International and domestic human rights organizations noted particular concern with an overly broad definition of terrorism under the antiterror law and the disproportionate use of the antiterror law against journalists and writers. They also emphasized that the penal code contains multiple articles that directly restrict press freedom and free speech, including provisions on praising a crime or criminal, inciting the population to enmity or hatred and denigration, and protecting the public order; providing protection of the confidentiality of investigations; attempting to influence the judiciary; insulting the Turkish nation, the republic, and organs and institutions of the state; and discouraging individuals from doing their military service. Committing some of these acts through the press or other publications is also considered an aggravating circumstance and increases the punishment by half. The press law and the law on the protection of Ataturk are also used to restrict freedom of expression.
Freedom of Speech: Individuals in many cases could not criticize the state or government publicly without risk of civil or criminal suits or investigation, and the government continued to restrict expression by people sympathetic to some religious, political, and Kurdish nationalist or cultural viewpoints. Active debates on human rights and government policies continued in the public sphere, particularly on problems relating to political Islam, Kurds, and the history of the Turkish-Armenian conflict at the end of the Ottoman Empire. However, many who wrote or spoke on such topics risked investigation, although there were fewer such cases than in previous years.
Article 301 of the penal code criminalizes insults to the Turkish nation, but use of this article continued to decrease. According to the Ministry of Justice, the minister received 305 complaints concerning Article 301 during the year and rejected 297 of them. The minister gave permission for the remaining eight cases to proceed.
Throughout the year, police and the judiciary increased pressure on members of the BDP. Human rights activists and party officials claimed that authorities were continuing to prosecute more than 4,000 cases against Kurdish politicians at year’s end. Most members were investigated and prosecuted for alleged ties to the KCK, or for making statements critical of the government or in support of the PKK or its leader, Abdullah Ocalan.
Diyarbakir mayor Osman Baydemir continued to face multiple administrative, civil, and criminal charges and investigations for use of the Kurdish language, spreading terrorist propaganda, and promoting terrorism. During the year prosecutors opened 13 new investigations or cases against Baydemir. Most of the cases involved Baydemir’s expression of his political views or speaking Kurdish at public events. During the year he received at least two acquittals and four convictions but he remained in his position as mayor. Many cases and appeals were pending at year’s end. For example, in February the Ankara 10th Civil Court of First Instance ordered Baydemir to pay 30,000 lira ($16,800) in compensation to Prime Minister Erdogan for a 2009 statement that “We tell the ones who divide us into hawks and doves to go to hell,” which the court decided constituted an attack on Erdogan’s “personal rights.” The appeal was pending at year’s end.
The provision of legal interpretation services is limited to situations where a defendant does not have sufficient command of Turkish to defend himself or herself or where the defendant or victim is disabled. In December 2010 a Diyarbakir court rejected a request by 17 defendants to defend themselves in Kurdish while they stood trial for supporting of terrorism after returning from Iraq in 2009. However, a Sanliurfa court the same month allowed defendants to defend themselves in Kurdish. Inconsistent court decisions regarding the use of languages other than Turkish were prevalent throughout the country.
Freedom of Press: The country had active privately owned print media. Hundreds of private newspapers spanning the political spectrum appeared in numerous languages, including Kurdish, Armenian, Arabic, English, and Farsi. However, authorities routinely censored media with pro-Kurdish or leftist content, particularly in the southeast, by confiscating materials or temporarily closing down the media source. According to the TNP, authorities confiscated 70 books and periodicals, 28 of them within the framework of the antiterror law.
The Turkish Radio and Television Corporation is a government-funded semi-autonomous body. The High Board of Radio and Television (RTUK) registered and licensed a large number of privately owned television and radio stations which operated at local, regional, and national levels. In addition, privately owned television channels operated on cable networks, and the RTUK granted 11 television and radio enterprises broadcast permits necessary for operation. The wide availability of satellite dishes and cable television allowed access to foreign broadcasts, including several Kurdish-language private channels. Most media were owned by large, private holding companies that had a wide range of outside business interests. The concentration of media ownership influenced the content of reporting and limited the scope of debate.
In addition to Turkish, the RTUK allowed radio and television stations to broadcast in Arabic, Armenian, Assyrian, Bosnian, Circassian, Laz, and Kurdish (both the Kurmanci and Zaza dialects) during the year.
Violence and Harassment: Prosecutors continued to bring dozens of cases against writers, journalists, and political figures under various laws that restrict media freedom. Authorities at times also ordered raids on newspaper offices, closed newspapers temporarily, issued fines, or confiscated newspapers for violating speech codes. Despite government restrictions, the media criticized government leaders and policies daily and in many cases adopted an adversarial role with respect to the government. On December 20, Reporters without Borders noted operations that “flout the right to the confidentiality of sources” of journalists and insisted that Turkish authorities “must stop trying to criminalize journalism, including politically committed journalism.” The independent news entity BIANET reported that, at the end of the year, there were 104 imprisoned journalists, most in pretrial detention, 17 of whom were editors in chief. They also reported the imprisonment of 30 distributors. Most of these journalists were charged under antiterror laws. Observers reported government officials and state bureaucrats made statements throughout the year that appeared intended to influence the independence of the media.
