The government that sought revenge on its people
Imagine a government that serves its people and not itself; a government that strives to implement laws and regulations that provide grounds for the empowerment of freedom, equality and individuality. A government that is always aware that it consists of what it rules: people.
Last month, a new law came into force. It is now punishable by law for a doctor to administer aid to a person in need if the doctor has not been granted permission by the government to do so. If convicted, the doctor can be imprisoned for up to three years and be fined up to one million dollars. Some say it is an act of revenge by Prime Minister Erdogan and his government against doctors who volunteered to help protesters injured with tear gas and water cannons during the violent police crackdowns when the Gezi protests erupted in Turkey last summer.
If it really is an act of revenge, it is truly served ice cold. It is not only doctors who are obliged by the Hippocratic Oath to help people in need, it comes natural for most people. By implementing a law like this, Erdogan is forcing control over a basic, natural instinct in a human being. It is a chilling thought that one can risk persecution for helping a fellow in need in Turkey because what will happen next? History has taught us that we can cross many lines by pushing them slowly, one at a time, step by step, until we reach a point where a massacre can be brushed off as a mistake and go unnoticed by the international community.
Imagine more and similar laws like these were enforced, accumulated. In the worst case scenario, Turkey could end up becoming a society where helping someone considered an “enemy of the state” will actually make you an enemy of the state. This is not as far-fetched a scenario as it may seem. One can simply ask why there are so many journalists in Turkish prisons. Why has Turkey for two years in a row been named as the biggest jailer of journalists in the world? It is because journalists who interview people considered “terrorists” by the Turkish state (members of PKK, for example) are accused and tried for being either a member of a terror organisation or a mouthpiece for terrorism.
It starts slowly. A new, vague law here and there that has great, detrimental impact on the lives of people in Turkey. There are often protests, human rights organisations raising awareness, a struggle carried out by journalists, politicians, activists and many others to fight back against laws that put restrictions on their freedom. How come the government still manages to carry out these laws?
“If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face – for ever,” wrote George Orwell in the book 1984. This boot belongs in 2014 to a Turkish police officer. The Kurdish people in the southeastern parts of Turkey are very familiar with the boot. They have been targets of police brutality for so many years that it has become a regular occurrence. In the summer of 2013, the Gezi protests erupted in Turkey and the Turkish protesters were met with violent crackdowns. It seemed like they finally realised what Kurds had been subjected to for decades.
So conclusively, both people were aware of the government’s boot stamping on their faces, both people were protesting. Did it have any effect on the government?
Maybe. Maybe the government took steps to improve their image, maybe they fixed superficial flaws. But no, overall, it did not have any effect on the government because basic human rights are still being violated on a daily basis in Turkey. Knowing Turkey’s track record with regards to rights abuses eliminates the optimism and hope required to dismiss the possibility of a worsening situation.
On February 6, the Turkish parliament adopted a law that allows “Turkey’s telecommunications authority (TİB) to block websites without first seeking a court order”, a law that will also demand internet companies “to store data on web users’ activities for two years and make it available to the authorities upon request without a judicial order”. A statement from the United Nations’ High Commissioner for Human Rights stated the concern that these new internet laws would violate freedom of expression and the right to privacy. People demonstrating against the law were, as usual, met with excessive force and brutality from Turkish police forces.
The fact that authorities can request information about an internet user’s web activity without a court permission is frightening. Turkey is already persecuting people for opinions expressed on Twitter but having complete access to people’s full internet activities is a great blow to freedom of expression and the right to privacy.
It may no longer make any difference whether permission to look at one’s web activities is approved by a court or not, seeing as the parliament has approved another law that can give the government more control over who is picked as judges and prosecutors. Having pro-government friends in the judicial system who probably have as little respect for freedom and human rights as the government will probably give Erdogan and Co. endless opportunities to shut the mouths of anyone opposing them.
Either way, remember to think twice now before tweeting on an idle Tuesday afternoon that Erdogan has a particularly bad hair day or is generally an insufferable dictator. Who knows what he is capable of this time?