Hate crimes get worse in Turkey

Despite the fact that Turkey has recently adopted legislation against hate crimes, Turkey’s divisive Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has not stopped his attacks with verbal expressions of intolerance and hatred directed at the judiciary, opposition parties, the media, business groups and members of the Hizmet movement, a faith-based civic movement inspired by Islamic scholar Fethullah Gulen. In fact, his hateful speech has increased in gravity, indicating that he is not interested in effective implementation of the law at all.

The prime minister’s hateful rhetoric and his government’s discriminatory policies using the vast profiling of Hizmet members, Alevis, Kurds and supporters of opposition parties have led to a group victimization for many and created divisions in Turkish society. It has also dealt a big blow to cohesion in the Turkish social fabric, violated fundamental human rights and liberties, and threatened the rule of law, ultimately endangering Turkish democracy.

It appears that Erdogan’s government will easily disregard its own revisions to the penal code that defined hate crimes in Turkish law for the first time and provides for additional penalties for offenders. The amendment was made to Article 122 of the Turkish Penal Code (TCK) (also known as Law No. 5237, adopted in 2004). The bill was approved in Parliament on Feb. 2 as part of the democratization package announced by the government last September and signed into law by President Abdullah Gul on March 12. Instead of toning down his hateful discourse, Erdogan has, in fact, ratcheted up his belligerent tone targeting and stigmatizing his opponents. For example, at election rallies, he attacked members of Hizmet by calling them deplorable names such as “assassins,” “traitors,” “viruses,” “evil” and “mafia.” Others, too, received their fair share of bashing from Erdogan, including Gezi Park protesters and critical media.

This clearly shows that Erdogan is not interested in the rule of law or implementation of his own government’s recent legislative action. Otherwise, he would have been careful to respect the amended article, which says, “A person who bars the selling, turning over or rental of movable goods or real property to a person; who prevents a person from using certain services offered to the public; who bars employment; and who prevents a person from running a regular economic activity because of hatred stemming from a difference in language, race, nationality, color, gender, disability, political views, philosophical belief, religion or sect will be sentenced to prison for a period of one to three years.”

Now, let’s see how Erdogan measures up against the four benchmarks cited in this hate crime law he helped push through Parliament. Thanks to the liberal Taraf daily, it was revealed that the Erdogan government has been profiling unsuspecting citizens in Turkey on a massive scale according to their race, sect, political affiliations or philosophical leanings. Documents published by the paper indicated that the government prevented businesspeople affiliated with the opposition parties from being awarded major contracts, tenders and direct purchases. The same discriminatory practices were also applied in valuable land leases or sales for lucrative residential and commercial property developments. There was an alleged direct phone link between the National Intelligence Organization (MİT) and the Prime Ministry to run illegal background checks on people to see whether they are close to the government or not. This is a clear violation of the first part of the sentence in the hate crimes amendment.

The two major corruption investigations that were made public in December also revealed how public lands and properties were allegedly handed over to businesspeople close to Erdogan. It exposed how the prime minister personally directed some sales and leases of valuable state properties. For example, an audio leak in March, purportedly between Erdogan and Housing Development Administration of Turkey (TOKİ) Chairman Ahmet Haluk Karabel, revealed the prime minister chiding the official for selling a valuable plot of land in the Atasehir district of Istanbul to a company called Biat İnsaat without informing him beforehand. “From now on, you will get my approval before selling any valuable land,” Erdogan allegedly instructs Karabel according to a transcript accompanying the voice recording. Karabel was fired from his position last week.

Leaks also exposed how the prime minister apparently instructed a well-known shipping magnate, Metin Kalkavan, to engineer the reopening of a public bid on the national warship project (MİLGEM), valued at $2.5 billion. The contract, won by Koc Holding subsidiary RMK Marine in January 2013, was canceled after Erdogan asked Kalkavan to file a complaint with his office saying that the necessary conditions for competition had not been met in the initial bidding for MİLGEM. In September 2013 the contract was canceled by the government. In another exposé, Erdogan instructed his former justice minister to “closely monitor” judicial proceedings in a tax case against Aydın Dogan, whom the prime minister has criticized on a number of occasions over the years, so that the media mogul would not get off scot-free. Both the Koc and Dogan groups have been repeatedly attacked by Erdogan in recent years for not endorsing his government.

When it comes to preventing a person from using certain services offered to the public, as is described in the second part of the law, the discriminatory practices are, unfortunately, abundant. For example, Erdogan slammed the popular Turkish Olympiad, held annually for years by Hizmet with the participation of some 160 countries around the world, at his election rallies and threatened to refuse to grant a location to the event’s organizers. Now, municipalities that are run by Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) have started to deny applications or revoke those that were already granted for these activities. The government has also refused to open up Taksim Square to unions to gather and celebrate Labor Day on May 1, a national holiday.

When it comes to employment, the Erdogan government infringes on the rights of law-abiding and tax-paying citizens of this country on a massive scale. Not only are entry-level jobs in government generally offered to partisan candidates, barring others from attaining a position in the government using a merit-based selection process, but Erdogan also purges employees who have served the government for years with distinction, citing their affiliation with a so-called “parallel structure,” a reference to members of Hizmet. Opponents are all lumped together under the same banner and subjected to firings, reassignments and demotions without transparent procedures and reasonable legal justification. Again, the government fails in the third part of the protection offered in this new hate crimes law.

The last protection in the law is granted to those who are prevented from running a regular economic activity due to hate crime. Erdogan fails utterly on this benchmark as well because he openly attacks business groups not loyal to his rule. For example, he called a powerful business group, the Turkish Industrialists and Businessmen’s Association (TUSİAD), “traitors” for its chairman’s remarks in January that warned that foreign direct investment (FDI) would not be made in a country with no respect for the rule of law, where legal codes conflict with European Union rules, where public procurement laws have been amended dozens of times and where companies are pressured through tax fines.

Erdogan’s list of enemies in the business world also includes the Turkish Confederation of Businessmen and Industrialists (TUSKON), the largest trade advocacy group, whose chairman disclosed to The Wall Street Journal back in January that the group was threatened with being “wiped out of the market” by the government after TUSKON issued statements critical of government policies. Hizmet-affiliated business firms have come under intense pressure from the Erdogan government abusing auditing and licensing procedures to bully major companies. Even US companies like Twitter, Facebook and YouTube have been openly attacked by Erdogan in public rallies and the complete severance of access to these sites from Turkey has been threatened. Employing anti-Western and anti-Semitic rhetoric in his discourse, Erdogan is violating provisions of the law that criminalized bias-motivated actions.

The Erdogan government’s public record of hate crime and hate speech violations since the relevant amendment became law in March has worsened even further, signaling that the rule of law in Turkey has effectively been suspended and that laws are valid only on paper.

SOURCE: TODAY’S ZAMAN