The Turco-Argentine terror statute tango

The Turco-Argentine terror statute tango

When the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) returns to its study of the “eight” journalists imprisoned in Turkey, one might hope they will set their Turkish file down side-by-side with whatever dossier the organization has for Argentina. The next CPJ report could be titled, “A tale of two countries.”

After all, a certain parallelism between Turkey and Argentina has intrigued many an observer. Argentina’s 1976 military coup, the so-called “Dirty War” and her slow restoration of democratic rights has invited many an academic comparison with Turkey’s civil-military history.

The “twin” economic crises of Turkey and Argentina in 2001 have prompted innumerable comparative analyses. Interesting points include the fact that while Turkey had the statistically deeper recession, Argentina had the greater social unrest with deadly street riots.

A related point of academic departure has been the fact that Turkey basically accepted the internationally prescribed medicine to regain her economic health. Argentina, however, snubbed her nose at the International Monetary Fund and defaulted on her sovereign debt. Despite the different policy routes, both countries emerged from recession almost at the same time.

So it might be interesting for the CPJ – which counts eight Turkish journalists behind bars as compared to most other tallies of 95 – to compare and contrast the use of terrorism statutes in the two countries as the means to discipline the press.

As the Hürriyet Daily News’ Işıl Eğrikavuk reported yesterday, CPJ Director Joel Simon is frustrated that his letters to the Turkish government have gone unanswered. A shocking affront. Accordingly, he plans to send a new delegation to Turkey to examine the issue “more deeply.”

Fair enough. I realize that Buenos Aires is not conveniently on the route to Istanbul. Still, a stop there on the way here might be instructive. For the new Turco-Argentine parallel is the use of ever-more flexible anti-terrorism laws.

It’s hardly a novel observation that most imprisoned Turkish journalists are not facing charges of violating any press laws (except perhaps the “CPJ-8”). It is abetting a terrorist organization with words or headlines that is the crime.

It’s this part of the Turkish judicial playbook that Argentina has newly made her own. As of December, Argentina journalists can now be charged for the vague crime of “terrorizing the public.” This will include such actions as describing the state of the economy in such a way that provokes fear. This is a far cry from most definitions of terrorism. In Argentina, you are now a terrorist if your word or reporting prompts the public to convert their pesos to dollars, empty their bank accounts or seek to move money offshore.

As the Argentine economy is again deteriorating, many critics have challenged the inflation figures and other statistics reported by the government. As of the New Year, this kind of standard reporting is subject to the judgment that it is in fact a “terrorist act.”

As the saying goes, “it takes two to tango.” That Turkish and Argentine prosecutors have discovered the same score of judicial music should not go unnoticed. Perhaps the CPJ will take a look at this new trans-Atlantic minuet.