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Freedom of Expression vs. Musicians in Turkey

Turkey is among the states that have ratified the International Human Rights in their domestic constitutions. Turkish Constitution has a clear provision of freedom of expression in any form, be it written, spoken or through the power of music. Despite this constitutional protection of freedom to express oneself, Turkish government does not really allow its citizens to freely associate and express themselves. In its annual report of 2011-2012, Reporters without Borders organization ranked Turkey at a distant 148 of the 169 countries in its list of reporters without borders. The country held the 138th position in the previous year.

Theoretically, Turkish Constitution allows the government to censor sensitive material that could otherwise jeopardize public peace and ban any material with immoral contents. The given provision allows the state to enact the statutes that limit the use of speech, song, play or print that either insult the fundamental believes of the Turkish people or are deemed to be politically extreme and thus may sow seeds of discord among the Turks. However, this censorship should be practiced with discretion as stipulated by the Constitution. Its application should be regulated by both the domestic and international legislation (Bengoa et al. 20).

Despite these regulations, Turkey has continually exceeded its constitutional mandate and adversely restricted the freedom of expression without due process. For instance, the government has stopped the work of the radical radio stations and censored the songs that seemed to be revolutionary. Equally, the books seen as radical in nature have been outlawed and their distribution was halted and forbidden. Such acts of the government are unfair and senseless. More often than not, the reasons followed by the government for limiting the freedom of expression are petty. In fact, the only logical explanation would be the selfish interests of the government to keep the Turkish people on a short leash.

Limiting the freedom of expression has adverse effects on many social groups and organizations in Turkey. The musicians are always affected the most because of their unrelenting efforts to keep the government in check. Many musicians have paid dearly for the radical messages in their songs or for merely standing out for their fellows facing malicious allegations from the government. A good case in point is beating of Sema Altin and Ezgi Dilan by the Turkish police. Sema Altin is a singer and participant of Yoram, a music group that has received its fair share of the government’s crackdown. Sema Altin and Ezgi Dilan were also involved into a group of demonstrators who were going to pick the body of Ibrahim Cuhadars who had blown himself up in protest of the government excesses (United States Department of State n.pag.).

Other cases that affected Turkish musicians by arbitrary censorship include the allegations made on Fasil Say, a pianist, that he openly scorned Turkish religious values in his Twitter message. All his attempts to point out the fact that the account is private and that he was not the author of the message were in vain. The government wants Fazil to be sentenced to between 9 and 18 months in prison for the crime he did not commit. Censoring of John Lennon’s song is another case that angered Turkish musicians. They claim that it is the government’s limitation of freedom of expression. In his song, Lennon was freely expressing his desire to live a free life without any borders or “religion”. His song was edited, and the line “no religion too” was expunged. The accusation of singer Pinar Aydinlar of terrorist charges just because there were photo posters of Mao Tse Tung in her show is appalling. The fact that the prosecutor wanted her to be sentenced to 5 years in jail is even more shocking (Korpe n.pag.). 

Despite these harassments, Turkish musicians have not relented in defending their right to express themselves freely. Through the help of Human Rights Association in Istanbul office, imprisoned musicians like brothers Hatice Sahin and Metin Guler have continued to reach out with their radical messages to the people both within and outside Turkey. Other tactics employed by the radical Turkish musicians, whose music has been censored, include the use of foreign media, namely CNN and BBC by giving interviews. In addition, musicians have seized the opportunities given by the Freemuse organization to continue producing radical music. Freemuse funds these musicians and defends them in trials through the International Human Rights organizations.