Over the past decade, states spanning the globe have increasingly adopted counter-terrorism legislations. Ideally, such mechanisms are implemented for the protection of the masses. In reality, however, translations of the provisions have consistently proven to infringe rather than uphold the rights of citizens, such as in the cases of Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda and the United Kingdom.
The Turkish government in particular has utilized anti-terrorism measures to meet their own agenda: quelling Kurdish opposition or nationalism in fear of partition. The ambiguity of Turkey’s counter-terrorism policies, namely the Turkish Penal Code and the Anti-Terror Law, has enabled the State to distort the line between peaceful political expressions and the advocacy of violent conduct by illegal armed organizations (primarily the Kurdistan Worker’s Party, or PKK). Provisions imposing grave limitations on the right to freedom of expression have resulted in the unjust persecution of hundreds of journalists, scholars, lawyers and human rights activists.
Prior to divulging on the present condition of the State, we must examine the past to understand why the relationship between the Turkish government and Kurdish people is hostile. The oppressive Turkish-Kurdish relationship may be traced back to the Ottoman Empire, but it was first engraved within the text of the Treaty of Lausanne. The Treaty of Lausanne, a peace agreement signed in 1923, determined the partitioning of the Anatolian and East Thracian areas of the Ottoman Empire following the successes of the Turkish War of Independence. During their fight for independence, Turkey promised the Kurdish people a federated state in exchange for their assistance throughout the conflict. Once their goals were achieved and national borders defined, the newly founded Turkish state disregarded their pledge and excluded Kurds from the Treaty of Lausanne completely. Kurdish revolts were met with strong opposition from the Turkish Army and the following decades witnessed the mere expression of Kurdish identity, culturally and politically, coninously suppressed. The unrest eventually led to the creation of the PKK, a militant group fighting for Kurdish rights, in 1978. Over the years the group, founded on Marxist-Lennist ideology, has attempted to create an autonomous Kurdish state through political reforms and, most notorioulsy, terror raids, suicide bombings and various forms of vandalism. Although in recent years the Turkish government’s treatment of the Kurds has improved, the minority is still not afforded the same degree of equality and respect as their Turkish counterparts. Engulfed in its mission to protect its sovereignty and territorial control, the State has created nonsensical counter-terrorism policies which overshadow the importance of the preservation of the human rights of its population.
Convictions primarily fall under Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code and Articles 1, 6 and 7 of the Anti-Terror Law. The constant factor found in each of the legislations is an absence of intent and vague language. The lack of emphasis on mens rea poses a great predicament as it causes individuals, against whom exists minimal proof of malicious intent, to be easily labeled as terrorists and allotted harsh punishments. The definition of terrorism, dispelled in Article 1, is the root cause of most arbitrary convictions. The provision dictates that any individual or group who aims to reform the ‘political, legal, social, secular and economic system’ of the Turkish state is a terrorist. Turkey’s claim as the leading democratic model for the Middle East is directly contradicted here as criticism and discussion is necessary for the foundation and development of true democracy.
In the last four years 20,000 individuals, 70% of whom are Kurdish journalists, have been detained under the Anti-Terror Law alone. People may be held in pretrial detention for several years, endure over a hundred court proceedings and face prison terms of up to 3,000 years. Factors such as ‘”limited access of defense lawyers to evidence, haphazard indictments based on police investigation, records of private telephone conversations and the breach of secrecy of the investigations’ are of grave concern and undermine the judiciary system of the State”, as stated by Ozgur Așik in his book 'Legal Reforms in Turkey: Ambitious and Controversial'. The Anti-Terror Law also introduced a new category of issues as the legislation allows Turkish courts to convict children, ages 13-17, as adults. Thus far, thousands of children have been prosecuted on the grounds of supporting terrorism due to their involvement in demonstrations or expression of opposition against the state’s attitude towards Kurdish rights. They can be held in detention for a year or more pending their trial and face up to twenty years in prison. Additionally, Turkish officials do not provide differential treatment for children and handicapped individuals. There is a lack of rehabilitation or reintegration programs during detention, and in most cases, education is discontinued. The alienation and cruel treatment children face in prison during their most vulnerable period of development may backfire and hurt the State in the future. Emma Sinclair-Webb of Human Rights Watch noted, “It’s a hardening process for children and psychologically very damaging. If you go in as a child who was just throwing stones, you may come out as a full-fledged militant.”
In this era of unrest, civilians look to their governing powers for safety and respect. If Turkey, an emerging power, cannot provide such stability for its people - what hope does the remainder of the suffering region have? Considering the dissension in Afghanistan, the growth of ISIS, the soaring number of refugees and internally displaced persons in Syria, the absence of women’s rights in Saudi Arabia and the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict- who will the struggling people of these nations look to as an example? One may exclaim the European Union, the United States or the West in general. But for the average Middle Eastern, West Asian and North African, it is difficult to relate culturally and historically to those nations. However, Turkey, the bridge between the East and the West, is a democratic ideal that is far more attainable. Mankind has never endured periods of total peace and resolve. Conflict has always been part of our culture and will continue to be so in the future. What is important is how we face these conflicts and what we are willing to give up to overcome them.
It is time for the Republic of Turkey to commit itself to protect the human rights and dignity of its people and once again become a beacon of hope for a misfortunate region.
To provide the reader with more information, the author has listed the relevant points from the Turkish penal code and Anti-Terror Law below
Highlights from Turkish Penal Code and Anti-Terror Law:
Article 1(1) defines terrorism as,
Any kind of act done by one or more persons belonging to an organization with the aim of changing the characteristics of the Republic as specified in the Constitution, its political, legal, social, secular and economic system, damaging the indivisible unity of the State with its territory and nation, endangering the existence of the Turkish State and Republic, weakening or destroying or seizing the authority of the State, eliminating fundamental rights and freedoms, or damaging the internal and external security of the State, public order or general health by means of pressure, force and violence, terror, intimidation, oppression or threat.
Article 6 discusses the criminalization of...
(1) Those who announce that the crimes of a terrorist organization
are aimed at certain persons, whether or not such persons are named, or who
disclose or publish the identity of officials on anti-terrorist duties, or
who identify such persons as targets...
(2) Those who print or publish leaflets and declarations of terrorist
(3) Those who, in contravention of Article 14 of this law, disclose or
publish the identity of informants...
The provision on terrorist organizations provides that,
Any person making propaganda for a terrorist organisation shall be punished with imprisonment from one to five years. If this crime is committed through means of printed press or broadcasting, the penalty shall be increased by one half. In addition, editors-in-chief (...) who have not participated in the perpetration of the crime shall be punished with a judicial fine from one thousand to fifteen thousand days’ rates.
The following actions and behaviours shall also be punished according to the provisions of the paragraph:
a) Partial or complete covering of the face during meetings and demonstrations that have been turned into propaganda of the terrorist organization for the purpose of hiding one’s identity.
b) In a manner to indicate being a member or a supporter of a terrorist organization, even if it isn’t during a meeting or a demonstration;
1. hanging or carrying symbols, images or signs of the organization,
2. chanting slogans,
3. broadcasting with megaphones,
4. wearing a uniform with symbols, images or signs of the organization.
Written by S. Maraghi and published on 26-November-2014