AKP is an obstacle to artistic freedom in Turkey today

Turkey’s ruling Justice & Development Party (AKP) is the single biggest obstacle to artistic freedom in the country today, said Dr. Srirak Plipat, director of the global art freedom watchdog Freemuse in an interview with Bianet English on Monday. 

Plipat described 2020 as a challenging year for artists globally, owing to the COVID-19 pandemic and repressive actions from authoritarian regimes around the world. He listed some grim statistics that showed the number of artists getting killed doubling, the number imprisoned increasing by 15%, and the number being prosecuted go up fourfold since 2019. 

In Turkey, Plipat said the government has been responsible for 90% of all the violations of artistic freedom recorded by Freemuse in 2020. He said the reason for artists’ troubled situation in Turkey has to do with the restrictive anti-terror laws passed following the failed coup attempt in 2016 and laws forbidding insults aimed at President Erdogan. 

 One law in Plipat singles out for criticism has been the controversial Law 5651 that increased censorship on Turkish social media. 

“The introduction of the new law on social media in 2020 shows how in an already tensed atmosphere for the exercise of the freedom of expression, authorities come up with additional tools to further curb free speech, including in digital space,” said Plipat. 

The burden is felt particularly by Kurdish artists in Turkey, who like other Kurdish activists, are frequently bunched in as supporters of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) terrorist organisation. 

“Kurdish artists remain targets of President Erdoğan's regime, being unable to create and promote their art in their native language without being characterized as supporters of terrorist organizations,” Plipat explained. 

He used several examples of Kurdish artists being persecuted for their work to make this point. 

Hozan Cane, a German-Kurdish artist, was arrested in 2018 for attending events hosted by the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP) in Turkey and only released last September. Her case is not over and neither she nor her daughter are allowed to leave Turkey until it is. Cane is a naturalised German citizen as well.  

Kurdish folk singer Ferhat Tunç has been targeted by authorities since 2012 at least. He was sentenced to over a year in prison in 2018 for posting social media content during the 2014 siege of Kobani in Syria by the Islamic State. Prosecutors say this constituted support for terrorist groups like the PKK. 

Tunç has since moved to Germany where law enforcement requests from Turkey in his case were rejected on the grounds that they violated his freedom of expression. 

Plipat suggests that the only way for Turkey to improve its standing on artistic freedom is “ to uphold its obligations under international law and create a space for the unhindered exercise of the freedom of expression.” Further, he says that laws against insulting the president need to be repealed. 

“The law on insults against the president because this legislation has no place in a democracy where heads of state should be subject to scrutiny and challenge without fear of repercussions.”