Six years after the assassination of Hrant Dink, a Turkish journalist of Armenian origin, freedom of expression for journalists is still threatened in Turkey and many other countries in the world. Hrant Dink was assassinated in 2007 for openly saying that Turkey should reconcile with its past and recognise the Armenian Genocide. He was assassinated because he believed in peace and was not scared to claim his right to free speech. This assassination shocked people across the world. “I am Armenian! I am Hrant Dink”, was the cry from the Turkish public over Dink’s death. Over 100,000 people attended his funeral.
But this assassination also reflects the wider situation around freedom of expression for journalists in Turkey. Before his assassination, in 2005, Hrant Dink was accused by the Turkish Courts of insulting the Turkish nation under Article 301 of the Turkish Criminal Code. He was accused after speaking openly about a taboo subject; the Armenian genocide. On one occasion, he wrote, “Of course I’m saying it is genocide, because its consequences show it to be true and label it so. We see that people who had lived on this soil for 4000 years were exterminated by these events.”
Article 301 states that insulting the Turkish nation, the State of the Turkish Republic, the Turkish Grand Assembly, the government of the Republic of Turkey or the judicial organs of the state are criminal offences. Moreover it is stated in Articles 218 and 318 that propagating these ideas through the press is considered an aggravating circumstance and increases the punishment by half. The European Court of Human Rights’ judgement in the case Dink v. Turkey in 2010 ruled that Article 301 of the Turkish Criminal Code and Dink’s trial itself were a violation of the right to freedom of expression under Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Amnesty International expressed its concerns following the charges against Hrant Dink, who declared during his trial that, “This is a political decision because I wrote about the Armenian Genocide, and they detest that, so they found a way to accuse me of insulting Turks”.
The amendments made to Article 301 by the Turkish authorities in 2008, which mainly consist of replacing the phrase “denigration of Turkishness” with the phrase “denigration of Turkish State”, and reduces the maximum penalty from three years to two, were only formal changes in the legal texts in order to convince Europe that the law had been “reformed”, which would improve Turkey’s chances of joining the European Union. The Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights in his 2011 report, states that “104 journalists faced trials in 2010 in connection with what could be considered freedom of expression cases”.
Cases of journalists being fired for criticising the government are a recurrent problem in Turkey. In 2012, Nuray Mert, a journalist from the Milliyet newspaper, was fired after being publically criticised by the Prime Minister for her articles. Problems around freedom of expression also affect the mass-media—the classical pianist Fazil Say was charged for insulting religious values because he re-tweeted a mocking poem from a Persian poet.
In recent years, a number of investigative journalists have been killed in Europe in very strange circumstances. In his Human Rights comment published in 2011, Thomas Hammarberg, the Council of Europe Commissioner of Human Rights at the time, points out some of them: the kidnapping and assassination of Ukranian journalist Georgiy Gongadze in 2001 and the assassination of Elmar Huseynov in Azerbaidjan are just two examples. He also stresses that the killers of the Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya were not brought to justice, and that the authorities lack the determination and will to find the people behind her murder.
Don’t kill journalists, because journalists are, as Hrant Dink said, “like a pigeon, equally obsessed by what goes-on on the left and right, front and back”, and they are the mirror through which we see the reality of the world. Don’t kill journalists, because they are the cornerstone of our democracy.