government instead of being subject to criminal investigation because of the massive child abuse incidents. Only in one case, 45 children were identified as victims of rape in this foundation’s premises. The government claimed that the foundation doesn’t have the responsibility for the incident and one individual should be blamed for the whole scandal. Furthermore, a gag order was issued about the issue to cover up the story. Also, the Ministry of Education signed a protocol with the Ensar Foundation for organising together social, cultural and educational activities for the students in 1000 centres throughout the country.

In addition to child abuse, the government is very much tolerant to ultranationalist leader Dogu Perincek, Perincek was once an arch enemy of the government and was jailed for that. After the corruption scandal in December 2013, Erdogan destructed the judicial system in the country and secured the release of Perincek and other notorious ultranationalists to make them ally against Gulenists and other dissidents. Imagine that, veteran journalist Ahmet Altan has been sentenced to aggravated life sentence for spreading subliminal messages that are claimed to be promoting the coup but Perincek has recently threatened the government with a real coup if his group is targeted. No prosecutor has launched an investigation into his words as of 22 March 2018. Considering his influence on the army, his words pose a much bigger threat to the government than Altan’s manipulated words. But, obviously, the government prefers not to start a fight against him.

It seems that being a journalist, academic or judge is a big crime in Erdogan’s Turkey unlike being a child abuser or a shady character who is able to threaten to overthrow the government. Erdogan’s war on knowledge, education and peaceful opposition has turned all the norms of the country upside down.

Dr Ugur Tok is the Director of Platform for Peace and Justice in Brussels, http://www.platformpj.org/

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