Turkey’s academics pay heavy price for resisting Erdoğan’s militarised politics

By Celal Cahit Agar, University of Exeter and Steffen Böhm, University of Exeter

While the EU and the US have turned a blind eye to the Turkish government’s brutal clampdown in Kurdish regions, Turkish academics who have spoken out about the regime’s increasingly dictatorial policies have faced punishment and even imprisonment.

A petition published in early January by the Academicians for Peace initiative, criticising the Turkish state’s political and military attacks against the Kurdish people, raised a red flag with its signatories stating: “We will not be a party to this crime.” They wrote:

The Turkish state has effectively condemned its citizens in Sur, Silvan, Nusaybin, Cizre, Silopi, and many other towns and neighborhoods in the Kurdish provinces to hunger through its use of curfews that have been ongoing for weeks. It has attacked these settlements with heavy weapons and equipment that would only be mobilized in wartime. As a result, the right to life, liberty, and security, and in particular the prohibition of torture and ill-treatment protected by the constitution and international conventions have been violated.

In response, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan immediately demanded that all institutions in Turkey take action: “Everyone who benefits from this state but is now an enemy of the state must be punished without further delay.”

[Read more…]

Facebooktwittermail

Pankaj Mishra on Arundhati Roy: Hindu nationalists ​have many ways to silence writers

Pankaj Mishra writes: he governments of Egypt and Turkey are brazenly leading a multi-pronged assault on writers, artists and intellectuals. Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan last month denounced his critics among Turkish academics as treasonous fifth columnists of foreign powers; many of them have been subsequently dismissed and suspended. Both Turkey and Egypt have imprisoned journalists, provoking international protests. But the suppression of intellectual and creative freedoms is assuming much cannier forms in India, a country with formal and apparently free democratic institutions.

Controlled by upper-caste Hindu nationalists, Indian universities have been purging “anti-nationals” from both syllabuses and campuses for some months now. In a shocking turn of events last month, Rohith Vemula, a PhD student in Hyderabad, killed himself. Accused of “anti-national” political opinions, the impoverished research scholar, who belonged to one of India’s traditionally and cruelly disadvantaged castes, was suspended, and, after his fellowship was cancelled, expelled from student housing. Letters from Modi’s government in Delhi to university authorities revealed that the latter were under relentless pressure to move against “extremist and anti-national politics” on campus. Vemula’s heartbreaking suicide note attests to the near-total isolation and despair of a gifted writer and thinker.

The extended family of upper-caste nationalists plainly aim at total domination of the public sphere. But they don’t only use the bullying power of the leviathan state – one quickly identified by local and foreign critics – to grind down their apparent enemies. They pursue them through police cases and legal petitions by private individuals – a number of criminal complaints have been filed against writers and artists in India. They create a climate of impunity, in which emboldened mobs ransack newspapers offices, art galleries and cinemas. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Saudi Arabia: Palestinian poet sentenced to eight years in prison and 800 lashes for apostasy

The Guardian reports: A Saudi court has overturned the death sentence on a Palestinian poet accused of renouncing Islam, instead imposing an eight year prison term and 800 lashes.

The decision by a panel of judges came after Ashraf Fayadh’s lawyer argued that his conviction of apostasy was seriously flawed as he was denied a fair trial. In a briefing on the verdict, Fayadh’s lawyer said the new judgement revoked the death sentence but upheld that the poet was guilty of apostasy.

A memo written by the lawyer, posted by Abdulrahman al-Lahem on Twitter, describes the details of Fayadh’s new punishment. He is sentenced to eight years in prison and 800 lashes, with 50 lashes carried out on 16 occasions, and must also publicly renounce his poetry on Saudi state media.

Al-Lahem welcomed the overturning of the death sentence but reaffirmed Fayadh’s innocence and announced they would launch an appeal and ask for bail.

Adam Coogle, Middle East researcher at Human Rights Watch, said: “Instead of beheading Ashraf Fayadh, a Saudi court has ordered a lengthy imprisonment and flogging. No one should face arrest for peacefully expressing opinions, much less corporal punishment and prison. Saudi justice officials must urgently intervene to vacate this unjust sentence.” [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

In Sisi’s Egypt there is close to zero tolerance for dissent

The New York Times reports: A popular Egyptian cartoonist was arrested Sunday on charges of running a website without a license, the Interior Ministry said, in the latest escalation of a campaign to silence the government’s online critics.

The cartoonist, Islam Gawish, 26, who has 1.6 million Facebook followers, was arrested during a police raid on the offices of a news website based in Cairo. Although his satirical cartoons have been published online, Mr. Gawish was not seen as an especially vehement critic of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.

