I wrote about Erdogan’s use of Europe’s lese-majeste laws for the Guardian

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Again, still catching up on updates. I wrote in March about how the Turkish Prez was using outdated and often largely forgotten about lèse-majesté laws in order to silence critics in Europe, but how it was actually backfiring. It prompted several countries to rush through changes and abolishments of the laws, therefore actually scoring an accidental victory for freedom of speech. You can read the published version here or the unedited one below.

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It seems as though hardly a day goes by without Turkey’s President Recep Tayipp Erdoğan and his sense-of-humour free Justice and Development Party (AKP) government having a go at someone. Over the past few weeks, their spectacular ability to take offence and ping out accusations of ‘spy!’ and ‘terrorist!’ at anyone within reach has grown such momentum that the renowned Do-Not-Insultan has now turned his thin-skinned, pointy-finger towards free speech in Europe.

Since Angela Merkel’s decision to approve a prosecution request for comedian – although admittedly, not a very funny one – Jan Boehermann for his ‘insulting’ song Erdowie, Erdowo, Erdoğan, the Turkish president has been capitalising on his success. It seems he is actively targeting other European countries that, like Germany, still have outdated, and often near forgotten about, lèse-majesté laws.

Similar to Turkey’s Article 229, which concerns defamation of the president, these ‘injured majesty’ laws make it a crime to insult rulers or heads of state. They often include other ‘friendly’ leaders, too – a probe under section 103 of Germany’s criminal code prohibits “insulting organs or representatives of foreign states”.

Turkey recently attempted to utilize the Dutch version of the law, requesting that Turks working in The Netherlands snitch on each other. A leaked email from Rotterdam’s Turkish Consulate General to Turkish organisations operating in the country appeared to ask them – although the consulate insists it was all just a misunderstanding – to report back on anyone who had insulted either the Turkish president or the Turkish state.

Dutch-Turkish journalist Ebra Umar was then arrested on holiday in Turkey after someone reported her for tweeting sections of a column she’d written for the Dutch Metro criticizing the email. She compared it to practices used by the Dutch arm of the Nazi Party during WWII, which probably hit a nerve after the media furore that surrounded a speech from Erdoğan in January that appeared – another misunderstanding – to cite Hitler’s Germany as an example of effective government.

Dutch comedian Hans Teeuwen could be prosecuted, too. When asked about the Boehermann case in an interview he claimed that Erdoğan used to be a “boywhore” in an Istanbul brothel and that the leader still owes him a blowjob.

Switzerland has a lèse-majesté law and the Turkish government this week demanded the removal of a photo of a boy from an exhibition in Geneva that associated Erdoğan with his death – he was killed by a tear gas canister fired by police during the 2013 Gezi Park anti-government protests. The Swiss government rejected the demand, but if you live in Italy, Spain, Denmark or Norway, you might want to watch your back.

Erdoğan’s attempts to silence his critics often have the opposite result – there are few better instances of the Streisand-effect (when an attempt to hide something actually results in far more publicity) than the time Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson waded into the debate over whether a Turkish doctor had shared a meme that compared Erdoğan to Gollum, for which he faced prosecution, or far friendlier Sméagol. It resulted in the little-seen images being shared by news outlets across the globe. Attempts by the Tall Man – a nickname used by the president’s supporters, and with a well-concealed snigger, his detractors – to flex his muscles beyond Turkey’s borders and have a go at freedom of speech in Europe have also backfired.

Outrage at the use of laws that were, until now, rarely used outside of Thailand, has caused European countries to scramble to rid themselves of the lèse-majesté. On Thursday, Germany’s Justice Ministry completed a draft to abolish its version. Chancellor Merkel had previously promised the law would be removed by 2018 as a result of the embarrassing Boehermann affair and the furious debate over freedom of speech that followed, but it’s been fast tracked. The draft included the statement: “the idea that foreign state representatives need special protection against insults does not accord with the era.”

The Dutch government, too, has said it will reform its old law. Just last year there were calls for it to be removed after an activist faced prosecution under the lèse-majesté for saying “fuck the king” when he was arrested for protesting. Erdoğan’s current taste for the law, however, has prompted Dutch MPs to push for a removal, and quickly. The justice minister said the constitution should not be a “museum for out-of-date articles”.

