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Freedom of expression in Turkeymarker is regulated by domestic and international legislation, which takes precedence over domestic law according to Article 90 ("Ratification of International Treaties") of the Constitution following its amendment in 2004. Turkey, however, ranked 101 in Reporters Without Borders' 2007 Annual Worldwide Press Freedom Index. In the frame of negotiations with the European Union (EU), the EU has requested Turkey to issue various legal reforms in order to improve freedom of expression and of press.


Censorship in Turkey goes back to the Ottoman Empire. On 15 February 1857 a law on printing houses ("Basmahane Nizamnamesi") was passed that provided that books first had to be shown to the governor, who forwarded them to commission for education ("Maarif Meclisi") and the police. If they had no objection the Sultanate would inspect them. Without permission from the sultan books would be illegal. On 24 July 1908, at the beginning of the Second Constitutional Era it was announced that censorship had been lifted. However, soon after that the law on printing houses provided that newspapers publishing stories that could endanger interior or exterior security of the State would be closed. Between 1909 and 1913 four journalists were killed Hasan Fehmi, Ahmet Samim, Zeki Bey and Hasan Tahsin (Silahçı).

Following the success of the Turkish War of Independence the new was established. Under the pretext of the Sheikh Said rebellion martial law ("Takrir-i Sükun Yasası") was announced on 4 March 1925. This resulted in renewed censorship on newspapers. Papers such as Tevhid-i Efkar, Sebül Reşat, Aydınlık, Resimli Ay, Vatan and local papers were closed down and several journalists were arrested and tried at so called Independence Courts.

During World War II (1939-1945) many newspapers were ordered to shut down. They include the dailies Cumhuriyet (5 times for 5 months and 9 days), Tan (7 times for 2 months and 13 days), Vatan (9 time for 7 months and 24 day).

When the Democratic Party under Adnan Menderes came to power in 1950 censorship ender a new phase. First the Press Law was changed and sentences and fines were increased. Several newspapers were closed down including the dailies Ulus (unlimited ban), Hürriyet, Tercüman and Hergün (two weeks each). In April 1960 a so called investigation commission "Tahkikat Komisyonu" was established in the Grand National Assembly of Turkey. It was given the power to confiscate publications, close papers and printing houses. Anyone not following the decisions of the commission could be punished to imprisonment between one and three years.

Freedom of speech was heavily restricted after the 1980 military coup headed by General Kenan Evren. Today, although Turkish media are very free and frequently include strong criticisms of the government and of the state, three topics remained difficult to approach in public: secularism, minority rights (in particular the Kurdish issue) and the role of military in politics.

Article 8 of the Anti-Terror Law (Law 3713), slightly amended in 1995 and later repealed, imposed three-year prison sentences for "separatist propaganda." Despite its name, the Anti-Terror Law punished many non-violent offences. Pacifist have been imprisoned under Article 8. For example, publisher Fatih Tas was prosecuted in 2002 under Article 8 at Istanbul State Security Court for translating and publishing writings by Noam Chomsky, summarizing the history of human rights violations in southeast Turkey; he was acquitted, however, in February 2002. Prominent female publisher Ayse Nur Zarakolu, who was described by the New York Times as "[o]ne of the most relentless challengers to Turkey's press laws", was imprisoned under Article 8 four times.


Expressions of non-violent opinion are safeguarded by Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, ratified by Turkey in 1954, and various provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, signed by Turkey in 2000. Many Turkish citizens convicted under the laws mentioned below have applied to the European Court of Human Rightsmarker (ECHR) and won their cases.

Beside the Article 301, amended in 2008, more than 300 provisions constrained freedom of expression, religion, and association, according to the Turkish Human Rights Association (2002). Many of the repressive provisions found in the Press Law, the Political Parties Law, the Trade Union Law, the Law on Associations, and other legislation were imposed by the military junta after its coup in 1980.