It was the most prominent arrest since the Jan. 25 anniversary of the 2011 uprising that ultimately toppled President Hosni Mubarak, which had been preceded by a wave of arrests and closures that focused on democracy activists and well-known cultural spaces in downtown Cairo.

Although Mr. Sisi’s government has silenced many critical voices in Egypt’s major news media, either by arresting journalists or forcing them into exile, it has struggled to contain free speech on the Internet, which is one of the few forums for open dissent at a time when public protest has been all but outlawed.

Facebook and other social media sites, which played a role in organizing the 2011 uprising, are popular with millions of Egyptians, but a few high-profile prosecutions have sent a warning to users about the limits of tolerance for political discussion.

In October a military court handed down a three-year jail sentence to Amr Nohan, a 22-year-old law graduate who had posted to his Facebook page an image that depicted Mr. Sisi with Mickey Mouse-style cartoon ears.

In recent weeks, the authorities arrested five people who are accused of administering hundreds of Facebook pages that were sympathetic to the banned Muslim Brotherhood and that had sought to encourage public protest on Jan. 25.

The circumstances of Mr. Gawish’s arrest, which follows the recent closing of the Townhouse Gallery arts space in central Cairo and a raid on the offices of a book publisher, seemed to signal that the government is seeking new ways to silence even moderate forms of dissent. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Pursuing critics, China reaches across borders. And nobody is stopping it.

The Washington Post reports: China’s campaign against dissent is going global.

Amid extraordinary moves to rein in criticism at home, Chinese security personnel are reaching confidently across borders, targeting Chinese and foreign citizens who dare to challenge the Communist Party line, in what one Western diplomat has called the “worst crackdown since Tiananmen Square.”

A string of incidents, including abductions from Thailand and Hong Kong, forced repatriations and the televised “confessions” of two Swedish citizens, has crossed a new red line, according to diplomats in Beijing. Yet many foreign governments seem unwilling or unable to intervene, their public response limited to mild protests.

The European Union is divided and appears uncertain about what to do. Hong Kong is in an uproar, with free speech under attack, activists looking over their shoulders and many people saying they feel betrayed by a lack of support from Britain. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Remember photos of Erdogan’s aide kicking a protester? Now they’re blocked in Turkey

Mashable reports: Famous images showing an aide to Turkey’s prime minister kicking a protester in the wake of a national tragedy are slowly vanishing from the internet in Turkey.

The photographs were taken after a fire killed 301 miners in the spring of 2014 and they quickly became symbols of the government’s callous reaction to the worst industrial accident in Turkey’s history.

Yet anyone in Turkey today who tries to find the famous photos of Yusuf Yerkel winding up for a kick aimed a protester who was already on the ground — and restrained by security — will find that many webpages showing the image are blocked. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Turkish prosecutors to investigate academics over Erdoğan petition

erdogan

The Guardian reports: Turkey has launched an investigation into academics who signed a petition criticising the military’s crackdown on Kurdish rebels in the south-east that angered President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

More than 1,200 academics from 90 Turkish universities calling themselves “Academicians for Peace”, as well as foreign scholars, signed the petition last week calling for an end to the months-long violence.

Entitled “We won’t be a party to this crime”, the petition urged Ankara to “abandon its deliberate massacre and deportation of Kurdish and other peoples in the region”.

It was signed by dozens of foreign luminaries and intellectuals, among them the US academic Noam Chomsky and the Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

The war on freedom of expression across the Middle East

Rami G Khouri writes: It is useful to spot meaningful patterns that help us make sense of our bewildering world, and to acknowledge positive developments to be continued alongside negative ones to be avoided.

Applying this principle to the last year in the Middle East reveals several troubling trends that have made life difficult for hundreds of millions of people. One in particular stands out, and strikes me as a root cause of many other negative trends that plague our region. This is the tendency of governments to use increasingly harsh measures to restrict the freedoms of their citizens to express themselves and meaningfully to participate politically and hold power accountable.

Several aspects of this behavior make it especially onerous. It is practiced by all states in the region—Arab, Israeli, Iranian, and Turkish—leaving few people in this part of the world who can live as fully free and dignified human beings. It is justified on the basis of existing constitutional powers, so governments can jail tens of thousands of their citizens, rescind their nationality, or torture and kill them in the worst cases, simply because of the views they express, without any recourse to legal or political challenge. It shows no signs of abating, and indeed may be worsening in lands like Egypt, Turkey, and others. And, it is most often practiced as part of a “war on terror” that seeks to quell criminal terror attacks, but in practice achieves the opposite; the curtailment of citizen rights and freedoms exacerbates the indignities and humiliations that citizens feel against their government, which usually amplifies, rather than reduces, the threat of political violence. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

A Russian sentiment familiar to Americans: ‘It doesn’t concern me’

Zhanna Nemtsova writes: A public opinion survey recently asked Russians: “What was the main political event of the year?”

