• Turkish fear loss of freedom of expression



    FOR a few days sometime in 2008, I had the privilege of going to Turkey. As a reporter for BusinessMirror, I covered a delegation of Filipino businessmen to the Asia Pacific Bridge Conference held in Istanbul.

    As a Catholic, I was also lucky. The long trip to Turkey was nothing compared to the privilege of seeing a country that is too remote for an ordinary tourist. Besides, our side trips included a visit to the house where the Blessed Virgin Mary was known to have spent the last days of her earthly life after the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ.

    When I came home, I could not forget what I “learned” about Mary’s house. I felt I needed more information about her stay, though brief, in Turkey. This thought led me to an adventure that took me to various bookstores that sold second-hand books at Manila’s university belt.

    After three years of searching, I felt relieved when I found one that cost me P20. The book aptly titled “Our Lady of Ephesus” was written by Rev. Bernard Deutsch J.C.D. It was published in 1965 with a cover price of $4.50, which could be a lot of money 51 years go.

    Ephesus is an old place in Turkey. Among its tourist attractions today is the house of Mary.

    The question that can be asked out of curiosity by readers of The Manila Times is why I am writing under Duediligencer a topic unrelated to the usual stuff that I take up in this space. There must be an urgent reason for the sudden deviation, which I think is justifiable.

    From the readers
    Some of our readers also need a venue for their ideas. One of them suggested to me a topic that I could not refuse. The reader wrote about his fear, which is felt mostly by many of his countrymen, of losing their most treasured freedom of expression.

    Turkey, according to the reader, has undertaken a drastic change from a democratic country that it was when I went there in 2008 to what it is today. He sees in the government the biggest threat to the freedom of expression long enjoyed by the Turkish people.

    A Human Rights report in 2015 confirmed the reader’s fear. It summarized “the most significant human rights problems during the year” such as government interference with freedom of expression; impunity and weak administration of justice; and inadequate protection of civilians.

    “Multiple provisions in the law created the opportunity for the government to restrict freedom of expression, the press and the internet,” the report said. “As of November, authorities had arrested an estimated 30 journalists, most charged under anti-terror laws or for alleged association with an illegal organization.”

    The reader even updated Duediligencer on the threat to press freedom. “We were a highly democratic country until 2013,” the reader wrote. “Since then, freedom of the press has been under oppression in Turkey.”

    Turkey too far
    Turkey may be a very far country for Filipinos to visit. When I googled for information on its distance from the Philippines, I learned that non-stop flight to Istanbul takes 12 hours and 50 minutes. The distance could be what also made Philippine products rare in Turkey; I did not find any during my short stay there.

    Despite the distance, readers of The Manila Times reach us through the internet, which was how one of them from Turkey succeeded in connecting with Duediligencer.

    The reader had nothing to say about any kind of threat to religious freedom in his country. Otherwise, Filipino tourists, particularly the Catholics among them who believe in Mary, have something to worry about, such as the possible destruction of her house in Ephesus.

    He has more reasons to worry about the Turkish loss of freedom of expression that includes press freedom, which they have long been enjoying as a democratic country. His fear is not unfounded because the US-based Human Rights group even made a study of the situation in Turkey in 2015. Based on that study, the group concluded that there was, indeed, a threat to the Turkish democratic way of life.



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    1 Comment

    1. Comments boy on

      Is there freedom of expression and press in the Philippines ? How about all the Filipino journalists killed over the years in the Philippines itself? While there are direct flights from Istanbul to Manila, through Turkish airlines, it is understandable for Turkish leader Erdogan to crack down on dissent, given the fact, that dissent and lack of respect for governing institutions has led to the so called “Arab Spring” in neighboring countries, that has destabilized the region and led to the mess we see in Syria and Iraq today. While the Press has the rightful duty to point out issues in the Government or the country, it has to also understand it cannot be given a free liscence to “destabilize” established governing institutions. Syria is a reminder of that.