“The Framers [of the Constitution] knew that free speech is the friend of change and revolution. But they also knew that it is always the deadliest enemy of tyranny.”
~ Hugo Black.
~ Hugo Black.
Last September I posted what has become Appendix 2 of the "Report on Local Government and Local Democracy Dynamics concerning the DTP Municipalities in Turkey," which was the DTP mayors' letter to Danish PM Anders Fogh Rasmussen on behalf of Roj TV.
What follows is Appendix 3 of the same report--the statement of the DTP mayors to the Diyarbakir court in defense of their letter (All emphasis in the original).
Dear President, Honorable Members of the Court:
The indictment submitted to the court by the Prosecutor is worth considering on many grounds. At the outset, we expect the honorable Court to evaluate our words within the framework of the inviolability of the right to defense. The indictment is far from being a document of law. It is a sensational product of the socio-political process in which it was prepared and carries rather the quality of a report of complaint concluded by Inspectors of the Ministry of Interior. Furthermore, it is full of internal contradictions. In brief, the indictment constitutes an unfortunate error.
Dear President, the demands for the closing-off of the Roj TV station, the necessity felt by 56 Mayors to write a letter to the Danish Prime Minister Mr. Anders Fogh Rasmussen and the tragicomic trial today of over 50 Mayors with the demand of fifteen-year-long imprisonment sentence for each is one consequence of the anti-democratic attitudes towards the Kurdish question. However, unlike what the office of the Prosecutor has done, we shall not raise details of the Kurdish question before the Court today.
The Prosecutor asks for a total of 840 year-long imprisonment sentence for crimes we allegedly have committed in our 405-word-long letter. With a rough calculation, each word corresponds to over two years of imprisonment sentence. The indictment associates our letter with the overall political process that has evolved since the foundation of the PKK Kongra-Gel, and claims that our act of writing the latter constitutes a “conscious and intentional support for the "Organization”. With such features, the indictment provides a fertile ground for political polemics. Without entering into any polemics, we reject the indictment and disclaim the accusations raised against us.
We, however, claim hereby each of the 405 words of our famous letter and repeat the opinions we thereby expressed. Serious consideration of our letter shows that rather than simply claiming a certain TV station, it advocates respect towards freedom of thought and expression for the institution of a democratic life and a matured tolerance towards voices of dissent. That opinions expressed within such a letter have been made the subject of a trial process is but tragicomic.
The Minister of Foreign Affairs Mr. Abdullah Gul had stated the following on 25 December 2006: “Those who claim that prohibitions by law still exist shall see when the verdicts are released that this is not true. Journalists used to be imprisoned for what they would write, and mayors for their poems. These are now a thing of the past” (The Daily Radikal). We did not chant any poems, but penned a letter that expressed the demands of the people whom we represent. Therefore, we are brought before the Court today.
Dear President, Honorable Members of the Court,
We would like to draw your attention to the last months of the year 2005. We decided to appeal to the Danish Prime Minister Mr. Rasmussen by a letter at a critical juncture of the Turkish-European Union relations. On the one hand, those who oppose Turkey’s entry into the European Union had intensified their corresponding endeavors, on the other hand, the positive atmosphere that followed the speech the Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayip Erdogan gave in Diyarbakir on the Kurdish question in August 2005 had completely dissipated. The Semdinli Events of November 2005 and the new Alti-Terror Bill had created intense contentions. In December, the Orhan Pamuk case intensified discussions within both the government ranks and between the government and the opposition parties over Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code (TPC). The National Security Council was expected to convene on 29 December within this context.
In addition, discussions over supra-identity/sub-identity put forward by Prime Minister Erdogan were heavily criticized by both the General Staff and the President of the Republic. All these processes increased and intensified concerns over a democratic and peaceful resolution of the Kurdish Question. Debates over the closing-off of the Roj TV station entered into the agenda amidst such tension and as a much discussed element of the cultural rights of Kurds. While the political atmosphere was getting ever tense countrywide, people in the region whom we represent as local governors were expressing their deep concerns and worries about the possible closing-off of the Roj TV. In response to such demands of our citizens to make use of their cultural and democratic rights and relying on the civic principles of freedom of expression and freedom, we decided to write a letter as local representatives.
Driving our action was to help Turkey to overcome the narrow-minded and prohibitive attitudes towards the issue of cultural rights in its progress towards universal principles of the democratic civilization, and to achieve responsiveness to the demands and expectations of the people whom we represent. As you may know, the Roj TV station has an extensive audience in our region.