Article 312 of the criminal code imposes three-year prison sentences for incitement to commit an offence and incitement to religious or racial hatred. In 1999 the mayor of Istanbul and current prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was sentenced to 10 months' imprisonment under Article 312 for reading a few lines from a poem that had been authorized by the Ministry of Education for use in schools, and consequently had to resign. In 2000 the chairman of the Human Rights Association, Akin Birdal, was imprisoned under Article 312 for a speech in which he called for "peace and understanding" between Kurds and Turks, and thereafter forced to resign, as the Law on Associations forbids persons who breach this and several other laws from serving as association officials. On February 6, 2002, a "mini-democracy package" was voted by Parliamentmarker, altering wording of Art. 312. Under the revised text, incitement can only be punished if it presents "a possible threat to public order." The package also reduced the prison sentences for Article 159 of the criminal code from a maximum of six years to three years. None of the other laws had been amended or repealed as of 2002.

Article 81 of the Political Parties Law (imposed by the military junta in 1982) forbids parties from using any language other than Turkish in their written material or at any formal or public meetings. This law is strictly enforced. Kurdish deputy Leyla Zana was jailed in 1994, ostensibly for alleged membership to the PKK, but in reality for having spoken Kurdish in public.

Constitutional amendments adopted in October 2001 removed mention of "language forbidden by law" from legal provisions concerning free expression. Thereafter, university students began a campaign for optional courses in Kurdish to be put on the university curriculum, triggering more than 1,000 detentions throughout Turkey during December and January 2002. Actions have also been taken against the Laz minority. According to the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne, Turkey only recognizes the language rights of the Jewish, Greek and Armenian minorities. The government ignores Article 39(4) of the Treaty of Lausanne, which states that: "[n]o restrictions shall be imposed on the free use by any Turkish national of any language in private intercourse, in commerce, religion, in the press or in publications of any kind or at public meetings."

In 1991, laws outlawing communist (Articles 141 and 142 of the criminal code) and Islamic fundamentalist ideas (Article 163 of the criminal code) were repealed. This package of legal changes substantially freed up expression of leftist thought, but simultaneously created a new offence of "separatist propaganda" under Article 8 of the Anti-Terror Law. Prosecutors also began to use Article 312 of the criminal code (on religious or racial hatred) in place of Article 163.

Pressured by the EU, Turkey has promised to review the Broadcasting Law. State agency RTÜK continues to impose a large number of closure orders on TV and radio stations on the grounds that they have made separatist broadcasts. In August 2001, RTÜK banned the BBC World Service and the Deutsche Welle on the grounds that their broadcasts "threatened national security." A ban on broadcasting in Kurdish was lifted with certain qualifications in 2001 and 2002. Other legal changes in August 2002 allowed for the teaching of languages, including Kurdish. However, limitations on Kurdish broadcasting continue to be strong: according to the EU Commission (2006), "time restrictions apply, with the exception of films and music programmes. All broadcasts, except songs, must be subtitled or translated in Turkish, which makes live broadcasts technically cumbersome. Educational programmes teaching the Kurdish language are not allowed. The Turkish Public Television (TRT) has continued broadcasting in five languages including Kurdish. However, the duration and scope of TRT's national broadcasts in five languages is very limited. No private broadcaster at national level has applied for broadcasting in languages other than Turkish since the enactment of the 2004 legislation." TRT broadcasts in Kurdish (as well as in Arab and Circassian dialect) are symbolic, compared to satellite broadcasts by channels such as controversed Roj TV, based in Denmarkmarker.

Article 301

Article 301 is a law, which between June 2005 and April 2008 made it a punishable offense to insult Turkishness. Before the Article was amended, charges were brought in more than 60 cases, some of which are high-profile.

Orhan Pamuk is the most famous writer to be prosecuted under Article 301. Perihan Mağden, a columnist for the newspaper Radikal, was tried and acquitted on July 27, 2006 for calling for opening the possibility of conscientious objection to mandatory military service in that country.

Blocking of Internet sites

Crimes committed via the Internet are regulated by law number 5651.

