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