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December 13, 2012, Thursday

Praising Hrant Dink’s murder

In this column I have written that because hate speech directed against minorities and sensitive groups has not been penalized at different times, awareness in Turkey of this issue is quite low.

In fact, the number of hate speech cases against minorities that result in prosecution and, ultimately, the suspect receiving a punishment is very few. In our recent past a newer type of case has been incorporated into these exceptional lawsuits, and a person who spoke out in praise of the murder of Hrant Dink was given a prison sentence.

The managing coordinator of Statüko magazine, Okan Baş, wrote in the magazine's January-February 2012 issue, “As you know, Ogün Samast is only a robust youth; he attacked a man who said there is a brutishness inherent to Turks… what's so wrong with that?” The Samsun 2nd High Criminal Court convicted Baş of the crime of spreading enmity and rancor among the people by praising a crime, and he was sentenced to one year and three months in prison.

This court decision is rather important from a number of perspectives. The court accepted that praising Dink's murder is akin to spreading rancor and enmity and applied Article 216 of the Turkish Penal Code (TCK) as outlawing hate speech.

The opening of this lawsuit took place in an interesting manner. Despite the publication of this magazine in Samsun and the prosecutors' views on the magazine, they did not opt to open a case of their own accord. It was only following the filing of a criminal complaint by İstanbul-based civil society organization Say Stop to Racism and Nationalism! (Dur De!) that a case was opened. I reached the press agent for Dure De, Cengiz Algan, by phone and asked what he thought about this decision.

Algan had the following to say:

“It pleased us that a case was opened against Okan Baş, who openly praised the killing of Hrant Dink, because all of the criminal complaints we previously tried to file had been ignored. For example, most recently, a criminal complaint we filed against the Akit daily targeting [columnist] Ali Bayramoğlu was rejected. It is very important that a penalty be given for Article 216 of the TCK as well. This article actually punishes hate speech. However, up until today, with a few updates, this article was used inversely -- to protect the state. In this regard, this legal decision can set a precedent. In the criminal cases we file in the future, we can show this decision as an example.

Such a decision also carries weight in terms of civil society's struggle. It's an example that reflects that the steps taken have not been in vain. Civil society organizations that are involved in work concerning hate crimes and speech where there is no legal regulation will have more self confidence and being and know that they are not fighting an uphill battle.”

I too agree with Cengiz and I find this decision very encouraging. I think from now on those who are contemplating praising the killers of Hrant Dink will think twice before opening up their mouths. And again, as Cengiz has said, this decision sets a legal precedent. My hope is that the Supreme Court of Appeals does not lift this penalty during the appeals process and that it approves this penalty. Our spirits, which have been weighed down by the prime minister's intolerant statements as of late and the appointment of one of the judges who decided on the sentencing of Hrant Dink for insulting Turkishness as Turkey's first chief ombudsman, have become somewhat lifted by this decision.

This is how Turks progress; they take two steps back and one step forward.

And I am going to continue applauding positive development, while I criticize negativities. I wanted to share this case, which gave me a glimmer of hope, with you.

I wish all my readers an enjoyable weekend.

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