Nov 13

Post-Gezi: Crackdown on Thought Crimes


After the debacle of the Gezi protests this summer, the Turkish government has vowed: “Never again”. No more footage of police gassing unarmed protesters in the face, no more photos of angry crowds, no more reports by Amnesty International detailing Turkey’s “brutal denial of the right to free assembly”. Enough is enough. On 6th October, a new law was proposed which gives police the power to lock up anyone who they suspect might be about to partake in a public protest. These would-be protesters will be detained for up to 24 hours, without the need for permission from a court or judge, to ensure that nothing on the scale of Gezi ever happens again. It is, one must admit, a rather creative stroke of legislation.

I live near Taksim Square, Istanbul, where there is now a permanent, surly police presence, and this proposal is a shade worrying on a practical level. I am young and middle class-looking, marking me out as a likely child of the Gezi movement, a high-risk repeat offender. Should I school my features to look entirely blank when passing the hordes of police sitting lazily with sub-machine guns on their knees, aimlessly checking their phones or scanning the crowds of tourists? Or should I beam at them as I walk by, to assure them of my deep satisfaction with life, my complete disinclination to protest in any shape or form? Must I sing the praises of the AKP, wear a thumbs-up badge, or a T-shirt saying “Erdogan is my hero”?

After ten years of power, Tayyip Erdogan’s AKP government is increasingly fond of getting its own way and has taken entirely the wrong lessons from the Gezi protests. Rather than apologising and getting its act together, it has conducted a comprehensive programme of revenge in the past few months, targeting anyone with the remotest connection to the protests. Not only have hundreds of student activists been arrested and detained, but all those who helped them have suffered too: the doctors who treated their injuries, the lawyers who dared represent them, the media channels who showed them being beaten and shot. These have been tracked down, arrested, fined, intimidated, and now any potential protester is effectively guilty until proven innocent – of what?

The spirit of this law does not surprise me, but its technicality does. It seeks to prevent citizens doing something entirely legal – free assembly is still a right in Turkey, at least on paper, if not in practice. The law has yet to be put through parliament, but the AKP’s hefty majority will pass it when the time comes, further damaging Turkey’s human rights record. What it might also do is provoke yet more demonstrations of public outrage in a Kafka-esque spiral of absurdity. What Erdogan doesn’t realise is that the more he bangs his fist, the deeper the hole he makes for himself. This law is a King Kong thump of desperation.

A copy of this appears in Standpoint Magazine’s November edition: http://www.standpointmag.co.uk/node/5261