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ANKARA: Tackling hate crimes can no longer be postponed

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  • ANKARA: Tackling hate crimes can no longer be postponed

    Today's Zaman, Turkey
    June 29 2008

    Tackling hate crimes can no longer be postponed

    While anti-racism movements are expanding globally, in Turkey both the
    discourse of political leaders and commentators and the malfunctioning
    of legal arrangements in place to prevent racism are encouraging its
    rise. The theme of this year's European soccer championships was

    In Turkey's case, human rights activists underline that the problems
    of minorities -- including those who hold differing political views,
    are of a different ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation -- were
    related to how the state and its apparatuses implemented policies but
    have more recently increasingly involved attacks from other groups,
    including associations, the media and commentators. According to human
    rights activists, hate crimes and hate speeches are important problems
    Turkey needs to tackle.

    Examples of hate crimes include the murder of Hrant Dink, a
    Turkish-Armenian journalist who was assassinated in January 2007; the
    savage murders of three Christians in Malatya last year; several
    lynching campaigns targeting leftist political groups and Kurds; and
    several publications urging readers to not establish relations with
    Kurds. Turkey, as part of the first reform package for harmonization
    with the European Union in 2002, has forbidden the denigration of a
    part of the population. This regulation was enshrined in Article 216
    of the new Turkish Penal Code (TCK) in 2005.

    Article 216 of the TCK, titled "Inciting the population to breed
    enmity or hatred or denigration," states the following:

    (1) A person who openly incites groups of the population to breed
    enmity or hatred towards one another based on social class, race,
    religion, sect or regional difference in a manner which might
    constitute a clear and imminent danger to public order shall be
    sentenced to imprisonment for a term of one to three years.

    (2) A person who openly denigrates part of the population on grounds
    of social class, race, religion, sect, gender or regional differences
    shall be sentenced to imprisonment for a term of six months to one

    (3) A person who openly denigrates the religious values of a part of
    the population shall be sentenced to imprisonment for a term of six
    months to one year if the act is likely to disturb public peace.

    But, Feray Salman from the Human Rights Common Platform (Ä°HOP);
    Nalan Erken, one of the lawyers in the Malatya case; Kerem
    Altıparmak from Ankara University's Human Rights Center; and
    Sezgin Tanrıkulu, the chairman of the Diyarbakır BaAssociation,
    underline that Article 216 has so far widely been used to protect the
    rights of the majority and that there are only a few example of the
    article serving in cases related to disadvantaged groups.

    Take the Ä°zmir-based Turkish Collectivist Nationalist People
    Association (TTBD) as an example. The association started a campaign
    in 2006 titled "Stop the Kurdish Population" and urged "pure Turks" to
    have more children "in order to teach the necessary lesson to heroin
    smugglers and Kurdish traitors and Roma thieves." Several lawyers
    filed a lawsuit against the TTBD, citing a violation of Article 216,
    and the case is awaiting trial.

    `Article 216 is adequate in principle'

    Another case involves a public prosecutor who filed a case based on
    the article against several individuals that were urging the public to
    pressure Kurds in one town to leave. The targeted group did not want
    to have their names released nor the town they were forced to
    leave. The case is still in the courts.

    Another case awaiting a verdict is against artisans and tradesmen who
    support the Bursa Sports Association, which urged people to lynch
    members of the GökkuÅ?aÄ?ı Associat(Rainbow Association),
    an organization that reaches out to homosexuals, if they had
    demonstrated in 2006. The case, also filed on the grounds of Article
    216, still continues.

    Altıparmak says cases based on the article and that seek to
    protect minorities are few in number, while cases based on the article
    but that seek to protect the majority are numerous.

    Published in the anthology "Freedom of Thought," Altıparmak's
    article underlines that there are two types of regulations on
    anti-racism and hate speech: symmetrical and asymmetrical. Article 216
    does not specify groups, it only mentions "a part of people," so it is
    symmetrical. According to Altıparmak, if groups are specified
    in regulations, they are asymmetrical. This is the case with the
    infamous Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code (TCK), which punishes
    insulting "Turkishness" and "state apparatuses."