On 7 March 2007, Turkish courts imposed a ban on due to a particular video that insulted founder of the Turkish republic; a violation of article 8, dating back to 1951. Two days later they lifted this ban.

Hundreds of sites have been temporarily blocked on similar grounds. According to an August 2008 Milliyet article, 11494 complaints (mostly on grounds of indecency) have resulted in 853 motions to block. Growing discontent with the blocks resulted in a grass roots protest campaign organized by the Web site, which encouraged Web sites to replace their home page with an interstitial webpage titled "Access To This Site Is Denied By Its Own Decision." An October 2008 article in Radikal raised the number of blocked sites to 1112. Youtube's parent, Google, decided to selectively prevent access to the offending videos to users in Turkey in order for the entire site not to be closed down. Turkish prosecutors, not content, demanded a global block in order not to offend Turkish users abroad. Google did not comply.

As of September 2008, Youtube, Kliptube and Geocities are blocked, while Dailymotion is not. In September 2008, Richard Dawkins' site,, has been banned in Turkey upon a complaint by Islamic creationist Adnan Oktar that his book Atlas of Creation, which contests the theory of evolution, had been defamed on Dawkins' website.

The Turkish Minister of Transport Binali Yıldırım defended the bans, saying “Practices are needed to protect young people and the public at large from harmful material online.” The newspaper Taraf said that the persistent banning of Web sites can be attributed to judges inexperience in dealing with the Internet.

In October 2008, the courts banned the Blogger , including the domain after Lig TV (whose parent company is Digiturk) complained of copyright violation.

After prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan encouraged people to work around the Youtube block , its number of visitors doubled. As of December 2008, it is the fifth-most visited Web site, according to

The president spoke in disfavor of the YouTube ban.

According to the Information Technology and Communications Association of Turkey, one of the IP addresses that belong to have been also banned, causing problems when search engine is used.

Particular incidents

Nokta magazine

The headquarters of Nokta, an investigative magazine which has since been closed because of military pressures, were searched by police in April 2007, following the publication of articles examining alleged links between the Office of the Chief of Staff and some NGOs, and questioning the military's connection to officially civilian anti-government rallies. The magazine also gave details on military blacklistings of journalists, ad well as two plans for a military coup, by retired generals, aiming to overthrow the AKP government in 2004. Nokta had also revealed military accreditations for press organs, deciding to whom the military should provide information.

Alper Görmüş, editor of Nokta, was charged with insult and libel (under articles 267 and 125 of the Turkish Penal Code, TPC), and faced a possible prison sentence of over six years, for publishing the excerpts of the alleged journal of Naval Commander Örnek in the magazine’s March 29, 2007 issue. Nokta journalist Ahmet Şık and defense expert journalist Lale Sarıibrahimoğlu were also indicted on May 7, 2007 under Article 301 for “insulting the armed forces” in connection with an interview Şık conducted with Sarıibrahimoğlu.

Valley of the Wolves

Early in 2007, the Turkish government banned a popular television series called Valley of the Wolves, citing the show's violent themes. The TV show inspired a Turkish-made movie by the same name, which included American actor Gary Busey. Busey played an American doctor who removed organs from Iraqi prisoners at the infamous Abu Ghraib prison and sold the harvested organs on the black market. The movie was pulled from theaters in the United States after the Anti-Defamation League complained to the Turkish ambassador to the U.S. about the movie's portrayal of Jews.

Michael Dickinson

Best in Show, Michael Dickinson's collage which was seized by police.
In June 2006, police seized a collage by British artist Michael Dickinson — which showed the Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan as a dog being given a rosette by President Bush — and told him he would be prosecuted. Charles Thomson, leader of the Stuckism movement, of which Dickinson is a member, wrote to then UK prime minister, Tony Blair in protest. The Times commented: "The case could greatly embarrass Turkey and Britain, for it raises questions about Turkey’s human rights record as it seeks EU membership, with Tony Blair’s backing." The prosecutor declined to present a case, until Dickinson then displayed another similar collage outside the court. He was then held for ten days and told he would be prosecuted for "insulting the Prime Minister's dignity". In September 2008, he was acquitted, the judge ruling that "insulting elements" were "within the limits of criticism". Dickinson said, "I am lucky to be acquitted. There are still artists in Turkey facing prosecution and being sentenced for their opinions."

