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Ekşisözlük (Sour Dictionary) contributors on trial for insulting religion

The outcome of the legal process remains to be seen, but such prosecutions usually lead to self-censorship.

On January 14 2014, 27 contributors (out of 40 who are being prosecuted) to the EksiSözlük (Sour Dictionary)-one of Turkey’s most popular websites that publishes user-contributed content-  were brought to trial under Article 216 (3) for denigrating Islam. The complaint brought by Emre Bukağılı was the basis for the prosecution. Based on their critical articles on God, Prophet Mohammed, heaven, hell, Quran, Bible, and Jesus, the contributors are facing prison terms of up to 1.5 years. The outcome of the legal process remains to be seen, but such prosecutions usually lead to self-censorship. All contributors denied charges.

The Norwegian Helsinki Committee: Freedom of Belief Initiative had reported in its October 2013 monitoring report that international law allows the restriction of freedom of expression, criminal sanctions made for the protection of religious sentiments are not compatible with any international treaty signed by Turkey, including the ECHR. The prosecutions and penalties around denigrating religious values in Turkey  are important obstacles to the enjoyment of freedom of thought and expression of those who approach religions critically, especially atheists.
In addition, it should be noted that although criticism against the religion of the majority is noticed and prosecuted, pejorative and offensive speech against minority religions are usually ignored.
Individuals have the right to express opinions that might offend, shock, or disturb the state or certain segments of the population.144 The statements about religion need to be considered in the scope of this right.

It is usually easy to reach consensus on the need to discuss issues about religion or beliefs respectfully. Yet, the difficult part is to have a consensus on the limits of respect. A legal obligation to be respectful towards religions, usually, results in a pressure in the public sphere, on atheist people and people who have a critical approach towards religions.

The NHC:İÖG recommended that:

The Turkish Criminal Code 216(3) should be re-formulated so that it becomes compatible with Article 20(2) of the ICCPR and Article 9 and 10 of the ECHR.

Statements that do not instigate others to discriminate and act violently should not be penalized.

While dealing with Article 216(3) of the Turkish Criminal Code, national courts must make systematic interpretation of the case law of the ECtHR instead of selective interpretation.


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