Why bother with websites? Just ban atheism

Why bother with websites? Just ban atheism

Article 24 of the Turkish Constitution states: “Everyone has the freedom of conscience, religious belief and conviction.” 

In theory, the article covers the fundamental rights of each and every citizen. In reality, it gives no rights to atheists or non-believers, and very little to those who do not belong to the Sunni Muslim majority.

The latest proof of this fact is the ban on the website of the Atheism Association, Turkey’s first association dedicated to atheism founded less than a year ago. An Ankara court earlier this week banned access to the website, citing an article in the Turkish Penal Code that forbids “provoking the people for hate and enmity or degrading them.”

Although www.ateizmdernegi.org has been banned, a mirror of the website (I will not make the courts’ job easier by giving the open address) is still accessible and contains information about the association, its activities and contacts. 

Article 216 of the penal code, on which the court based its decision, allows a ban on those who “openly provoke a group of people belonging to a different social class, religion, race, sect, or coming from another origin, to be rancorous or hostile against another group.”

A sub-clause of the article states “any person who openly disrespects the religious beliefs of a group is punished with six months to one year in prison if such an act causes potential risk for public peace.”

The association has a point when it says that Turkey’s judiciary system is “drifting away from reason.” It is really hard to understand how an association’s website giving information on atheism and its activities provokes hatred, unless Muslims in Turkey are simply provoked by the existence of non-Muslims. The court must have ruled that the website’s information disrespects religious beliefs and causes a potential risk to public order.

The penal code article, just like the constitutional article, has turned into a tool for prosecuting non-Muslims.
According to information on the Atheism Association, Morgan Elizabeth Romano, its vice president, said last May at a conference in Bilgi University that there is a “double standard in Turkey”: “When an Atheist insults a Muslim he is punished. But when a Muslim insults an Atheist he is applauded.”

For example, linguist Sevan Nişanyan was sentenced in May 2013 to 13.5 months in prison for a blog post, in which he described Prophet Muhammad in a way that “degraded religious values.” The sentence is still pending appeal, but Nişanyan is already in prison, serving a two-year sentence on charges of illegally constructing buildings in Şirince. That sentence was approved shortly after his blasphemy conviction.

Months after the Nişanyan case, world-renowned Turkish pianist Fazıl Say was sentenced to 10 months in jail, again for violating Article 216. His crime was to retweet lines attributed to the medieval poet Omar Khayyam. 

The lines that can get you a prison sentence in Turkey are: “You say its rivers flow in wine. Is the Garden of Eden a drinking house? You say you give two hours to each Muslim. Is the Garden of Eden a whorehouse?” 
Also, a university student was sentenced to five months in prison for writing “F*** your religion,” without elaborating, on walls in the western city of Eskişehir during last year’s May Day demonstration.

However, on the other hand, prosecutors have repeatedly decided not to pursue cases against Adnan Oktar, also known as Harun Yahya, a staunch anti-evolutionist who is famous for his dances with surgically-enhanced blonde women on his TV shows, as well as for his insults against atheists, evolutionists, materialists, Marxists, and many others.

Another prosecutor also did not pursue a complaint by the Atheism Association against Prof. Nihat Hatipoğlu, a scholar who became famous through his TV show. Hatipoğlu had said, “Even Satan, the biggest father of the atheists, is more clean then them [atheists],” a remark that according to the prosecutor fell within Hatipoğlu’s “duty to inform the people regarding the Quran.”

The prosecutor even made a reference to Article 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights, saying that “freedom of expression has no boundaries and should be protected even if such freedom disturbs a major segment of the people.”

The formula for the Turkish judiciary is simple: Any remark on Islam carries the potential to disturb public order, but criticism of non-Muslims or non-believers is just freedom of expression.

So the solution is also simple: Ban atheism and treat all atheists as terrorists. We are halfway there, thanks to President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who said on Feb. 28, 2014: “We opened a boulevard in Ankara on Feb. 24 despite the [protests of] leftists and atheists. They are terrorists.” 

Banning websites is not a sufficient course of action in the fight against terrorism. As a citizen, I expect the government to take the issue seriously.