Editor of Taraf (2009)

Adnan Demir, editor of the liberal newspaper Taraf, was charged in January 2009 for divulgating secret military information, under article 336 of the criminal code . He was accused of having published information, in October 2007, alleging that police and military had been warned of an imminent PKK attack, the same month, which resulted in the death of 13 soldiers . Demir faces up to 5 years of prison .

Media Markt advertisement ban in Eskişehir

Eskişehir’s Turkish Union Association motivated suspension of an advertisement campaign by Media Market that the group claimed “insult Turkishness” by depicting consumers that purchased overpriced merchandise with animal heads. A ban of the advertisements lasted for 3 months in 2009.

See also


  1. Article of H. Nedim Şahhüseyinoğlu entitled "Censorship of Thought and the Press from Yesterday to Today (Turkish), was printed by publihsing house Paragraf, Ankara March 2005, ISBN: 9799756134084, quoted is an online summary
  2. Radikal of 24 July 2001; article in Turkish by Ahmet Çakır
  3. Questions and Answers: Freedom of Expression and Language Rights in Turkey, Human Rights Watch, April 2002
  4. Resolution 1381 (2004), Implementation of decisions of the European Court of Human Rights by Turkey, European Parliament
  5. Defiance Under Fire: Leyla Zana: Prisoner of Conscience, Amnesty International, Fall 2003
  6. Turkish TV allows Kurds airtime, BBC News, 9 June 2004
  7. Lea, Richard. In Istanbul, a writer awaits her day in court, The Guardian, July 24, 2006.
  8. İnternet Ortamında Yapılan Yayınların Düzenlenmesi ve Bu Yayınlar Yoluyla İşlenen Suçlarla Mücadele Edilmesi Hakkında Kanun (Regulation of Publications on the Internet and Suppression of Crimes Committed by means of Such Publications)
  9. Turkish court bans YouTube access, BBC News, 7 March 2007.
  10. Turkey Lifts YouTube Ban, ABC News, 10 March 2007.
  11. [1], Bilgi Teknolojileri ve İletişim Kurumu, 30 Haziran 2009.
  12. Turkey: Human Rights Concerns in the Lead up to July Parliamentary Elections ; The Implications for Human Rights of Military Influence in the Political Arena, Human Rights Watch, July 2007
  13. Nokta magazine raided by police, Turkish Daily News, April 14, 2007
  14. Magazine that revealed ‘coups’ ends publication, Today's Zaman, 21 April 2007
  15. E. Bariş Altintaş, Ercan Yavuz, New military media scandal exposed, Today's Zaman, 9 March 2007
  16. "First Banned in U.S., 'Wolves' Now Banned in Turkey", Banned Magazine, February 17, 2007
  17. Alberge, Dalya and Erdem, Suna (2006). Satire that could land British artist in a Turkish jail, The Times, 17 June 2006. Retrieved 17 August 2007.
  18. Dickinson, Michael. " A prison diary: Watching the guards", CounterPunch, 4 November 2006. Retrieved 2 September 2007.
  19. Duff, Oliver. " Stuck in legal limbo", The Independent, 15 May 2007. Retrieved 2 September 2007.
  20. Birch, Nicholas. "Briton charged over 'insult' to Turkish PM", The Guardian, 13 September 2006. Retrieved 2 September 2007.
  21. Tait, Robert. "Turkish court acquits British artist over portraying PM as US poodle", The Guardian, 26 September 2008. Retrieved 26 September 2008.
  22. Reporters Without Borders, Editor of Taraf facing up to five years in prison, 7 January 2009

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