The Roj TV trial process started when the central government chose to dismiss democratic demands and authorize the Ministry of Interior for investigation. The indictment is based on reports prepared by Inspectors with the Ministry of Interior beyond the powers and duties conferred onto them by law. That is why this trial lacks a legal ground. Moreover, the issues that we raised in the letter had been conveyed both to the government and to other relevant political and administrative authorities in written reports that we prepared in the recent past. The views that had not constituted any crime then are now evidenced as reasons for the indictment of dozens of mayors.
We deem this trial to be an unfortunate result of the political process that required us to pen it in the first place. As the indictment also concedes, our letter has a squarely democratic content and is free of any elements of crime. During the same week that we sent our letter, 169 intellectuals of Turkey issued a declaration in demand for the abolishment of Article 301 of the TPC. In the same days, the Public Prosecutor of Beyoglu initiated an investigation against Joost Lagendijk concerning articles 301 and 288 of the TPC. We would like to suggest that the tense political atmosphere that we briefly mentioned above forms the contextual background of demands for the closing-off of the Roj TV, our letter regarding the issue, and its criminalization through a trial process. We believe that our letter should have opened the way for the furthering of democratic debates and openings instead of being made the subject of a trial process. It should have facilitated a process of hope, trust and mutual understanding that our society needs urgently.
Dear President, Honorable Members of the Court,
Since the Prosecutor refers to cultural rights in the indictment, we find it necessary to briefly express our opinions on the issue of cultural rights in Turkey. Bans on the right to exercise one’s cultural rights for Turkish citizens of non-Turkish ethnicity are coeval with the foundation of the Republic. A review of the 1982 Constitution alone shows that the Kurdish citizens of the Turkish Republic have been constitutionally barred from exercising their many basic human and cultural rights during the last 25 years. The recognition of the “Kurdish reality” in 1991 by the then President Suleyman Demirel had relatively eased obstacles in front of the use of Kurdish language in daily interactions and in arts and cultural production. The Sixth and Seventh Harmonization Packages passed by the Parliament as part of Turkey’s accession to the EU facilitated broadcasting in two Kurdish dialects for the first time in the Republican history. We declared on several occasions our deep regard for and appreciation of such democratic openings within the realm of cultural rights, and emphasized that these efforts should be supported by further reforms that would make it possible for all citizens of the Turkish Republic to fully enjoy their cultural rights. Such reforms should have been realized in response to the sincere demands and expectations raised by Turkish citizens of Kurdish origin and not due to pressures from the EU. We believe that the path for the achievement of social peace and sustainable development in Turkey and the institution of a dignified Turkish foreign policy would be possible if only Turkish citizens of different ethnic, cultural and religious backgrounds who have heretofore been barred from enjoying their basic rights are guaranteed their rights and conditions are provided to facilitate their effective participation in the process of democratic governance.
In very recent past people were sued for having Kurdish names. Some were tried in these courtrooms for using the letter “W”. As the Prime Minister had also acknowledged in his Diyarbakir speech of August 2005, the state had committed errors due to certain taboo issues. Looking at the past, we can easily say that some taboos have been breached for good. We hope that this trial contributes to the overcoming of other taboos and fears.
Reforms passed within the framework of Turkey-EU relations are of partial nature. Yet the rights that they guarantee are circumscribed to an even narrower scope with administrative statues and in practice. Within the realm of cultural rights, democratic campaigns run and petitions signed in demand for elective Kurdish language classes and for the making of Kurdish an instruction language at primary schools were met with harsh reactions by the state and government bodies. Serious limits to radio and television broadcasting are still in force. Both the applications for broadcasting licenses and conditions of broadcasting are subject to seriously narrow conditionalities. While the limits on duration of programs in the cultural field such as music and cinema were abolished, those imposed on duration of news and discussion programs are still in force. Radio programs are limited to 5 hours per week with no more than one-hour-long daily broadcast, and television programs are limited to 4 hours per week with at most 45 minutes-long broadcasting per day. Serious limits are imposed on program contents. For example, only those programs that address adult audience are permitted, while programs that might contribute to language training, including cartoons, are administratively sanctioned. The general broadcasting statue requires that the programs should be broadcasted either with simultaneous Turkish subtitles or be followed immediately by Turkish versions. This arrangement makes live broadcasting in languages other than Turkish impossible and necessitates at least two days of preparation for a 45 minutes-long program. We hold that such practices that openly contravene the universal principles of democratic civilization and that may at best be described a tragicomic are illsuited for a Turkey in the 21st century.
