TURKEY: Children detained for exercising right to freedom of expression

Summary: Extracts from the Third Quarterly Media Monitoring Report 2009.

[ISTANBUL, 22 January 2010] – One hundred and ninety people were prosecuted, 74 of them journalists, in 80 cases concerned with freedom of expression, according to the Media Monitoring Report issued by the BİA Media Monitoring Desk for July, August and September 2009.

The full report highlights the struggle and prosecution of 373 people, many of them children, in the context of violations of freedom of expression.

The section below is a summary of ten child court cases in Turkey. The report highlights cases under various subsections. However, cases involving children are found only under the subsections Attacks and Threats, Freedom of the Press and Expression, and Reactions to Censorship.

Trials on Freedom of the Press and Freedom of Expression

Ten-year-old girl M.Ö. was under prosecution as well as her parents and Mayor Abdullah Demirbaş on the grounds of giving Kurdish lessons to other children at home as part of the municipality's project "One story to each house" (Kurdish: Sere Şeve Çirokek). The project, ''One story each night and turning every house into a place of education", was launched three years ago. M.Ö.'s parents previously made a statement at the prosecutor's office that together with Mayor Demirbaş they had turned one room of their home into a class room in the course of the project.

The Diyarbakır Chief Public Prosecutor's Office decided to drop the case against the parents of M.Ö. and the Diyarbakır Sur district Mayor Abdullah Demirbaş. After the investigation the prosecutor's office decided to close the case.

On 8 September, the Aydın Juvenile Court dropped the case of a 13-year-old child who was put on trial because of addressing the Prime Minister Erdoğan with the curse "God damn you" when Erdoğan visited the city of Aydin (in the southwest of Turkey) before the local elections on 29 March 2009. The child was taken to Prime Minister Erdoğan by his bodyguards and was asked why he talked to him [Erdoğan] like that. When M.S.Ö. answered "I do not like you", Erdoğan squeezed the child's throat.

Thirteen-year-old M.S.Ö. was convicted of "Publicly defaming a public official connected with the public service he provides". The case was dropped at the first hearing. The court decided in accordance with the child's lawyers that Erdoğan had visited the city of Aydin as chair of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), thus he cannot be considered as a public official in this context.

If the case had been pursued, the 13-year-old child would have been tried under article 125 of the Turkish Penal Code (TCK) and could have faced 14 to 28 months imprisonment. M.S.Ö. cursed the prime minister because his father went bankrupt. The child's lawyers filed a criminal complaint against Erdoğan with the allegation of "deliberately hurting people". However, this complaint was dismissed. Lawyer Kemal Aytaç emphasised, "Everybody is protecting the prime minister but what is actually essential is the protection of the child. The indictment had been amended contrary to the law and the court could accept it.

The Beyoğlu 1st Magistrate Criminal Court in Istanbul acquitted Labour Youth members Şerafettin Gökdeniz, Sercan Bakır and Ekin Can Kınık. They had been tried under allegations of insulting the prime minister because of organizing an event on 20 May 2008 after they had sent collected signatures to the prime minister in the context of the campaign "Life does not fit into a three-hour exam". An expert report sent to the court had indicated that a crime had not been committed, saying "He was born in Istanbul and became an American, murderer Bush's son Tayyip Erdoğan". The three young people who had been taken into custody were also acquitted of opposing the Law on Meetings and Demonstrations.

Speaking on satellite channel Roj TV, Ethem Açıkalın, president of the Human Rights Association (İHD) in Adana, southern Turkey, criticised the arrest and punishment of children taking part in demonstrations. He was investigated for "spreading PKK propaganda", but is now on trial for "inciting hatred and hostility." On 29 November 2008, Açıkalın gave information about the legal situation of the children concerned and criticised their trial. His court case will begin on 27 October at the Adana 1st Criminal Court of First Instance. He had criticised the words of Adana governor İlhan Atış, who had threatened to withdraw health care support for the parents of children taking part in protests.

In addition, Açıkalin had spoken of a "dirty war." He said that all he did was share his thoughts on an urgent issue. So far 84 children, seven of them arrested, have been sentenced to 382 years and 11 months imprisonment in Adana. The human right activists is already on trial for allegedly resisting the police when protesting against a police raid at the province headquarters of the Democratic Society Party (DTP).

Ethem Açıkalın, president of the Human Rights Association (İHD) in Adana, had previously been accused of being connected to the militant Kurdistan Workers' Party PKK, the Marxist Leninist Communist Party (MLKP) and DHKPC (Party and Revolutionary Front for the Liberation of the Turkish People). He has already been on trial eight times for "spreading PKK propaganda", "resistance against the police" and "inciting hatred and hostility".

