18 April 2014, Friday
Today's Zaman
COLUMNISTS 22 May 2012, Tuesday 20 0

Mr. Öcalan!

The Turkish media long had a habit of talking like state institutions in the news and in the comments they presented.

This has been changing but it is quite a strong tradition. One of the consequences of this “state language” was a certain way to refer to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and its leader, Abdullah Öcalan.

Newspapers and television broadcasts are full of derogatory adjectives when reporting news about the PKK and Öcalan. Just a few examples for how Öcalan is referred to in Turkish media are as follows: “baby killer,” “terrorist chieftain,” “leader of a bloody organization” and so on.

To be honest, I could understand if in private an individual used these kinds of derogatory words for the leader of an organization that caused so much pain and suffering in Turkey, but I have always had difficulty in understanding how these kinds of adjectives can be used in news coverage.

While the media always referred to Öcalan and the PKK in derogatory terms, on the other side, the judiciary was also busy throwing people into jail for their alleged use of “praise” for them. If, for example, you referred to Öcalan as “Sayın” in Turkish (which could be translated as “esteemed” or sometimes “Mr.”) you may have been prosecuted for allegedly promoting propaganda of the organization or acting in line with the purposes of a terrorist organization.

The Supreme Court of Appeals has just quashed a verdict regarding this and created a new precedence in favor of freedom of expression. Let’s read the news coverage of Sibel Hürtaş from the Habertürk daily, dated May 21, to learn the details of this recent judgment:

“The Supreme Court of Appeals Penal Chamber gave the green light to the use of the expression ‘Mr. Abdullah Öcalan’ which has been the reason for the imprisonment of several politicians. The court decided that the use of the phrase was covered by the principle of ‘freedom of expression,’ and overruled the punishment of its usage.

“The ruling has ended the debate on the use of ‘Mr.’ which put a firm stamp on a period. The ruling was made in a case about an interview on Roj TV with BDP member Hatip Dicle and Kurdish politician Selim Sadak, who are currently imprisoned under the KCK [Kurdistan Communities Union] probe. Dicle and Sadak referred to Abdullah Öcalan as ‘Mr. Öcalan’ and to PKK members as ‘guerillas.’ Specially authorized prosecutors in Ankara later filed lawsuits against the interviewees. Dicle and Sadak were tried at the Ankara 11th High Criminal Court.

“The court sentenced each of the accused to six years in prison, based on the reason that they ‘praised a crime and criminals in line with the objectives of the terrorist organization, the PKK.’ Following the appeal, the case was moved to the Supreme Court of Appeals, which reversed the verdict.

“The high court called for a holistic interpretation of the interview, and stated that the phrases were covered by Article 26 of the Constitution as well as Article 10 of the ECHR [European Convention on Human Rights]. The preamble for the overruling stated that the phrases were covered by the ‘freedom of expression which is held up by the verdicts of the Supreme Court of Appeals and the European Court of Human Rights [ECtHR].’ The high court unanimously absolved the accused, stressing that they could not be tried for using the phrase in question.

“There has recently been a campaign to support people who have been tried for referring to Öcalan as ‘Mr.’ The original phrase in Turkish is ‘Sayın,’ which is a hat-tipping expression used before names to show respect. The campaigners signed petitions to turn themselves in for using the phrase, and 150 were sued. There were also approximately 300 cases against 29 lawyers of Abdullah Öcalan for referring to him as ‘Mr. Öcalan.’ A total of 949 people were convicted for the same offense in 2006-2007.”

Well, I am glad that we have this judgment from the Supreme Court, which will be binding on all local courts. What also made me very pleased was that our high court justified its decision by relying on the jurisprudence of the ECtHR. In recent years there has been a growing tendency to this effect. I very much welcome this decision of our high court, which put an end to such a nonsensical legal practice and which broadens the limits of freedom of expression in Turkey.