Dear President, Honorable Members of the Court,
The indictment, using within the say of a contradiction between our letter and the initiatives of Mr.Prime Minister and government policies, violate legal terminology and the conventions of courtesy. The letter in question was penned so as to express the demands and opinions of our people and giving no base for any extremity. It was framed with a full consciousness of democratic responsibility, and, hence, has the quality to offer a framework for the solution of the problems related to the issue of cultural rights. In fact, within a democratic state of law, Mayors have the right, just like any other citizen or group of citizens, to deviate from the government policies. Where there is any such requirement that citizens have to submit to government policies, than that regime can be called anything but democracy. We do not have any aim other than expressing the thoughts that we deem right and fair. As responsible citizens and administrators, we shall continue to express our thoughts and share our opinions on matters that would facilitate the democratic and peaceful solution of the problems of the people whom we represent. We exercised our right to freedom of expression that has been expressed in universal human rights documents and the Turkish national Acquis. We are before the court for having exercised this right. While we intended by way of this letter to draw attention to the inviolability of the freedom of expression, to the impending necessity of promoting a culture of tolerance towards difference, in brief to the value of freedom of thought and democratic participation, we found ourselves criminals of expression. It is impossible in this regard to make sense of the confusions the indictment presents itself with. The indictment both states that the content of the text does not constitute a crime, and it wants 840-year-long imprisonment sentence for us, the defendants. As such the document pushes the limits of law to an extreme. We shall not ask the claimants be suspended or barred from duty, as it is sometimes the case with other trials. Yet we do ask this case be dropped. This case unfortunately shows that we have yet a lot to achieve for bringing our country to the consciousness of the rights and freedoms of the democratic civilization. Within this larger context, we see this indictment that raises unfair and baseless accusations against us as an instance of intolerance towards democratic rights and freedoms. We firmly believe that this honorable court shall restore justice by bringing this infringement on our rights to an end and protect the freedom of thought which forms the basis of all other rights and freedoms in a democratic country.
4. In conclusion;
As stated in our letter, we hold that the prohibitive and restrictive view towards cultural rights in general, and the Kurdish written and visual media in particular, should be superseded and that a more embracing and inclusive approach that listens to popular demands and claims fundamental rights and freedoms should prevail in our country.
The problem cannot be solved by the closing-off of the Roj TV station. As the indictment also mentions, other Kurdish broadcasting stations that operated abroad had been closed-off before the Roj TV was established. This means that darkening the screens is no solution. On the contrary, the solution of our problems requires that Kurdish-language programs be produced and disseminated within this ancient land that we inhabit without being hindered by law or by administrative measures. The solution of our problems would be enabled by the airing of such broadcasts from Istanbul, Ankara or Diyarbakir.
Our people sincerely demand that Kurdish language and culture which have long-been neglected and subjected to discriminatory practices be supported and encouraged by the State institutions. As the Prime Minister himself stated, this is the only way to redress the historical wrongs done to the Kurdish language and culture.
No television or radio station should be banned or shut down. No letters, no books, no poems, no cartoons, no movies should be punished. The punishment of peaceful products of humanity is the heaviest blow against democratic values.
Legal bans and administrative limits imposed upon the length and content of radio and television broadcasts should be abolished. One does not need to agree with the content of the programs. Yet the closing-off of an entire broadcasting station is something that we need to stand against according to the principles of democratic culture.
Enjoying the right to freely express one’s thoughts is a sine qua non of democratic deliberation. What we call democratic culture flourishes upon mutual understanding and tolerance. Bans on the freedom of expression constitute the biggest obstacles before establishing a culture of democracy and devising means for a peaceful solution of our problems. We have but to overcome this obstacle.
The labeling of our most democratic demands as “terrorism” and the criminalization of our democratic and peaceful demands and actions with purely political decisions deepens the crisis of trust between the State and citizens of Kurdish origin. The restoration of a bridge of trust between the two shall be possible only insofar as the State responds to people’s demands and takes necessary steps for their realization.
Albeit limited, the State institutions and Government authorities have so far realized significant reforms. Our endeavor is to integrate the demands of citizens for rights and freedoms into the ongoing process of democratization in our country, to complete the democratic reform process altogether and powerfully, and to take Turkey to the level of democratic civilization which it deserves.
We hope that the result of this trial that convened us here today beyond the limits of law and as a byproduct of the political atmosphere and the rising nationalist climate that surrounds our country shall in effect contribute to the democratic reform process.