“Judicial control decisions are ruled as part of a campaign of fear. Unfortunately, it affects many people. We have seen many examples of this recently. We have seen that people can bow down out of fear”, writes lawyer and a prominent human rights activist Eren Keskin for Yeni Yaşam.
I have been involved in the human rights movement for 30 years. I do not remember any period that freedom of expression was this much under pressure as it is today. The 1990’s were bad with all those unidentified murders and counter-guerrilla attacks taking place. We had very bad days. However, the pressure over freedom of expression is much more in today’s Turkey than during those years.
For example, even if an investigation was launched against you in the 1990’s, you would go and give your statement to the prosecutor. A lawsuit would be filed against you, and you would be tried without arrest during the trial process.
If you were sentenced and your sentence was upheld by the Supreme Court, you would go to prison. But today, even when you go to testify for an investigation launched against you, you can be immediately arrested. Even if you are not arrested, you are released with judicial control measures.
Those who express themselves as an ‘opponent’ in our geography and who are ‘disobedient’ are now all living under judicial control measures in Turkey!
Judicial control decisions are ruled as part of a campaign of fear. Unfortunately, it affects many people. We have seen many examples of this recently. We have seen that people can bow down out of fear.
People are now afraid to go out and ask for their rights. They even adopt “self-censorship”, expressing themselves on social media. Even the human rights defenders do not talk about the violations of rights that they experience. We deal mostly with violations of rights that others experience, but in doing so, we are exposed to violations of rights as well.
I want to summarise my situation in this article: In 30 years of human rights struggle, I have been a victim of attacks against freedom of expression in almost every period. There is no year since 1990 that I have not been sentenced or tried. Many lawsuits were opened against me due to my thoughts, my speeches and my articles. I was kept in prison for an article I wrote in 1995 titled ‘The world owes it to the Kurdish people’. I was imprisoned for using the term ‘Kurdistan’ and was banned to conduct my profession as a lawyer for a year.
However, this is the first time that I have been charged with being a member of an armed terrorist organisation. I did not experience this even in the 1990’s.
I have been a lawyer of Özgür Gündem newspaper since the first day it was published. I wrote articles for Özgür Gündem on several occasions. I became the voluntary Editor-in-Chief when it started to be published under the name Özgür Gündem in 2013.
Although I did not actively do this job, my name was featured in the newspaper as the Editor-in-Chief. Whilst no lawsuits were filed during the so-called ‘peace process’, they started suing each issue after the ‘peace process’ ended.
I was put on trial as well, because I was the Editor-in-Chief. I was also put on trial in the main trial of the Özgür Gündem case. The main trial lasted for three-and-a-half years. During the course of the hearings, the court discriminated against the Kurdish journalists and at the final hearing, the case of the Turkish intellectuals were separated from our case.
That day, we realised that the ones who would be punished would be us. We, four journalists, were charged on grounds of being the “members of an armed organisation”. Ironically enough, I even refused to be a part of civil politics since I believe I am a human rights defender, not a politican. However, now, some authorities considered me as a member of an “armed organisation”.
The reason I accepted the position of Editor-in-Chief of Özgür Gündem was due to our debt to the people we lost. I agreed to be the Editor-in-Chief of this newspaper for Musa Anter, Ferhat Tepe, and other murdered journalists.
It was a duty of loyalty for me. Today, this newspaper continues to be accused again, like yesterday. This newspaper was bombed, its distributors were killed, its writers were killed, but this newspaper still exists. While it continues to exist, they continue to press charges against it too.
But I want to ask this question: “What about the rights of Musa Anter? What about rights of Ferhat Tepe? What about the rights of the journalists who were murdered? Why were the people who killed them not charged?”
That is the main issue. If we are to talk about freedom of expression, we have to ask: “Where are the murderers of these people who were killed?”
There is discrimination regarding freedom of expression in the geography that we live in. We have been considered as ‘members of an armed organisation’ when we do not use the language of violence, but some people who explicitly say ‘We will shed their blood’, are released. They consider such a sentence as part of ‘freedom of expression’.
People who ‘violate’ freedom of expression are the ones who are against the official ideology of the state in Turkey. That is the key point of ‘freedom of expression’ in this country!