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A Turkish teacher's plea

The trial of Ayşe Çelik was delayed on 23 September, and again during her second court date on 30 November. Her trial, and that of an expanded list of her co-defendants, has now been set for 1 March 2017.

14 September 2016

IFEX, the global network of over 100 organisations dedicated to promoting and defending freedom of expression, calls on Turkey to drop the charges against teacher Ayşe Çelik, charged in April for her comments made on the Turkish television program Beyaz Show, and the 31 others that are now charged in the same case.

On 8 January 2016, Ms. Ayşe Çelik, a teacher from Diyarbakir, a Southeast province in Turkey, called in to Beyaz Show and spoke with host Beyazit Öztürk. Ms. Çelik pleaded for more media attention to killings and other abuse against civilians ongoing across southeast Turkey. “I can't even speak over the sounds of bombs and bullets… people are struggling with starvation and thirst, babies and children too. Don't remain silent,” said Çelik. Her comments led to harsh backlash on social media by pro-government media outlets, and the opening of an investigation against her on the charges of “promoting terrorist organisation propaganda”. The show's host Öztürk was also fined and forced to publicly apologize for not stopping Ms. Çelik from speaking.

In response to the criminalization of Ms. Çelik's speech, 30 people signed a copy of Ms. Çelik's statement, many of whom had recently travelled to or themselves lived in Diyarbakir, including Sanar Yurdatapan, spokesperson for IFEX member the Initiative for Free Expression-Turkey. The supporters visited prosecutors in Ankara, İstanbul and İzmir, supporting Ayşe's right to free expression by presenting themselves as 'accomplices' to her so-called crime.

On 26 April 2016, a case was opened against Çelik's supporters, and later merged with the cases against Ms. Çelik and Kadir Turnali, an executive at Kanal D, which hosts Beyaz Show. All were named as “traitors” and supporters of a “terrorist organisation”, the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). On 23 September, all 32 individuals, including Ms. Çelik, will have their first hearing in the case, and face up to 7.5 years imprisonment if convicted.

This case against Ms. Çelik and her co-defendants is a gross distortion of the events as they occurred, and must be dropped. Ms. Çelik did not name any political party or government in her statement, much less urge support of a “terrorist organisation”. Peacefully drawing the attention of society to overlooked human suffering as Ms. Çelik did is a critical use of free speech in any democracy. Far from begetting terrorism, preserving the space for honest discussion of controversial topics is an essential means by which extremist rhetoric and politics can be peacefully defused.

We call on Turkey to cease its criminalization of free speech, and urge the government to drop the charges against Ayşe Çelik, Kadir Turnalı, and the 30 signatories to Ayşe's statement. By doing so during the current turmoil, Turkey will underscore its commitment to the rule of law and preserve the rights of its citizens to freely express themselves without fear of judicial reprisal.

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