Erdoğan vows freedom of thought from now on

Erdoğan vows freedom of thought from now on

In a speech he delivered before attending an event of the women’s organization of his ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) on Aug. 4, Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan said: “From now there will be no fight for freedom of faith, freedom of thought, and freedom of opinion. Everyone will be free in their own faith, be free to live accordingly. In the [fields of] opinions and thought, [everyone] will say whatever he [or she] believes in. There will be no debate on whether [any woman’s] head is covered or not.” 

Erdoğan made the promise a day after he revealed his first 100-day program following his election on June 24 with new powers, with at least all of the executive ones. It is good that Erdoğan is promising freedom of thought in Turkey from now on. But it is a bit confusing.

First of all, the pledge for freedom of thought could give the impression to strangers of Turkish politics that Erdoğan has been elected for the first time, after a tough fight over freedom of thought, faith and opinion and will set things right from now on. But he has been leading Turkish governments since 2002, succeeding in every election since then. Erdoğan perhaps is taking the June 24 elections as a new beginning, the real beginning of the AK Parti era, under what has been formulated as the presidential government system, and that we should take those words as self-criticism on behalf of the AK Parti for the last 17 years. Perhaps Erdoğan, his spokesman İbrahim Kalın, his new communications director Fahrettin Altun, or AK Parti spokesman Mahir Ünal could elaborate on the remarks as the conditions were not suitable for Turkey to enjoy full freedom of thought and belief due to the slowing down, or even obstructing effect of parliament, the judiciary and the frequently-mentioned “bureaucratic oligarchy,” which would be in total consistency with the valid political rhetoric. 

If that is the case, I, as a journalist, would be happy to enjoy full freedom of thought from now on, unlike dozens of my colleagues who have been put in jails for what they wrote and said in the last 10 years or more and have many heavy charges against them, ranging from terrorism to espionage. Judges and prosecutors of this or that network could easily be held responsible for bringing those charges against them. I would also be happy to believe that from now on there would be no heinous infiltration of this or that ideological, sectarian or illegal political group into the police force, judiciary and military, which did not only put journalists and writers in jail to discredit the democratically-elected government but also committed plots against that government as well. 

Secondly, the remarks might lead some people to the perception that the freedom of thought and faith that Erdoğan was speaking about was limited to the headscarf issue only, whether or not women can wear headscarves. But that would not be something new. For some time now women have been free to wear headscarves everywhere, from schools to the military, from courtrooms to diplomatic posts. So freedom of thought should not be limited to speaking about the freedom of women wearing headscarves. And considering that non-Muslim communities, most faiths other than Sunni Islam, in Turkey have recently made a joint declaration to say that they enjoy religious freedoms in Turkey. It came at a time when the U.S. tried to show the continuing arrest of American pastor Andrew Brunson as a religious freedom case and an issue between Christianity and Islam. 

Therefore, it could be helpful if a spokesperson for the president elaborated on his remarks on freedom of thought: Do they include the debate on freedom of faith and freedom of headscarf for women, or do they include something broader? 

By doing that, it would also be helpful if someone on behalf of Mr. President also elaborated on the limits of freedom of opinion on subjects like reporting on police operations against public figures, sexual abuse of minors by cult leaders, inflation rates and public banks. That could at least stop editors and writers from receiving – hypothetically of course – telephone calls, directly or indirectly as is the case in some lesser democratic countries, not in Turkey of course. There is no need for a Turkish journalist any longer to be told what can be considered as an insult to the president after so many rulings by independent Turkish courts. If any of us hasn’t learnt so far, it’s too late anyway.

Having said that, it is good to hear from the president that we will from now on enjoy freedom of thought and opinion.

Murat Yetkin,