1 – The International Press Institute (IPI) issued a special report on Turkey regarding freedom of expression and democracy, noting that,
Turkey has seen increased pressure on media in recent years, part of a drift toward authoritarianism that has led to a pervasive climate of self-censorship and one of the most troubling press freedom pictures in Europe.
2 – A nationalist retelling of the Gallipoli battle, Son Mektup (Final Letter), released in honor of the 100th anniversary of the battle, has garnered some controversy as Kemalist groups question why Mustafal Kemal Atatürk, a national hero and by many accounts a key figure of the Gallipoli defense, was left out of the film. ODA TV, an independent and often anti-AK-Party news site, asks where the money for such a project came from and notes that the steel, energy, and shipping industry firm İÇDAŞ was a major sponsor. Radikal, meanwhile, notes that the Ministry of National Education has paved the way for the film to be shown to millions of school children across the country. Emine Yıldırım from Today’s Zaman provides a cinematic critique of the film in English.
3 – The Kabataş fiasco described in previous entries (here, here, and here) has taken a new turn, as Hürriyet columnist İsmet Berkan, who claimed via Twitter to have seen footage of the attack, thereby lending weight to a story which has since been widely discredited, issued an apology to his readers at the prompting of Hürriyet’s reader representative, Faruk Bildirici. The story was covered widely, including in Hürriyet, and Today’s Zaman (English). In response, AKP Adiyaman MP Mehmet Metiner says that he trusted Gülenist police directors who told him that they had evidence of the Kabataş harassment and that’s why he had announced that the AKP had such evidence. He says that he doesn’t understand why İsmet Berkan felt compelled to lie about such things during Gezi nor why he feels compelled to confess it now.
4 – Crackdowns on perceived insults and critiques of the government continue to increase in the lead-up to the June parliamentary elections. Today’s Zaman provides a general summary, noting, that
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has filed complaints on charges of “ insult ing” him against a total of 236 people in the 227 days since he was elected president in the election held on Aug. 10, 2014.
In another article, the same paper notes that,
The Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office is seeking a prison sentence of two years for Gonca Vuslateri , an actress who works in theater and television, on charges of insulting President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan , who has so far filed more than 220 complaints against people for allegedly insulting him since he was elected president in August of last year.
One of the cases gathering the most attention is that of cartoonists Aydoğan and Baruter. As Hürriyet Daily News notes,
Two cartoonists for the popular satirical weekly Penguen have been jailed to 11 months in prison, over a satirical piece on free speech in which they were convicted of including a hidden gesture “insulting” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Cartoonists Bahadır Baruter and Özer Aydoğan were sued for the Aug. 21, 2014, cover of the magazine, which satirized Erdoğan’s election as Turkey’s president. In the drawing, Erdoğan is seen asking whether officials at the new presidential palace in Ankara have prepared “any journalists to slaughter,” referring to ritual sacrifice in Islam, to mark his inauguration.
According to Radikal, Penguen has released a statement regarding the 11 month prison sentence, noting that they are saddened that a trial can even take place against a cartoonist and that this is bad for the whole country, especially given the fact that there is no insult on the cover in question. They state that they will continue to draw cartoons and that they hope this trial is the final example of attempt to intimidate free expression.
Other charges filed include the case of students in Trabzon, as covered by Today’s Zaman:
Thirty-seven students and teachers have recently appeared in court on charges of insulting President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan , while criminal complaints have been filed against 11 others accused of breaking Law No. 2911 on Public Assemblies and Demonstrations while attending a protest in Trabzon. Education Personnel Union (Eğitim-Sen) Trabzon branch head Muhammet Ikinci was among those who have been summoned to testify before a court on charges of breaking the law, which regulates the actions allowed in demonstrations and protests. Reacting to the decision, Ikinci said, “This intolerance to people in a country where the government is responsible for guaranteeing fundamental freedoms and rights, including the expression of all ideas, gives us a clue about the want sort of regime the government is becoming.”
Erdoğan is not the only one being “protected” from such insults. Today’s Zaman details stories of journalist Ergun Babahan being indicted for alleged insults to Erdoğan’s son, Bilal, and Prime Minister Davutoğlu suing the paper’s own journalists, Bülent Keneş and Celil Sağır, over allegedly insulting Tweets. The PM apparently also managed to block access to the tweets. Even the state run news service, Anadolu Agency, is apparently now to be shielded from critique, as Hürriyet Daily News reports:
An investigation has been launched into a total of 58 well-known figures in Turkey on the grounds that they criticized the state-run Anadolu Agency on Twitter, daily Cumhuriyet has reported. Top journalists, including daily Cumhuriyet Editor-in-Chief Can Dündar, Hürriyet columnist Melis Alphan and Taraf columnist Emre Uslu are among the suspects, while the former general manager of the agency, Kemal Öztürk, and Vice-General Director Ebubekir Şahin are the complainants. The suspects have been accused of “provoking the people to hate and enmity, as well as defamation, slander and intimidation” for their posts on social media.
5 – In related news, Hürriyet Daily News reports on a new law that could affect social media users:
Social media users who share content that has been subject to a legal complaint in Turkey will be punished, according an omnibus bill currently being debated in parliament, daily Radikal has reported. The Telecommunications Directorate (TIB) will be able to decide for the removal or blocking of Internet content based on an article about the “protection of national security and public order” in the omnibus bill, and users who share such content will also be punished. On March 20, parliament approved a key article of the contentious omnibus bill that gives power to the prime minister and other ministers to shut down websites within four hours. The approval came just six months after a similar bill was overturned by the Constitutional Court.