When and how the Initiative for Freedom of Expression was launched?

Petitioning campaign protesting Yasar Kemal’s prosecution by the State Security Court in January 1995 for his piece published in “Der Spiegel” turned into an action of “civil disobedience”. 1080 people most of them well known, put down their names as the publishers of a book, a compilation of 10 banned pieces of text including Yasar Kemal’s. A delegation of them visited the state security court’s prosecutor to inform him about their action. Then they formed “queues of expression” lining up outside the prosecutors room. As a result, a mass case was opened againts 185 people and it was a lot of fun.

How many people signed under the criminal (!?) writings?

This action has been going on for 10 years. In the meanwhile more than 80 thousand people signed 7 books and 48 pamphlets participating in others’ crimes(!?).

Did the campaign bring together people with similiar opinion?

What is surprising yet promising for the future of the country that among those whose writings were republished and those who signed the 7 books and 48 pamphlets, there are people from almost all parts of the spectrum representing different opinion and identities, Kurds as well as Kemalists who do not share their opinion, people from religious sections as well as the atheists. There are songs as well as cartoons...

Has any of the cases been finalised and anyone convicted?

All the cases except two resulted in conviction but due to “Adjournment Laws” those have not been executed. The case of second generation republishing of Osman Murat Ülke’s statement was not under the scope of the “Adjournment Laws” since it was published after 23 April 1999. Şanar Yurdatapan as the Publisher and journalist Nevzat Onaran were convicted to two months prison sentence each by the Military Court of General Staff. The decision was approved by the military supreme court. At the end of year 2000 both served their sentences and were released.

How does anyone become a member of the “Initiative for Freedom of Expression” and how is the Initiative administered?

There is no membership no executive committee and no legal structure. It is rather a movement of civil disobedience that is breaking antidemocratic rules on intention and being prepared for the consequences. It is obviously impossible to form a legal association in order to break the law. The initiative does not need long discussions or difficult decisions since the scope and the limits of this act of civil disobedience are very clear. Upon finding out that there is a new case of freedom of expression being opened, those who respond positively to the call “who would want to participate in this crime” become part of the Initiative for Freedom of Expression only for that specific case. If you look from that point in some actions the Initiative consists of only few people on others thousands. The total number of people who participated in the actions in the last 10 years is more than 80.000.

What keeps together such a loose structure?

What Voltaire said 250 years ago: “I do not agree with what you think but I am willing to struggle on your side for your freedom to express them.”

How did THINK (The Association for Freedom of Expression) come about and what is the connection?

The “Civil Disobedience” was not the only product of the last 10 years work. It led to many other work like “İstanbul Gathering for Freedom of Expression” which has its own sub-site and “The Eyes of the World and Turkey”. Conducting such work necessitated a legal formation. This necessity gave birth to the “THINK”. THINK handles work under legal framework and the Initiative continiues civil disobedience action to expose and counteract antidemocratic laws and practices.

The rewards given to the Initiative?

The rewards predictably came from human rights organisations. In Turkey, Human Rights Association, The Association of the Oppressed and the Association of Modern Journalists have encouraged us with their “freedom of expression” rewards. Internationally we received Human Rights Watch’s “Hellman-Hammet” in 2001, INDEX ON CENSORSHIP’s “Best Circumvention of Censorship” in 2002 and in the same year HRW’s biggest “Global Human Rights Defender” rewards.