Leadership Council for Human Rights

~ Feet in the mud, head in the sky ~

Friday, January 18, 2008

Experts speak at press conference on political persecution in Turkey

The National Press Club hosted a press conference Thursday on political prosecution in Turkey. The event featured two well known speakers on the subject, Payam Akhavan, Professor of International Law at McGill University and former United Nations war crimes prosecutor, and Taner Akçam, Visiting Associate Professor, Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies at the University of Minnesota.

Both speakers expressed their utmost concerns, specially highlighting the murder of Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink, which occurred one year ago Saturday. After Dink’s murder, his son Arat was jailed for simply writing an article about his father. As such, Akhavan stressed that Turkey must repeal Article 301, which runs counter to the basic tenets of free speech by allowing for the detention of any person that insults ‘Turkishness.’ The article has been much-criticized within the international human rights community, with Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and the European Union all coming out against it.

“Article 301 of the Turkish penal code has become a painful reminder of the open wounds of genocide and its denial,” Akhavan said. “Because of Article 301 the name of so distinguished a journalist – a figure honored everywhere for his courage and decency – has been added to the list of victims of hate, racism, and extremism.”

Akçam, who ha received hate mail and death threats and has even been described as a terrorist working for the Secret Service, recounted Dink’s story, beginning his account in February 2004. On February 6, he said, Dink, editor of the newspaper Agos, published a story that argued that Turkey’s first woman pilot, Sabiha Gokcen, was an Armenian orphan adopted after the events of 1925. On February 24, Dink was called to the Istanbul Governor’s office where it is said he was threatened by two people in the presence of the Vice-Governor. The next day, Dink was accused of insulting ‘Turkishness.’ Almost one year later, after many threats from the nationalist group Ulku Ocaklary, Dink’s lawyer appealed to the public prosecutor’s office for an investigation into a threatening letter Dink received from Ahmet Demir, who wrote “Your end has come. First we will kill your son and then you.”

On January 19, 2007 Dink was attacked after leaving the Agos offices. According to Akçam, the police knew about everything. He said there are records of a phone conversation between police and the assassinator, with the police asking the assassinator why he didn’t act according to the plan. All of this was organized, Akçam said.

Beyond the Dink controversy, both speakers stressed the importance of Turkey joining the European Union, as they argued that this step would help to break down strict Turkish policies.

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