Medialog Calls for Law against Hate Speech and Hate Crimes

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In a two-day conference on hate speech and hate crime organized by Medialog in Istanbul in October 2013, leading journalists and academics urged the Turkish government to draft a law against defamation, blasphemy, and discrimination while protecting the freedom of expression.

The fact is that we cannot have any choice over things like our birthplace, physical appearance, or gender, and these should not be idealized, considered a source of pride, or turned into a subject of hate speech.

Ali Unal, author and Zaman daily columnist

Convening on Heybeliada, one of the Princes Islands in the Marmara Sea, conference attendees emphasized that no individual or group should be the subject of hate speech or hate crimes on account of characteristics over which they have no control, such as race or gender.

The name of the conference was “Hate Speech and Respect for the Sacred in the Perspective of Freedom of Expression in the Media.”

Author and Zaman daily columnist Ali Unal said that there is no consensus among countries on the exact definition of a hate crime, just as there is not one for terrorism. As a result, Unal directed attention to the existence of debates over the vague line between hate speech and hate crime, how to place distance between hate speech and the right to freedom of expression, and how to reconcile issues of hate speech with respect for sacred values.

“In the US, where hate speech is debated and committed the most, there are almost none, or very few, Muslims who have committed this crime. As a Muslim, I am in favor of a well-prepared law against hate speech,” Unal said, after pointing out that the FBI filed 8,208 hate crimes in the United States in 2010.

According to Unal, a common point everyone agrees on when it comes to hate speech or crimes is the existence of bias. “The fact is that we cannot have any choice over things like our birthplace, physical appearance, or gender, and these should not be idealized, considered a source of pride, or turned into a subject of hate speech,” Unal said in his presentation.

Drawing parallels between the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the principles of Islam, Unal said that Islam aims to protect the main principles of human life, such as the right to life, right to private property, right to get married and have children, right to practice religion, and the right to have and preserve good health. Consequently, respect for religious faith and sacred values and objects is also among one’s basic rights and freedoms.

Academic Gunal Kursun provided real-life examples of hate speech and said that a ban on the headscarf is a perfect example of a hate crime. “In 1998, I was a senior law school student. Due to a YOK [Higher Education Board] decision, our classmates with headscarves were not allowed in the classrooms,” Kursun said.

Star columnist Professor Bekir Berat Ozipek, on the other hand, said that hate speech cannot be prevented by law, as it is a sociological phenomenon. According to him, an idea gains immunity when it is forbidden.

Among the participants of the two-day event were Cemal Usak, vice president of the Journalists and Writers Foundation (JWF); Abdulhamit Bilici, editor-in-chief of Cihan News Agency; Professor Ayhan Aktar; author Umit Firat; Dr. Bulent Kenes, the editor in chief of Today’s Zaman; Halime Gurbuz, a columnist for the Turkiye daily; Temel Akgun, managing editor of Sky Turk 360; Murat Aksoy, columnist for Yeni Safak; Orhan Kemal Cengiz and Oral Calislar, columnists for Radikal; Mehmet Kamis, deputy editor-in-chief of Zaman; Metin Yikar, editor-in-chief of Samanyolu TV; and Tercan Ali Basturk, the secretary-general of the Medialog Platform. The meeting ended on Sunday with the announcement of a declaration.

The Medialog Platform is an industry advocacy group connected to the Istanbul-based JWF. Founded in 1994, JWF’s mission and work are inspired by Islamic scholar Fethullah Gulen, known for his teachings of hizmet (service), tolerance, and dialogue.

Declaration on Hate Speech and Hate Crimes

During the conference, there was consensus that the fight against hate speech and hate crimes is an important matter, both in Turkey and around the world.

The participants emphasized the role of legal and illegal structures in the state in creating discrimination and hate crimes. In an effort to eliminate this problem, which leads to the victimization of individuals and groups, the following recommendations were made:

  1. It is necessary to amend the law to address hate crimes in Turkey.
  2. When amending the law, the state should be careful not to place new obstacles ahead of freedom of expression.
  3. The decision of the European Court of Human Rights stipulating that blasphemy cannot be considered in the context of freedom of expression should be taken into account.
  4. Approaches that threaten, devalue, or portray individuals and groups as enemies or “otherize” them should be included under the definition of hate speech and not be considered as freedom of expression.
  5. Legal precautions should not be considered adequate and studies to raise awareness and sensitivities about hate speech and hate crimes should be conducted by means of the media, education, civil society, and politics.
  6. More effort should be made to monitor and expose unwitting blasphemy, especially in the media and politics. While doing this, new hate speech should be avoided.
  7. In the absence of defamation, provocation, targeting, or blasphemy, critiques of acts and behaviors that are considered immoral by particular faiths should not be considered hate speech.
  8. Individuals and groups should not be subjected to hate crimes or discriminated against due to their identities at birth or the ones that they gain later in life.
  9. Given the mistakes in the content and enforcement of certain laws in the Turkish Penal Code (e.g., Articles 216 and 301), people’s awareness and knowledge about the law should be increased in an effort to prevent the misinterpretation of new laws on hate speech and hate crimes.

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