ARTICLE 19 calls on the Turkish authorities to immediately drop charges against filmmakers Ertuğrul Mavioğlu and Çayan Demirel, who are facing up to five years in prison for a documentary they produced about the PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party). The two appeared in the 2nd Assize Court in Batman for their first hearing on 29 May 2018, charged with disseminating propaganda in support of a terrorist organisation for their film “Bakur”. ARTICLE 19’s analysis of the indictment and film finds that the charges are not only unfounded but amount to an arbitrary interference with their right to freedom of expression, and as such should be dropped.
In 2013, the defendants directed a documentary about the daily life of members of the PKK in the mountains of South East Turkey. The documentary shows PKK members playing games, cooking and eating food, walking in the mountains or training. It contains interviews where PKK members express their opinions about the role of women in society or explain why they joined the PKK.
Turkey’s law on terror propaganda: vague and unclear
In a legal opinion submitted to the court by the defence lawyers at the first hearing, ARTICLE 19 argued that Article 7(2) of law no. 3713 on Counter-Terrorism, under which the defendants are charged, fails to meet international standards on freedom of expression.
The definitions of ‘propaganda’ and ‘terrorism’ included in this law are so broad as to cover the mere publication of views in support of government opposition, or calling for political, legal, social or economic reform or change in government. This broad provision is regularly abused by the government to target journalists, activists, academics and others criticising its actions or expressing dissenting views.
Lack of evidence
ARTICLE 19 has reviewed the documentary and believes that it amounts to legitimate reporting and expression of opinions on political events, in particular the ongoing conflict in South East Turkey.
When such cases are taken to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), they are examined under the concept of ‘incitement to hatred or violence’ as a legitimate restriction on Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The ECtHR has emphasised that in determining whether speech amounts to incitement to violence or hatred, it should be examined as a whole, taking into consideration the context of each case, including the form and tone of the speech at issue, its impact and its author.
In the present case, no evidence has been provided as to any effect the screening may have produced, since the prosecution decided not to interview those individuals who were in attendance at the screening. Moreover, Turkey was still going through a peace process at the time when the documentary was directed and screened, and a ceasefire with the PKK was in place.
The prosecution failed to present sufficient evidence to prove that the film either amounted to an offence under the flawed provisions of Article 7(2), or that it otherwise amounted to incitement to violence or hatred under international and European human rights law.
ARTICLE 19 believes that the terrorism propaganda charges brought against the defendants and the legislation on which these charges are based are a violation of Turkey’s obligations under international human rights law, in particular the right to freedom of expression. ARTICLE 19 repeats its call for all charges to be dropped and an end to the use of such legislation to target artists, journalists, academics and others.