[email protected]

March 27, 2012, Tuesday

The closure of Özgür Gündem

The İstanbul 14th Criminal Court ordered the closure of the Özgür Gündem (Free Agenda) newspaper for one month, citing the “dissemination of propaganda for an organization” in its March 24 edition.

By “organization” the court means the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK). Ordering the closure of a newspaper is a method left over from the times of military coups and martial law. And so, during a period of rapid democratization, occurring in opposition to the whole mentality of a guardian regime, this punishment seems strangely incompatible with the times. It also provides a golden opportunity for critics of the ruling party to level accusations of “you are eliminating military tutelage, and yet busy yourself with setting up your own sort of control.”

Yes, ordering the closure of a newspaper is a huge mistake from the angle of freedom of expression and thought, not to mention being a disgrace to any democracy. But what should the prosecutors and judges do? They are actually holding up pretty well despite some of the content contained in the Counterterrorism Law (TMK).

To wit, Article 6 of the TMK, on “Declarations and Publications,” calls for the punishment of “those who print or publish announcements and declarations” from terrorist groups. In fact, the law rules that publications which contain propaganda for terrorist groups, or which encourage criminal activity, or praise crimes carried out or the criminal itself, can be ordered closed for periods of 15 days to one month by judges or orders from prosecutors.

In others words, rather than simply condemning the ordering of the closure of a newspaper, what needs to be done is to call for these articles in the law to be changed. Justice Minister Sadullah Ergin yesterday made an announcement on this note which inspired hope. And we do hope that the new bill before Parliament will eliminate the remaining barriers blocking freedom of the press in Turkey.

And so, while I do not necessarily applaud what has been published in this situation, I do oppose the forced closure of a newspaper. I want to see the very same freedom of thought and expression that I wish for myself allowed for ideas and expressions of thought that are contrary to my own thinking.

What is important on this front is to conform to the universal measures at hand. The articles of the European Convention of Human Rights and decisions rendered by the European Court of Human Rights accept freedom of expression as the most basic of human freedoms. In places where this freedom does not exist, it is really impossible to say there is much freedom. What's more, in supporting this freedom, the courts have underscored that it applies even to thoughts and news that upset or are contrary to the beliefs of the majority of the local population where they are being shared.

But here we need to stop. Some Turkish writers who loudly defend these universal measures unfortunately do much to try and ignore or overlook some of the limitations brought to freedom of expression by the European Court of Human Rights. Yes to freedom of thought, yes to freedom of expression, but not without limitations. After all, the European Court of Human Rights does not count violence, armed resistance or calls to rebellion as examples of freedom of expression. And the truth is, no one could. In short, declarations that encourage hatred or violence do not fall under the protection of the European Convention of Human Rights.

And this is what the essence of the problem in Turkey is. The PKK is a terrorist organization. Both the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) and Özgür Gündem are tightly intertwined with the PKK. The BDP, the Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK), the PKK, and the Democratic Society Congress (DTK) all lie on the very same axis. The name of this axis is the political Kurdish movement. And as it is expressed in the KCK Contract, at the meeting of the DTK, and declared over and over by BDP leaders to us, the real goal at hand is an “autonomous Kurdistan.” A separate “status” is being called for in 21 provinces of east and southeast Turkey. There is a demand for a Kurdish leadership independent of Turkey. And the belief that what has happened in both Iraq and Syria has created the right atmosphere now has brought about the view that the moment has finally arrived for a mass movement to have a separate Kurdish administration independent of Turkey.

Ever since the attack in Çukurca in August 2011, the violence has been on an increase. Great hope is being placed in what could come out of a Kurdish-Turkish war.

The truth, though, is that we do have a Kurdish problem that derives from practices and implementations of the regime of military tutelage. But in reality, this problem is not only that of the Kurds, but also of the Turks. As equal citizens in this country, we can build a life in which we all live freely and humanely with one another. A solution based on violence or armed conflict is not a solution. At the same time, we do now have an opportunity that lies before us. We have the prospect of a new constitution, as well as Turkish membership in the EU. Our real decision is to settle on whether the solution will come through democratization or through violent clashes.

The reasonable majority that made its wishes clear through a referendum on a constitutional amendment package in September 2010 is also a resolute majority; the solution needs to come through democratization.

Previous articles of the columnist