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Turkey’s Questionable Human Rights

June 4, 2013

The Gezi Park Protests (or shall we simply refer to it as the Turkey protests?) have taken over the international news….or have they? In Turkey certainly not, with the state-controlled media failing to report on the situation; but, if one were to go solely by my blog stats, one would say that international media (particularly ‘official’ or state medias) are not doing a good job of reporting. I had 59 visitors click on my discussion on Turkey the day I posted it; the following day I had 98 visitors; both days beat my record of most visitors.

The Gezi Park Protests, sourced from The Australian.com.au

This makes me ask, why are these readers clicking on my blog, which provides more opinion and analysis, then official sites like CNN or The New York Times? I would think they want facts; but maybe analysis is important too. I admit that I am not familiar with Turkey’s government, beyond the fact that it is secular, run by Prime Minister Erdogan and prohibits the wearing of veil in public places. The extremely large turnout for the protests, which are not only continuing now beyond the weekend but are also growing, and the government’s subsequent handling has led me to believe that the human rights situation in Turkey isn’t as rosy as I believed it to be. Based on my knowledge of Turkey, I viewed the country as pretty open and ‘free,’ at least when compared with other majority-Muslim states. After a bit of light news research, I present to you the conclusion: that Turkey is not a bastion for the protection of human rights.

Kissing on the Metro

According to Al-Jazeera, demonstrators on May 25th protested in front of a subway station in Ankara, Turkey’s capital, in an unique way: they were kissing. Apparently public displays of affection such as kissing are not permissible behavior in Turkey and a couple was recently “admonished” by subway officials who urge the public not to engage in such behavior. Kissing in public or any other such displays (a Turkish friend of my sister reported that even holding hands in most places is frowned upon!) are usually either socially or legally frowned upon in majority-Muslim countries, but I was surprised to learn this of Turkey, which prides itself (although apparently not with the Erdogan government) on secularism. Kissing might seem like a silly thing to complain about, but as long as a couple isn’t being grotesque about it who is the government to ban it?

Alcohol 

In another move that seems highly reminiscent of Arab countries, the Erdogan government is apparently continuing its seeming campaign to Islamize Turkey with its amendments to alcohol consumption. Again, unlike its majority-Muslim counterparts Turkey allowed bars, clubs and cafes to serve alcohol and there was more exposure of alcohol, whether in advertisements, on television, etc.; but a new law that has been passed (although, interestingly, not yet signed by President Abdullah Gul, as of Al Jazeera’s reporting) restricts where alcohol is served and when it is sold (shops cannot sell it between 10pm and 6am). It also stipulates that “TV series, films or music videos are not allowed to contain images encouraging the consumption of alcohol.” Although one can stress that in this case the government is perhaps more well-intentioned (especially in its heavy new fines for drunk driving), nevertheless these too are curbs on personal freedom. I guess all those foreign rap music videos are going to have to be cut from clubs and cafe TV screens….

Press’ Problems

Lest one think that human rights only means the freedom to sexily cavort and consume alcohol in public, Turkey has strictly controlled not only personal choices but any choices (read: voicing opinions) against the government. Apparently Turkey ranks no. 1 in terms of journalist incarceration rates….good job! On Friday May 31st, the first day of the protests, only one Turkish news channel reported the protests…I think the first day of the Arab Spring in Egypt did better than that!

Abortions, Detentions and All That Jazz

Besides silencing the press, Turkey seeks to silence those who oppose its current regime. Months-long detentions are the norm, even for student protesters; according to Amnesty International’s 2012 Report, many are held under the trumped-up charge of “terrorist” and then forced through unfair trials where their lawyers do not have access to the evidence being used against their client. Furthermore, those arrested and detained are often roughed up by the police and tortured. This unfair system of punishment is probably the most important human rights issue in Turkey, followed by the lack of press freedom; after all, if people will be roughed up after “speaking freely” than freedom of the press does not matter; the two go hand in hand.

Abortion, according to The Gaurdian UK, which has been legal since 1983, is facing tough new laws that will likely go into place that will “all but de facto prevent” most women from getting abortions, since the new law stipulates such rigid restrictions as limiting abortion to 10 weeks and restricting operations to hospital obstetricians only who will be allowed to “say no.” I suppose the fact alone  that Turkish women can obtain an abortion is commendable, given that in the United States this is a controversial issue. But clearly the Erdogan government is having second thoughts of allowing this life-changing operation to take place.

Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, sourced from turkishpress.com

Tayyip Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) Party have been in power for more than 10 years. Although Soli Ozel, a Stambouli professor of International Relations at Kadir Has University, in his The Conversation discussion accuses Erdogan’s government of pushing a more conservative and fundamentalist agenda (rightly so, given the above), Erdogan himself is quoted as accusing the Gezi Park protesters of being “extremists elements!” In addition, his party is now looking into the possibility that the protesters are part of a foreign agenda. Really? Why is that whenever citizens stand up to a dictatorial ruler, they are immediately accused of being “influenced and/or funded by foreign nations?” Oh right, that’s because the dictatorial ruler is upset because it appears that he does not have control over the entire population. But he’s supposed to be democratic, don’t forget!

A government that pepper-sprays a few protesters who are trying to protect trees from being uprooted and their neighborhood park from becoming another concrete shopping mall and then proceeds to use tear gas and water cannons is a government with its priorities out of line. If Erdogan acts now, he can save his government…perhaps. Whether the Gezi Park protests fizzle out within a week or a month or five months from now; and whether they produce positive or, God forbid, negative change, I support Soli Ozel’s conclusion:

“In all likelihood the past five days will take their rightful place in Turkey’s chronicles as the “five days that changed the course of Turkey’s politics in the 21st Century”.

Sources

1. http://www.aljazeera.com/news/europe/2013/05/2013525191210116123.html Kissing protest

2. http://www.aljazeera.com/news/europe/2013/05/2013524101622966667.html Alcohol

3. http://theconversation.com/turkish-urban-uprising-has-smashed-national-wall-of-fear-14916

4. http://www.aljazeera.com/news/europe/2013/06/20136372149597177.html

5. http://www.amnesty.org/en/region/turkey/report-2012

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