Turkey amends speech law, censors YouTube

Turkey’s government is expected to announce a reform of Article 301, the law against insulting “Turkishness” that has been used to prosecute writers who have addressed such issues as the Armenian genocide. The moves comes as a precondition for Turkey’s acceptance to the European Union. (NYT, Jan. 25) Meanwhile, Turkish authorities blocked access to YouTube for six days after a court order in response to video clips allegedly insulting the country’s founding father, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. (AP, Jan. 24)

See our last posts on Turkey and the free speech struggle.

  1. Turkish court hears ‘insult’ case
    From BBC, Jan. 28:

    The trial of a Turkish professor on charges of insulting the founder of the Turkish Republic, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, is set to resume.

    Professor Attila Yayla was brought to trial after a panel discussion in which he suggested the early Turkish Republic was not as progressive as it’s painted.

    The prosecutor has asked the judge to impose a five-year prison sentence.


    Professor Yayla was charged with “insulting Ataturk”…after he argued that the early years of the Turkish Republic were not progressive, politically.

    He also warned that, as Turkey moved closer to Europe, Europeans would inevitably question why Turks display so many pictures and statues of Ataturk.

    The professor was vilified by the Turkish press, suspended from work at an Ankara university – and brought to trial.

    Professor Yayla, a well known liberal, denies the charge of insult and argues that academics must be guaranteed freedom of expression, to pursue their research.

  2. Turkey amends headscarf law
    From AFP, Feb. 9:

    Turkey’s secularists rally against headscarf reforms
    ANKARA — Tens of thousands of Turks rallied Saturday against a reform to allow women to wear Islamic headscarves at universities that they say threatens the secular order in the mainly Muslim country.

    The demonstration, in the capital Ankara, vented anger at a parliamentary vote that saw an overwhelming majority of lawmakers approve a package of constitutional amendments that lift the on-campus ban.

    “Turkey is secular and will remain secular,” shouted the protestors, who packed a square in downtown Ankara, filling the main artery running through the heart of the city.

    “We will defend the values of the republic,” they chanted as a force of nearly 6,000 police officers, backed by helicopters, kept a close watch.

    Television reports said there were as many as 200,000 people at the demonstration, dubbed the “Rally for Secularism and Independence”, while a police officer estimated that there were less than 100,000 people.

    The organisers — more than 70 trade unions and non-governmental organizations — said the demonstration attracted participants from other cities, notably the country’s biggest city Istanbul.

    A majority of the demonstrators, who were waving the red and white star and crescent flag of Turkey and bearing portraits of modern Turkey’s founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, were women, including some who wore headscarves…

    The demonstration targetted Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), which tabled the reform package. A similar demonstration last weekend drew 125,000 people.

    “Tayyip, take your headscarf and stuff it,” said the demonstrators in Ankara, calling on the government to resign.

    “What is being done today in parliament is to eliminate the republican regime and replace it with bigotry. They want to destroy the secular democratic republic,” Gokhan Gunaydin, from the organising committee, told the crowd…

    An elderly woman, wearing a headscarf with a red-and-white scarf around her neck, was among those that addressed the crowd.

    “Long live the republic, damn sharia (law),” she said as she slipped her headcover back to reveal her hair. “My hair is out in the open, I have nothing to be ashamed of.”

    OK readers—who is on the side of freedom here? Should women have the right to wear the headscarf in the university? Or is that opening the door to the kind of authoritarianism that we see in Iran?

    Sound off…