In the course of a demonstration on Chidren's Day this April in Hakkari, south-eastern Turkey, a riot police officer ran after a 17-year-old child, caught up with him and brutally beat [the child's] head and upper body with his rifle butt. Açıkalın had organised a protest in Adana against this incident. Now he is accused of "opposing the law of meetings and demonstrations." Açıkalın is charged with "violation of the law against illegal demonstrations, organising demonstrations and participating in demonstrations" according to articles 6/2, 23/d and 28/1 of law no. 2911. His trial is scheduled for 2 November at the 8th Criminal Court of First Instance.

On 31 July, the Bursa 2nd Children's Court sentenced 17-year-old O.K. to "insulting a civil servant on duty", i.e. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, for using the slogan "You are a lightbulb, Tayyip" in reference to the PM's party's emblem of a lightbulb, as well as the slogan "First religious, then liberal, selling education". O.K. had been with other students and teachers protesting against the central university exam (ÖSS) and the government's education policies. Because of his age, the Bursa 4th Criminal Court of Peace separated his case from that of the others on 20 August 2008 and sent it to the children's court. O.K. has now been sentenced to carrying out work for the public good for three months and 26 days.

He was first sentenced to seven months and 23 days imprisonment, but because of his age, lack of previous convictions and the fact that he worked with computers and design, he was sentenced to working for an institution serving the public. The court evaluated the slogans recorded by the police as a crime. O.K.'s lawyer Fırat Gündoğan said that they appealed against the sentence the same day. "We hope to get a positive result at the Supreme Court of Appeals. Otherwise, there may be hundreds of court cases against protesters in Bursa on Labour Day or other demonstrations.”

Reactions to Censorship

Gün TV broadcast director Diren Keser commented on RTÜK's initiative for Kurdish broadcasts saying, "It is a positive step, but it comes late". The initiative paves the way for 24-hour broadcasts of private radio and television corporations in languages other than Turkish such asTRT Şeş (TRT 6) broadcasting in Kurdish. Keser from Gün TV, a Kurdish television channel broadcasting in the region of Diyarbakır, argued that he had presented his demand for broadcasting in his mother tounge to RTÜK on the request of the District Office on 3 September.

On 5 January 2004, the Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTÜK) issued the "Regulations about Radio and Television Broadcasts in Different Languages and Dialects Traditionally Used in the Daily Life of Turkish Citizens" which allow for one hour per day of radio broadcast and a maximum of five hours per week, respectively 45 minutes of daily TV broadcast not exceeding four hours per week. Radio programmes can be published only under the obligation of publishing the same programme in a subtitled version on TV directly after the original broadcast. The media institutions have to inform RTÜK in advance of the contents of the programme, the format and who prepared it. The regulation does not allow local media organisations to broadcast any kind of children's programmes in their mother tongue.

The Prime Ministerial Board for Broadcasts/Publications Harmful to the Underaged has decided that the book "Third Class Woman" (Üçüncü Sınıf Kadın") written by Anıl Alacaoğlu cannot be sold to under-18-year-olds and cannot be advertised. The book, according to the author in a statement on 11 August, is about "the loves, sexual experiences, separations, discrimination and problems experienced by a transsexual from childhood into their twenties."

Alacaoğlu said that the ban on the book was "a result of the mentality that presumes that children cannot be homosexual or transsexual. The only explanation for this is the existence of homophobia and transphobia. I expected some negative reactions towards the book, but the notification we received made me worried about the outdated restrictions the book faces."
Melek Ulagay from the Justice for Children group claimed, "As the first step of the government's Kurdish initiative, children detained within the scope of the Turkish Criminal Code (TCK) must be released." Ulugay said that the problem of children becoming victims of the TCK is entwined with the Kurdish question and that the matter cannot be assessed as purely as a problem for children. Ulugay argued, "Children and young people are the future.

The government's Kurdish initiative affects today's generation just as much as the coming ones. Therefore, by detaining these children in prison we impose an embargo on their futures". According to data from the Ministry of Justice, a total of 1,572 children were tried in 2006 and 2007 on the grounds of terror crimes punished by the TCK or the Anti-Terror Law (TMY). Ninety-two children out of 174 were convicted in Diyarbakır. Ulugay stated, "This is the reason why the government has to take care of this matter as a part of the initiative".

Further information



Please note that these reports are hosted by CRIN as a resource for Child Rights campaigners, researchers and other interested parties. Unless otherwise stated, they are not the work of CRIN and their inclusion in our database does not necessarily signify endorsement or agreement with their content by CRIN.