Turkish artists condemn Erdogan re-election
Artistic community expresses concern at censorship and crackdown on personal freedom

By Gareth Harris. Web only
Published online: 21 April 2014

Turkish artists and dealers continue to speak out against the censorship of social media by the country’s government after Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan swept to victory in elections in late March.

Erdogan banned the use of Twitter in the run-up to the elections but on 2 April the constitutional court in Ankara ordered the government to remove the restriction; two days later, Turkey’s telecoms authority lifted the ban. Access to YouTube in Turkey was also blocked, after a tape was leaked to the digital platform showing national security officials discussing possible military action in Syria. 

“The reasoning behind the block is unclear and vague, yet in all matters that deal with freedom of expression the government has acted very heavy-handedly, as reflected by the number of journalists who are in prison,” says the Istanbul-based contemporary art dealer Kerimcan Guleryuz. “Everything is very chaotic, the government has a stranglehold on almost all levels of the judiciary system and is leading a private vendetta against anyone who is in opposition.” 

Ali Kazma, who represented Turkey at last year’s Venice Biennale, has written an essay in protest at Erdogan’s election victory entitled “Something Rotten in the Republic of Turkey”. The document begins: “Erdogan wins yet another election despite corruption, clamps on personal freedoms, internet censorship, and devious and authoritarian use of his power.” 

Erdogan’s Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party, the AKP, took 43% of the vote, and Kazma acknowledges that “Turkish voters predominantly voted for him”. He says, however: “This will be a long struggle for the citizens of Turkey to keep our basic human rights, freedom and dignity. It can go both ways. Beware of demagogues, wherever you are.” 

A spokesman for the Turkish Embassy in London said: "Freedom of expression and media, along with other human rights and fundamental freedoms, are safeguarded by Turkey’s constitution and other relevant legislation. In this regard, Turkey has been going through a comprehensive reform process in recent years with a view to further strengthening democracy, consolidating the rule of law and ensuring respect for fundamental rights and freedoms."

He added that in 2012 the Turkish Parliament adopted new measures (third judicial reform package) intended to "improve the effectiveness of the judiciary". This package, among others, enables further protection of freedom of expression and freedom of the press, he said.