What Turkey Needs If It Wants Peace: A Real Democracy

Turkish President Erdogan on April 2
Turkish President Erdogan on April 2
Özgür Mumcu


Turkey has never been a stranger to terror attacks. But it seems that the spiral of violence we have entered since the June 7, 2015, general election is so severe that it cannot be compared to anything that came before. Worse: There’s no resolution in sight, no sign of an end to this violent atmosphere. We are expected to accept what is happening simply as an act of nature.

If not, why would President Recep Tayyip Erdogan say: "This struggle that started with the first man on Earth will last until the end of days," as he condemned Tuesday's car bomb assault in central Istanbul, assuring the public that the fight against terrorism will carry on? This is not a message of determination. This is an admission that the issue will never be settled, that it will go on forever.

We have seen how recklessly the Kurdish issue, one of the most important issues in this country, was handled. How impossible it was for the peace process, with the legal structure that it requires, to be put in place.

This is what happens when everything is about one man. One day he says, "Don't let the mothers cry anymore." And the next day he'll give you statements of hopelessness about struggles dating back to the first man. Peace talks initially spark tears of joys among government officials and journalists but their stance grows hawkish with time. This is one man toying with everyone else.

At the time the peace process was most popular, a group of people came together to sign a declaration titled "Democracy for Peace." Its main point was that to achieve peace, democratization is a priority. But a signed declaration objected to the peace process being a factor in the discussion of changes to the presidential system wanted by Erdogan: "Combining unrelated issues, such as the constitutional steps to be taken to resolve the Kurdish problem and the presidential system into one constitutional reform package for referendum, will neither fit democratic ethics nor serve peace in society. Pitting peace against democracy in Turkey will benefit no one."

Government officials criticized those who signed the statement for not wanting peace but the signatories were afraid that circumstances would deteriorate to the current situation.

Unfortunately, they were right.

A self-respecting state cannot accept one man ripping the agreement apart when he could not get his executive presidential system. A good opportunity for reconciliation in society was wasted by one man's career plans. Seriousness is not about making strong statements with a frowning face: Seriousness means taking responsibility and being accountable.

This country has been on fire the past year. Of course, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) is also guilty in igniting the fire. If there’s peace one day, there will be justice and the PKK will be held legally accountable. But we are citizens of the Republic of Turkey, not the PKK. Therefore, when a president says this struggle "will last until the end of days," we have the right to ask: "Why?"

Why will it last?

Why did you overturn the negotiation table?

Why did you tear the agreement apart?

What has changed?

How can a government think itself successful when bombs routinely go off in its cities? The truth is obvious: There cannot be peace without a real democracy. A school of thought feeding on polarization, and not reconciliation, only brings about suffering.

Us first and him last. The previously mentioned peace declaration also notes this: "It will not be possible to establish a lasting peace in Turkey unless steps are taken to actualize all human rights for every citizen of Turkey."

We cannot go on with this underdeveloped democracy until the end of days.

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How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

Laura Valentina Cortés Sierra

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.

But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Juthatip Sirikan speaks in front of democracy monument.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

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