Dear Those Who Celebrate the Censorship of RojTV: An Open Letter
Dear those who celebrate the censorship of RojTV,
When an entire people are systematically oppressed and marginalized, small actions to make their story heard can have dramatic consequences. Similarly, small actions to silence their voice can have dramatic and tragic consequences.
RojTV is one of the only international Kurdish language channels available to Kurds. It broadcasted everything from children’s programmes to Kurdish music and film. But most importantly, it filled the large gap of Kurdish news and politics, information that is ignored or censored from mainstream media. For over a year, RojTV had been embroiled in a long legal battle after being accused of violating Danish anti-terrorism laws. Perhaps you’ve read an article related to the case over the last year, or had been following it avidly. Or maybe the first time you ever heard of RojTV and its legal battle was when the case was closed. Kurds celebrated when RojTV kept its license, despite being found guilty of “terrorism” and charged a hefty fine.
Kurdish celebration was short lived, however. On January 19, Eutelsat Communications decided to stop broadcasting RojTV, effectively shutting down one of the biggest sources of Kurdish news in the world.
With the closing of RojTV, Kurds lose a powerful voice, one that frequently was the only one on their side. With the closing of RojTV, Turkey will no longer be held accountable for the arrest of hundreds of journalists, activists, academics, and even children. Iran can continue to hide the murder of Kurdish migrant workers on the Iranian border, and the arbitrary detention and execution of Kurdish activists. Images of Turkish massacres, like the most recent in Roboski, will no longer flicker across the screens of thousands of people, who can then mobilize to demand justice for their dead.
To you, perhaps, the only emotion you felt was “good riddance”. RojTV was provocative, some say. Or worse, an incitement to terrorism. Its messages had no place in anyone’s living room, you claim.
Dear reader, we’re here to tell you your claims are wrong.
Differences in political opinions should flourish. We’re not telling you to think exactly like us. But the dangers in silencing any political opinion are always more dangerous than any political opinion itself. The censorship of RojTV by the Danish courts, Eutelsat Communications, and by the pressures of Turkey itself extend far beyond the closure of this one Kurdish station. With the closing of RojTV, the voice of the Kurds has been silenced, and because Kurds are humans, who proudly claim their basic human rights, a voice of humanity has been silenced.
For you see, the Kurdish struggle isn’t just the Kurdish struggle, just like the Palestinian struggle isn’t just the Palestinian struggle, and the Egyptian struggle and Bahraini and Syrian. Wherever people sacrifice their time, and their lives, for greater freedom for their people, all of us who are invested in human rights and social justice gain. We, the authors of this letter, aren’t Kurds. One of us is Bahraini, the other Syrian. We’re from two countries run by dictatorships. Our people understand very sharply how valuable freedom is. It is only because we value freedom in our own countries that we feel a duty to stand with the Kurds. We cannot advocate for our own voices while we accept the silencing of others.
This is what motivates us. This is our cause. We are not terrorists, nor advocates of terrorists. Odds are, the word doesn’t mean what you think it means anyway. But either way, there is no political agenda behind our efforts. We merely speak up against violations of human rights, something the Kurds suffer far too often.
And because we speak up, we, as Arabs, are the target of some of the same attacks that Kurds face themselves. We receive hate mail and threatening comments, usually in the name of extremist Turkish nationalists. Our site has faced numerous hacking attempts. All because we stand up for Kurds. If we, as non-Kurds, face this abuse, then what do our Kurdish brothers and sisters have to put up with, simply for claiming their right to their rich historical and cultural background? For asking to live with dignity?
We realize we are reaching out to an unfamiliar audience. You may have never met a Kurd, or have your own opinions regarding the Kurdish struggle. Regardless of anything else, everyone has a basic human right to a voice, and a voice that is heard. Despite centuries of abuse, despite their very language being banned, the Kurdish voice has never been louder. At the very least, you have an obligation to hear them out. Banning TV stations and imprisoning journalists won’t silence the Kurds, but it will lay the foundations for a dangerous world where we all surrender our basic human rights to the people in power, where surveillance and censorship are valued more highly than dignity and liberty.
The Kurds are facing a painful battle for their freedom, one they’ve paid for with their lives. With your support, crimes against the Kurdish people will no longer weigh on humanity’s conscience. Speak up for a world where everyone can be heard regardless of ethnicity or faith. Freedom is non-negotiable. If these crimes are allowed to go unnoticed and unpunished, you could be next.
E. Al Shafei
The Alliance for Kurdish Rights