In Switzerland, repeal of the law has been called for by politicians from both sides of the political spectrum in the wake of the Böhmermann case. Former cabinet minister Jean-Christophe Schwaab said: “The fact that you can be prosecuted for insulting a foreign head of state here in Switzerland reminds me of the Middle Ages”.

I wrote for the Guardian about the lack of sympathy for terror attacks in Turkey

 

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OK…. I haven’t updated anything for ages. I wrote this for the Guardian in March following the bombing of the central square in Ankara after a spate of horrible attacks here. I was very affected by this bomb and unfortunately things don’t seem be getting much better. Turkey is going through a very dark period.

I was chuffed to see the piece got so much attention and so much support was offered to those affected. I was saddened to see the nasty and vitriolic comments that went below the line and on social media – people who cannot separate the difference between individuals and the state. Many of those who died were barely old enough to vote, yet people who seemingly have very little understanding of Turkey (but believe they know it all after reading a couple of news stories) decided the victims somehow deserved what happened to them because the commenters don’t like Turkey’s president. They talked as though the dead had some responsibility to carry for the actions of their government. Logic and humanity were absent.

It is no surprise really that Turkey later became a major excuse given for Brexit, that the Turkish people were dehumanised in order to scare Brits into a vote. This was yet another example of a mass failure of logic.

You can read the final piece here or the unedited piece bellow. 

 

On Sunday evening, a bomb exploded near a bus stop at a busy transport hub in central Ankara. At least 37 people died and many more were injured, innocent people who were just trying to get home had their lives literally blown apart. It’s the third high-fatality attack on the Turkish capital since October, meaning that in five months this welcoming – if often a little boring – city has seen more blood spilled by terror than many cities do in a lifetime. Yet where was our ‘Je suis…’ moment?

After the Paris attack last November, some Turkish schools had mourning ceremonies that lasted a full day. Buildings sported the Tricolor flag, people lit candles in solidarity with the victims and hung pictures in condemnation of the senseless violence. This was despite the fact that, when a similar number of people were killed at a peace rally in Ankara the month before, the ripples were hardly felt by the rest of Europe. No BBC reporters broke down in tears. No Facebook app was launched to convert profile pictures into Turkish flags.

While the circumstances of the various attacks in the two cities were very different – Ankara has been subjected to three suicide bomb attacks while Paris’s attacks in January and November last year were largely carried out by gunmen – it’s hard to say that this alone could cause such widely different shows of support. If Sunday’s bomb had instead been in Piccadilly Circus, the closest London equivalent to Kizilay in Ankara, or New York, Berlin, the world would be talking of nothing else. So why not Ankara?

“Is it because you just don’t realise that Ankara is no different from any of these cities?”; a friend (of a friend) James Taylor wrote in a Facebook post that went viral. “Is it because you think that Turkey is a predominantly Muslim country, like Syria, like Iraq…?”

Britain has a love-hate relationship with Turkey. In tourist polls of the most popular destinations, sights, people, it often paradoxically appears as both one of the most and one of the least liked places. It continues to teeter on the line between East and West, making it hard to understand – a muslim country with increasingly conservative values that also has its sights set on the EU. Yet geographically, Turkey is Europe’s neighbour and politically Turkey has long been an ally, of sorts, to the West. It is not the only place to have seen its tragedies paid little attention by the rest of the world, but it feels like the most Western.

“Contrary to what many people think, Turkey is not the Middle East. Ankara is not a war zone, it is a normal modern bustling city, just like any other European capital,” said Taylor. The fact that violence in Turkey has been on the rise since the cease-fire between state forces and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) came to an abrupt end is undeniable. So is its proximity to Syria. Yet despite the heavy presence of armed police, Ankara is not a war zone, there are no tanks on the streets or barrel bombs being dropped.

Perhaps the lack of sympathy for the city comes from pure ignorance. When I first moved to Ankara 18 months ago I was asked by friends and acquaintances if “they have chairs in Ankara, or does everyone sit on cushions on the floor?” and if I would be “allowed to walk down the street on your own as a woman?” Most frustrating, and common of all, was “Are you sure Ankara is the capital, because I’m pretty certain it’s Istanbul?”

More people have been killed in the three attacks on Ankara than were in the multiple attacks on Paris. Many of the people killed may have been muslims. They may not have been from one of Europe’s sexiest cities, but their killing at the hands of terrorists still deserves our solidarity. As Taylor asks, “You were Charlie, you were Paris. Will you be Ankara?”