it is for me a baby killer, a terrorist, a rapist; it is for the pkk and the pkk sympathizers' a hero, a superman...make your choice.
Aban don Al Hope, I'm afraid you're wrong. Most of the attacks attributed to the PKK have actually been committed by the PKK themselves.JITEM and the 'deep state' have their share of the killings (and torture) as well, and are as guilty as the PKK when it comes to killing the innocent. We should not...
Baris, please don't forget that most of attacks on civilians that have been attributed to PKK have been commited by Turkish forces like JITEM or MIT. One of these examples is the 'Semdinli' case!
Aban don Al Hope
Baran, during the 80s and 90s, when Ocalan was firmly at the helm, PKK deliberate attacked villages, Kurdish ones and Turkish ones, killing innocent villagers at will. I can still remember the images of the bullet ridden bodies of babies from those raids. Those attacks were deliberate, and that was ...
He is a terrorist leader. Not a leader of workers party as you've presented. Government sucker!
For starters, if you want me to address you as "your majesty" or "your royal highness" or "Mr.Scumbag" or "Mr.Murderer" whatever title you want others to call you, it is your given right, and the government has no right to silence these small formalities that have nothing to do with the ongoing judi...
Mine Ozcelik Bagrationi
Baris, your harangue betrays your other seemingly rational comments and shows you're nothing but a Turkish wolf in sheep's clothing. Why would Ocalan kill babies? Erdogan, Bush and Obama have also caused the death of babies, mothers and innocent civilians like the 34 youngsters in Uludere. When are ...
@kalpakian armenians are the last for critisizing Turkey s minority right , since armenia ethnically cleansed 1 million azeri and kurds from their homes in the last 20 years.Armenians mentality is the copy of the european country you mention in terms of ethnic cleansing supporter population and anti...
@delan ocalan caused 40.000 kurdish dead and 3000.000 kurdish refugees, kurds only gain rights when Turkey accepted Europea Human Right Courts authority in 1999 for european union membership.This logic bring more misery to kurds.
I fully agree with you, Mr Cengiz, on the usage of the title Mr. for Ocalan. It is good that the freedom of expression has been allowed to over-rule the archaic anti-terror laws, which must be lifted. I cannot, however, criticise the media for using the phrases “baby killer”, “terrorist chieftain” a...
As per definition, referring to Ocalan using 'Mister' is correct, on return 'Miss' or 'Misses' would be misplaced, according to his gender he is a man. Referring to PKK as a guerilla is also correct, as per definition guerilla are small armed forces that use ambush tactics, sabotage etc.. The term i...
Aban don Al Hope
a step in the right direction. kurd most feel they are equal other wise they will never stop fighting back the turkish army.
As always, excellent work. The reason that the Turkish media uses degrading terms in reference to enemies is simple: it caters to a political culture that does not believe in making peace with enemies, instead it believes in the absolute annihilation of not only enemy combatants but of whole commun...
Jack Kalpakian
Thank you for another well-reasoned and informative column, Mr Cengiz. Future generations of Turks will review the events of these days in perspective and feel ashamed of their ancestors just like the present generations should feel ashamed for the Armenian genocide and denial of freedom and equali...
Well ...... good for Turks, good for Turkey even if it is several decades late! Let's recall that the former British PM Margaret Thatcher once described Nelson Mandela as a communist terrorist! Let's also look at their moral authority today. Ms Thatcher has none!
Let’s put things in perspective here. When people say that Turkey is more democratic than before this is what they mean. Something as simple as calling one Mr. and not going to jail for it now is a big democratic step. Just imagine how many more steps Turkey must take to be a true democracy base on ...
Uncle Billy
This is really very good step taken by supreme court . bravo
narin berwari _ Duhok iraq
Turks and Kurds are brothers! They have been allies long before the the Kurd/Ottoman alliance. Mr. Ocalan took up arms and resistance towards Turkish government because of the oppresion And genocide Trukey did to Kurds. These occured because of bad Turkish leadership at the time. You might call him ...
Delan Kurdistani
How one addresses another speaks volumes- notably in the public domain. So,in the name of 'freedom of expression'(a mighty Right-and rightly so)it's accpetable to refer to Abdullah Öcalan as Mr Öcalan, as witnessed in the craven dialogues of top MIT officials with PKK counterparts in recent 'secret'...
Finally! Finally there is some progress. It is only a shame if a country with an enormous potential and of a great calibre like Turkey, were to make the issue, which has already cost so much lives, money and fraught, worse just because a man who has millions of supporters is referred to by the title...
Shwan Hawezi
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