Article 318: Silencing dissent

Article 318:

(1) Persons who give incentives or make suggestions or spread propaganda which will have the effect of discouraging people from performing military service shall be sentenced to imprisonment for a term of six months to two years.

(2) If the act is committed through the medium of the press and media, the penalty shall be increased by half.

The Turkish military's not so secret weapon against antimilitarists

Ever since the beginning of the antimilitarist movement in Turkey, Turkish antimilitarists did not only have to worry about persecution for refusing to join the military, but even for speaking out against militarism. In fact, most if the first prosecutions of Turkish antimilitarists were under the then Article 155 Turkish Penal Code, titled "alienating the people from the military". Recently, as part of the overhaul of the Turkish Penal Code to comply with demands from the European Union, the article has been renumbered: it now is Article 318. However, the content did not change significantly.

When Tayfun Gönül and Vedat Zencir first declared their conscientious objection back in 1989, they were not prosecuted and sentenced for refusing military service, but under Article 155. Similarly, the first CO activists, COs themselves, and journalists who interviewed them were prosecuted and often sentenced under Article 155. An important early case was the case of Erhan Akyildiz and Ali Tevfik in 1993. Both were tried because they interviewed Aytek Özel, chair of the SKD and a CO, for the TV channel HBB on 8 December 1993.

The producer Erhan Akyildiz and the reporter Ali Tevfik Berber were arrested on order of the Chief of Staff and tried at a military court - the first time civilian were tried in a military court. Arrest warrants were issued for Aytek Özel and the CO. Erhan Akyildiz and Ali Tevfik Berber received the minimum sentence of two months' imprisonment, and Aytek Özel, who surrendered to the military court in Ankara on 8 February 2004, was sentenced to one year, 15 days' imprisonment. The important element of this case was the fact that after the state security court had ruled not to be competent,the way was opened for civilians to be tried at military courts.

Also in the case of Osman Murat Ülke, the first Turkish conscientious objector to be imprisoned for his conscientious objection, the first trials he faced - and the first sentences passed on him - were in relation to Article 155. The first trial he faced after his arrest on 7 October 1996 was about Article 155 - alienating the people from the military through his public burning of his draft papers and his declaration as conscientious objector.

More recently, since the so-called "penal reform", there have been several cases of prosecution under now Article 318. Cases include:

  • Doghan Özkan, an activist of the CO platform of the Istanbul branch of the Human Rights Association (IHD) gave a public address to the press on 12 December 2004, and was subsequently sentenced to 5 months imprisonment on 20 September 2006. The sentence was commuted to a fine of 3000 YTL. An appeal is still pending.
  • Perihan Magden was charged with violation of Article 318 for an article "conscientious objection is a human right", published in Yeni Aktuel on 27 December 2005. She was acquitted on 27 July 2006, because the court upheld the right to freedom of speech and expression.
  • Birgul Ozbaris, a journalist for the newspaper Ozgur Gundem, was charged with seven separate accounts of violating Article 318. In total, she is facing up to 21 years of imprisonment.
  • Gökhan Gencay, a journalist with Birgün newspaper, was charged with violation of Article 318 for an interview with conscientious objector Erkan Bolat, published on 10 October 2005. His case was dismissed by the High Criminal Court, though.
  • Halil Savda not only faces charges for his conscientious objection, but was also charged under Article 318, because he read out a solidarity statement for Israeli conscientious objectors in front of the Israeli consulate in Istanbul.

It is obvious that Article 318 (and previously Article 155) are being used to silence dissent. Any criticism of the Turkish military can potentially lead to prosecution and a prison sentence under Article 318. Thus, an open debate about the role of the military in Turkey's society is almost impossible.

Article 318 stipulates an upper limit of 2 years' imprisonment, and three years in cases where the "crime" is committed via the press. However, in June this year, Article 318 was brought within the compass of the Turkish Anti-Terror-Code, labelling conscientious objection an "organised crime" and "danger", and effectively increasing the potential prison terms up to 4.5 years imprisonment.

Turkish antimilitarists have now started a campaign against Article 318, demanding Article 318 to be abolished, and all pending trials to be immediately dismissed. Support for this campaign is very welcome.

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