Orhan Pamuk, Turkey’s best-selling writer and winner of the 2006 Nobel Prize in Literature, once said: “Whatever the country, freedom of thought and expression are universal human rights. These freedoms, which modern people long for as much as bread and water, should never be limited by using nationalist sentiment, moral sensitivities, or – worst of all – business or military interests.”
Unfortunately, when it comes to the repressive government of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, they fell on deaf ears.
Earlier this month, Erdoğan and his acolyte Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu gave their tacit blessing as Turkey’s largest independent newspaper Zaman was overrun by government goons and officially ordered under state control (see “Bebelplatz Revisited,” which ran in this space on March 8).
Now, Erdoğan and his cohorts are clamping down basic human freedoms even more.
In the wake of a series of attacks in Ankara and Istanbul, Turkish courts last week ordered the shutdown of access to social media like Facebook and Twitter, citing as the justification for the Internet communications blockade the online sharing of gruesome images of some of the victims.
Capitalizing on and feeding a public obsession with blood and guts by publicizing pictures of the bombing victims is deplorable, but not uncommon.
There will always be perverse rubberneckers – online and off – who are titillated by images of other people’s pain and suffering.
But as appalling as Facebooking a photograph of a dead body lying on the ground after a car bombing or posting a Tweet of a mangled corpse drenched in blood may be, it is even more despicable to impose censorship on a population already reeling from the horrors of terrorism.
Ankara is confronting terrorism on two separate fronts, against its homegrown Kurdistan Workers Party (which has claimed responsibility for the March 13 car bombing in Ankara) and against the depraved Islamic State fundamentalists (the presumed culprits of last weekend’s suicide bombing in Istanbul), whose perversely pertinacious war on humanity is overflowing into Turkey from Syria and Iraq.
Neither of these two extremist organizations deserves to be pampered with a gentle hand, and Turkey is clearly in its right to take any and all measures it deems necessary against them to curb their savage and unpardonable violence.
But fighting terrorists and punishing the general public are two very different things.
Since taking office in 2014, Erdoğan has waged a creeping war on access to information and freedom of speech under the guise of fighting terrorists, and that, in turn, has led to the encroachment of the basic human rights of all Turkish citizens.
In the last month alone, the London-based media independence watchdog Index on Censorship has cited at least 10 press freedom violations in Turkey and more than 200 such violations since the start of Erdoğan’s presidency.
Without the umbrella of freedom of expression and an unencumbered press, democracy in Turkey faces certain demise.
Thérèse Margolis can be contacted at [email protected].