Events in Crimea, Ukraine and Syria featured prominently, but the most brutal political murder in modern Russia – the assassination of my father, Boris Nemtsov, a prominent opposition figure – didn’t even figure in the responses.

Another survey conducted by the independent Levada Centre in March, soon after he was shot dead on a bridge close to the Kremlin, found that one-third of the Russians polled had “no particular feelings” about his murder.

Taken together, these responses illustrate a broader problem with the current condition of Russian society, characterised by moral numbness and best illustrated by the popular Russian sentiment – “it doesn’t concern me”.

This climate has also compromised the quality of the opposition itself and made it a heroic feat to even take part in the opposition movement in Russia.

The political system that President Vladimir Putin has built relies on a lack of public thought, and on people’s reluctance to ask questions, formulate positions or remember the past. Putin’s Russia has no need of people who think for themselves. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Pete Seeger’s FBI file reveals how the folk legend first became a target of the feds

David Corn writes: From the 1940s through the early 1970s, the US government spied on singer-songwriter Pete Seeger because of his political views and associations. According to documents in Seeger’s extensive FBI file—which runs to nearly 1,800 pages (with 90 pages withheld) and was obtained by Mother Jones under the Freedom of Information Act—the bureau’s initial interest in Seeger was triggered in 1943 after Seeger, as an Army private, wrote a letter protesting a proposal to deport all Japanese American citizens and residents when World War II ended.

Seeger, a champion of folk music and progressive causes—and the writer, performer, or promoter of now-classic songs, including as “If I Had a Hammer,” “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?,” Turn! Turn! Turn!,” “Kisses Sweeter Than Wine,” “Goodnight, Irene,” and “This Land Is Your Land”—was a member of the Communist Party for several years in the 1940s, as he subsequently acknowledged. (He later said he should have left earlier.) His FBI file shows that Seeger, who died in early 2014, was for decades hounded by the FBI, which kept trying to tie him to the Communist Party, and the first investigation in the file illustrates the absurd excesses of the paranoid security establishment of that era. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

French court upholds heavy fines while rejecting free speech for activists calling for boycott against Israel

JTA reports: France’s highest court of appeals confirmed earlier rulings that found promoters of a boycott against Israel guilty of inciting hate or discrimination.

The rulings passed on Tuesday by the Paris-based Court of Cassation confirmed the Nov. 27 convictions of 12 individuals by the Colmar Court of Appeals in connection with their 2009 and 2010 actions in supermarkets near the eastern city of Mulhouse.

The individuals arrived at the supermarket wearing shirts emblazoned with the words: “Long live Palestine, boycott Israel.” They also handed out fliers that said that “buying Israeli products means legitimizing crimes in Gaza.”

The court in Colmar imposed fines to the collective tune of $14,500 and court expenses on Laila Assakali, Yahya Assakali, Assya Ben Lakbir, Habiba Assakali, Sylviane Mure, Farida Sarr, Aline Parmentier, Mohammad Akbar, Jean-Michel Baldassi, Maxime Roll, Jacques Ballouey and Henry Eichholtzer. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

The Red Web: Russia and the Internet

Steven Aftergood writes: The Internet in Russia is a battleground between activists who would use it as a tool of political and cultural freedom and government officials who see it as a powerful instrument of political control, write investigative journalists Andrei Soldatov and Irina Borogan in their new book The Red Web. For now, the government appears to be winning the battle.

Soldatov and Borogan trace the underlying conflict back to official anxiety in the Soviet era about the hazards of freedom of information. In the 1950s, the first Soviet photocopy machine was physically destroyed at the direction of the government “because it threatened to spread information beyond the control of those who ruled.”

With the introduction of imported personal computers in the 1980s and a connection to the Internet in 1990, new possibilities for free expression and political organizing in Russia seemed to arise. But as described in The Red Web, each private initiative was met by a government response seeking to disable or limit it. Internet service providers were required to install “black boxes” (known by the acronym SORM) giving Russia’s security services access to Internet traffic. Independent websites, such as the authors’ own agentura.ru site on intelligence matters, were subject to blocking and attack. Journalists’ computers were seized.

But the struggle continued. Protesters used new social media tools to organize demonstrations. The government countered with new facial recognition technology and cell phone tracking to identify them. Large teams of “trolls” were hired to disrupt social networks. A nationwide system of online filtering and censorship was put in place by 2012, and has been refined since then. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail