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September 20, 2012, Thursday

How Alevi victims became criminal offenders

Because of our prime minister’s recent statement about hate crime laws, we have begun to discuss this topic once again.

I have written a couple of articles about this before. While I fully support Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in his endeavor to bring the subject of Islamphobia and hate crimes against Muslims to the attention of the UN, I am critical about his remarks about punishing Islamaphobic statements in Turkey. We already have some provisions, which make insulting beliefs and values of all religions a violation of the law. Islamaphobic statements may produce hate speech in Europe since they endanger the Muslims living there by paving the way for hates crimes against them. But it is hard to imagine that Islamaphobic statement would make Muslims in Turkey a target of hate crimes in Turkey.

Hate crime laws protect minorities and vulnerable groups who are prone to attacks and violence. Therefore, when you prepare such laws you need to take into account the history, social and cultural structure of the particular country in which you intend to introduce such laws.

We need to protect Muslims in Europe where they are a minority group and can fall victim to hate crimes. When it comes to Turkey, even if you look at our history very briefly, you can see that typical victims of hate crimes are non-Muslims and Alevis. So, if we introduce hate crime laws we need to take this fact into account.

And if you look at what is happening on the ground, you can understand that we desperately need these kinds of laws. Our judiciary has not got the slightest awareness about hate speech and hate crimes and most of the time they tend to punish the victims rather then the perpetrators.

Just the other day, a Malatya prosecutor introduced his indictment about a lynching attempt that took place a few months ago in Malatya. Let me tell you the story from the beginning to explain what I mean.

There was a mob attack against a Kurdish Alevi family in Malatya on July 29. The mob stoned their house and torched their barn after family members objected to a traditional street drummer who wakes up the faithful for the pre-dawn ritual meal in the month of Ramadan. According to news reports, some 50-60 people first initiated the attack on a Saturday night, after family members asked the drummer to beat his drum further away from their house, and then later, another 400-500 people showed up and started marching toward their house. Security forces dispersed the crowd but threats against the family continued.

What the mob was doing was a clear hate crime because they targeted a family on the basis of their religious beliefs. If we had a hate crime law, the suspects would have received quite harsh punishments for their lynching attempt because hate crime laws introduce enhanced punishment terms for crimes like assault, murder and some others when they are committed with biased motivation targeting a particular group.

As far as I know, no one was arrested after these attacks except the drummer himself. According to news agencies, the prosecutor has just completed his indictment for this incident and he has demanded a decreased punishment for 48 aggressors, claiming that they acted after being unjustly provoked by the family. According to the prosecutor, the mob attacked the family because one of the family members threatened them by citing the name of an illegal organization. We do not know if one of the family members really cited the name of any organization to the mob. However, if you were an Alevi family and if a mob gathered in front of your home, you would say and do anything to stop them, especially in a country like Turkey, in which thousands of Alevis were killed in the past in lynching campaigns across the country. The prosecutor, instead of pressing for an eight-and-a half-year punishment under the Turkish Penal Code (which has no provision for hate crimes) demanded a punishment for the mob members between three months and six-and-a-half years because of this “provocation.”

The same prosecutor demanded a punishment between three-and-a-half and 14 years for one of the family members for allegedly attacking the drummers and threatening the mob by citing the name of an illegal organization.

It is hard to believe, is not it? You barely survive a mob attack, where your house was stoned, your barn was set on fire and you were extremely afraid, and the prosecutor claims that you provoked these people who attacked you.

I really hope that this incident will attract the attention of the government officials who are talking about “hate crimes.” We desperately need hate crime laws, not to protect any religion or some beliefs, but to protect people who are subjected to hatred and enmity. This is what we need.

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