Free speech in Turkey? As long as you are willing to bear the results

Turkish fashion designer beaten by mob, arrested by police over social media posts.

Uzay Bulut

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On New Year’s Eve, the well-known Turkish fashion designer, Barbaros Sansal, shared a video on his social media account, saying in part:

 “Can you write for me the name of the misery? While so many journalists are under arrest, while so many kids are subjected to abuse and rape, while corruption and bribery are running headlong, while bigots spread filth in the streets, are you still celebrating the new year?

 “Do you know what I am going to do now? I am going to drink all the alcohol in the bar and at home; all of it, all of it! I am not going to leave you a drop. I am going to transfer all my dollars to Switzerland; I am not going to leave a penny behind.”

When Sansal posted the video on Twitter, he was spending New Year’s vacation in northern Cyprus, which has been under the military occupation of Turkey since 1974. Sansal continued:

“I am in Cyprus. Turkish Northern Cyprus entered the New Year -under pressure from Turkey- at the same time as Turkey did. There is another hour before the Republic of Cyprus enters the New Year. Soon I am going to Nicosia. I will celebrate it there once more. I will drink there too. All of it! No kisses for you. In the midst of so much scum, disgrace and misery, you go on celebrating, too. Drown in your own s***, Turkey."

Shortly afterwards, due to his social media posts, Sansal was detained by Turkish police and deported from northern Cyprus, which is governed by the “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus” (“TRNC”), recognized only by Turkey.

Sansal was sent to Istanbul on a plane of the state-run carrier Turkish Airlines.

His flight information was published by the government-funded Anatolian News Agency (AA). According to the Turkish newspaper Hurriyet, the departure of the flight was delayed due to the brawlings between Sansal and other passengers. Upon his arrival at the Ataturk airport, Sansal was subjected to a lynching attempt at the hands of a group of people – including employees of Turkish Ground Services (TGS), a subsidiary of the Turkish Airlines - until he was taken into a police car. He was then arrested and brought to court on charges of “inciting people to hatred and hostility”. Sansal is now in Silivri prison in Istanbul.

His attackers, however, were released after giving testimonies to the police. According to the newspaper Cumhuriyet, they said that the motive for their actions was their “national feelings”.

Before the lynch attempt, Beste Uyanik, an anchor at CNNTurk TV, posted a tweet demanding Sansal’s punishment in which she wrote: “Sansal must be taught a lesson.”  She later deleted her tweet.

Many people in Turkey including public figures and famous singers also praised, ridiculed, or tried to justify the lynch attempt on their social media accounts.

Melih Gokcek, the mayor of Ankara, for example, wrote on his Twitter account that Sansal was “brought from Cyprus and the Turkish nation reacted as he got off the plane”. He added: “Don’t provoke people, Barbaros.”

Meanwhile, Turkish anti-Semites on Twitter, who just might be the most hardworking Twitter users, “blamed” Sansal for being Jewish, while calling him names such as “stateless Jewish bastard”, “underbred Jew” and “the Jew who sells his own wife.”

Many Greek Cypriots in the Republic of Cyprus, however, condemned the lynching attempt against and detention of Sansal.  One was Dr. Niki Katsaouni, a Greek Cypriot scholar from Turkish-occupied Famagusta, who wrote on her social media account:

“Barbaros Sandal has every right to criticize the Turkish government and any government in the world for falling short in observing democratic and human rights. He is a courageous, liberal and fearless individual who should be respected and protected by the state and should be freed immediately and compensated for the hardship he is going through at the hands of the Turkish Police who exposed him to great danger against his life.”

Orwell would find countless materials in Turkey which could have helped him write many new “Nineteen Eighty-Four”s.
Sansal survived a lynch attempt in Istanbul airport after getting expelled from the “TRNC” for “insulting Turkey” and is now facing "incitement' charges due to his harsh criticisms about corruption, rape, bribery and bigotry in Turkey. Apparently, this is a warning and a threat to all critics of the Turkish government - from average citizens in the streets to fashion designers and academics:

“Of course, there is ‘freedom of expression’ in Turkey but thinking about the consequences before you open your mouth would be good for your health and security.”

As the well-known English novelist George Orwell put it, “If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.” It seems that Orwell would find countless materials in Turkey which could have helped him write many new “Nineteen Eighty-Four”s.

Sadly, many people in Turkey are not interested in hearing the truth or even differing opinions. A satirical video is more offensive to them than brutally beating a defenseless man whose only “crime” was to post the video on Twitter.

History is filled with examples about what happens to nations who systematically annihilate or silence its dissidents and truth tellers.