Turkish teacher wins freedom-of-expression appeal
A Turkish teacher who was imprisoned for her claim of innocent civilian deaths during military operations against the PKK has won her appeal to Turkey’s highest court and has been released from prison.
Ayşe Çelik was sentenced to one year and three months of imprisonment on a charge of disseminating propaganda in support of the PKK for a remark she made in an on-air phone call on Jan. 8, 2016, to the popular TV program, Beyaz Show.
On the show, she said: “Do not let children die.”
The PKK is listed as a terror group by Turkey, the United States and the European Union.
In their ruling, the judges wrote that “statements, which do not provoke violence but are in line with ideology, social or political goals and opinions on political, economic and social issues” of terror groups do not constitute “propaganda of terrorism.”
Çelik “aimed to create an awareness in the community about the deaths that occurred in eastern and southeastern Turkey and asked the artists participating in the program not to remain silent,” the judges wrote.
The verdict emphasized that her spontaneous words were not terrorist propaganda and noted that the interference with her freedom of expression violated the requirements of a democratic society.
“The Constitutional Court considered that the applicant’s words could not be regarded as a direct or indirect incentive to praise terrorism, to show support for terrorism, to the use of violence or to armed resistance or revolt,” the judges wrote.
The judges stated that not all kinds of expression of opinions that are linked to terror are considered a crime.
“The first thing to keep in mind is that in Turkish law, only making propaganda in such a way as to justify, praise or encourage the use of methods of force, violence or threats of terrorist organizations is accepted as crime, but not all sorts of expression of opinion that is linked to terror,” the ruling said.
Expressing or disseminating opinions on the social and political environment, socio-economic imbalances, ethnic problems, differences in the population of the country, the demand for more freedom or criticism of the country’s management style are protected forms of freedom of expression even they might annoying certain members of society or state officials, the verdict said.
“The statements of thought, even if they are linked to terrorism or a terrorist organization and even if they are in line with the ideology, social or political goals of the terrorist organization and with its opinions on political, economic and social problems; cannot be considered as propaganda of terrorism, if they do not include expressions encouraging violence, if they do not pose a threat for committing terror offense,” the judges wrote.
Istanbul’s Bakırköy 2nd High Criminal Court’s charge against Çelik was based on the argument that she used the same language as the terrorist group and that she aimed to justify the actions of the PKK by portraying the military operations against the group as causing the death of innocent civilians.