According to media reports, as of year’s end more than 5,000 cases were pending against journalists for breaching the confidentiality of criminal investigations or attempting to influence judicial bodies, including many related to the Ergenekon investigation.
During the year ideologically motivated attorneys and prosecutors filed numerous civil and criminal complaints against authors and publishers.
In March the Court of Appeals sentenced Nobel Laureate Orhan Pamuk to pay 6,000 lira ($3,200) in nonpecuniary damages to six persons for “violation of one’s personality” by having said in a Swiss publication in 2005, “We have killed 30,000 Kurds and one million Armenians.” The Court of Appeals insisted that one’s personality included such concepts as “professional identity, honor, dignity, race, religion and nationality, as well as feelings of belonging to a nation.”
On March 2, the Court of Appeals overturned the 2010 decision of a lower court to sentence Vedat Kursun, former editor in chief of the Kurdish-language newspaper Azadiya Welat, to 166 years in prison for membership in a terrorist organization and violating antiterror laws in connection with 102 articles he had written in 2007 and 2008 and ordered a rehearing. In June the Diyarbakir Fifth Heavy Penal Court sentenced him to 10 years and six months’ imprisonment. The appeal was pending at year’s end.
On March 10, an Istanbul Heavy Penal Court sentenced writer Nur Mehmet Guler to 15 months’ imprisonment and publisher Ragip Zarakolu to a 16,000 lira ($9,000) fine for contributing to the “propaganda of an illegal terrorist organization” under the antiterror law for a book entitled the KCK File. The case was pending appeal at year’s end. On September 30, a case was opened against Zarakolu for publishing another book about the Kurdish issue. The case continued at year’s end. Separately, in November Zarakolu was arrested and imprisoned in conjunction with the KCK book case.
On December 28, an Ankara court continued the case against publisher and writer Temel Demirer for a statement he made after the 2007 Dink killing that “Hrant Dink was not killed for being Armenian but for recognizing the genocide.” The case continued at year’s end.
On September 9, an Istanbul court accepted an indictment against journalists Nedim Sener and Ahmet Sik and 12 other persons for supporting a terrorist network accused of plotting a coup related to the Ergenekon trial. The indictment sought 15 years’ imprisonment. On January 23, the Istanbul 16th Heavy Penal Court rejected the motion for Sener and Sik to be released from prison until the completion of the trial. During the year Sener and Sik were charged in other cases for crimes such as “influencing the judiciary” or “violating the confidentiality of an investigation” and acquitted.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: Printing houses were required to submit books and periodicals to prosecutors at the time they were published. The TPA reported that publishers often avoided works with controversial content in order to stay out of court. It also reported that the prohibition and recall of books remained a concern. Several publications were recalled pending a final court decision during the year.
During the year authorities continued to file numerous cases against publications under antiterror laws. The HRF reported that the laws contain an overly broad definition of offenses that allows ideologically and politically motivated prosecutions. The Istanbul Heavy Penal Court Number 12 ruled to stop the publication of the daily Kurdish Azadiya Welat newspaper for 15 days beginning June 13, and ordered the confiscation of the June 12 issue, based on alleged terrorist organization propaganda. At least 10 Azadiya Welat journalists were also imprisoned on terrorism-related charges by the end of the year. The Istanbul Heavy Penal Court Number 14, on July 8 decreed a one-month ban on the Ozgur Gelecek newspaper for an interview in its July 8-21 issue with a regional commander of the TKP/ML-TIKKO, which the government considers a terrorist organization.
Writers and publishers were subject to prosecution on grounds of defamation, denigration, obscenity, separatism, terrorism, subversion, fundamentalism, and insulting religious values. According to the TPA, authorities investigated or continued court cases against dozens of publications and publishers during the year.
On December 13, an Istanbul penal court held the third hearing of a November 30 indictment of the Metis Publishing House and seven defendants for publishing a 2010 Illallah (I’ve Had Enough) calendar allegedly ridiculing religious values. The calendar includes quotes from intellectuals such as George Bernard Shaw, Umberto Eco, Fyodor Dostoyevski, James Joyce, Albert Einstein, Bertrand Russell, and Galileo Galilei. The case was ongoing at year’s end.
Human rights activists and the media reported that authors increasingly practiced self-censorship to avoid prosecution. Observers also reported that, with the consolidation of media outlets into a few media conglomerates with other business interests, media entities increasingly practiced self-censorship in order for such conglomerates to remain eligible for government contracts. Journalists reported media outlets went as far as firing some individuals for being too controversial or adversarial with the government over fears of jeopardizing other business interests.
Libel Laws/National Security: Observers reported that government officials used defamation laws to stop political opponents from voicing criticism, particularly during the June 12 parliamentary election campaign.
Publishing Restrictions: Media activists reported the Ministry of Culture sometimes denied approval of a barcode required for all publications as a means of censorship.