    Altıparmak says not only Turkish regulations, but in general,
    symmetrical regulations when implemented are widely used to protect
    the values of the majority, whereas asymmetrical regulations usually
    protect those who can be subjects of discrimination due to his or her
    ethnic, religious, and/or sexual orientation. He further states that
    anti-racism regulations should be based on someone feeling under
    threat and hiding their identity to avert the threat. In short,
    Altıparmak indicates that one's freedom of speech should not
    become an obstacle to another's freedoms.

    He also underlines that, as is the case in Article 216, the wording
    "clear and imminent danger" is very important wording that protects
    the freedom of thought and that this emphasis helps differentiate
    between criticism and hate speech.

    "For example, if you say something against men, such as that men are
    cheaters, this does not force the male population to hide their
    identity, it does not make life difficult for men. But if you say
    something against homosexuals, your words may force them to hide their
    identity or, as was the case in the
    GökkuÅ?aÄ?ı case, others may be inclined to
    lynch them just because of their identity," Altıparmak says.

    "Article 216 is adequate in principle, but the problem stems from
    regulations in Turkey being symmetrical, while their implementation is
    asymmetrical and in favor of the values of the majority. And because
    of the implementation, they become a serious threat to freedom of
    thought," Altıparmak underlines.

    But lawyer Nalan Erken says Article 216 and other regulations do not
    answer the needs of anti-racism.

    "Article 216 has a narrow approach -- especially when it mentions
    'clear and imminent danger.' Maybe at first glance some speeches do
    not create any danger, but a closer look can reveal that they aim to
    create danger," she says.

    According to Erken, the Malatya case is a good example of this. Erken
    notes that before the murders in Malatya, many publications claimed
    that missionary work posed a serious threat to the unity of the state.

    "Article 216 of the TCK does not regulate propaganda that encourages
    hate crimes," Erken points out.

    She underlines that, as the lawyer in the Malatya case, she wanted
    "genocide" laws to apply.

    This is "because we think the Malatya case is not only a hate crime
    but somewhere between a hate crime and genocide. However, no
    regulations cover such crimes. The case does, though, fit perfectly
    the definition of genocide, as defined by the penal code, more so than
    a hate crime. We hope the Malatya case will be an important step in
    regulating hate crimes and correcting shortcomings currently present
    in the law -- all this without harming freedom of speech, of course,"
    she underlines.

    When it comes to international obligations regarding anti-racism,
    Ä°HOP's Salman claims that Turkey is not taking its
    responsibility seriously. She notes that Turkey is a signatory of the
    International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial
    Discrimination and that because of this, it has to submit regular
    reports to the United Nations about its efforts toward this goal.

    International obligations

    "These reports have main principles. First, they must be made
    available in Turkish [in addition to English] and available to the
    public to ensure participation in discussions on them. Turkey,
    however, submits its reports very late, so they are only available in
    English and only on the UN Web site -- interested organizations and
    the public end up being completely left out of the process.
    Additionally, more than 240 pages of these reports not even once
    mention Hrant Dink," she says.

    Despite an increase in cases of hate crimes, hate speech and all forms
    of racial discrimination, Tanrıkulu admits that they are a little
    hesitant to pressure authorities to implement Article 216 out of
    concerns that this pressure can harm freedom of speech.

    "Taking measures to prevent the occurrence of hate crimes and hate
    speech is very important, and it is the duty of the state," he says.

    Altıparmak agrees. "The real problem is discrimination in the
    society, not its expression in words. Preventing the expression of
    discrimination can be a way to hide the discrimination, not eliminate
    it. It is possible to reach the goal of eliminating discrimination
    through other means -- education, primarily."

    29 June 2008, Sunday