The Turkish government have removed over 300,000 books from schools and libraries within the country since the attempted coup in 2016.
Ziya Selcuk, the Minister of Education announced that some 301,878 books had been destroyed following a crackdown on anything that could be linked to Fethullah Gulen, the US-based Muslim cleric who was accused by the Turkish authorities of being responsible for the failed coup.
Gulen, who has lived in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania, US since 1999, denies accusations.
Maths textbooks that included the passage “from point F to point G” (the letters being his initials) and other books including the place name “Pennsylvania” (where Gulen lives in the US) were included in the cull. Turkish newspaper BirGun reported that a further 1.8 million textbooks had been destroyed for containing “objectionable” words.
A number of free speech organisations have voiced their alarm over the government crackdown on the Gulen Movement. PEN International and PEN English said in a joint statement that “in just three years, the publishing landscape in Turkey has been all but decimated, with 29 publishing houses shut down by emergency decree for ‘spreading terrorist propaganda’”.
In 2018, PEN found that since the coup attempt, 200 media outlets and publishers had been shut down, 80 writers had been prosecuted and/or investigated, over 5200 academics fired from their place of work, and hundreds of journalists imprisoned, harassed, or falling victim to judicial harassment. The report called it a “crisis of freedom of expression” in the country.
Just yesterday, a penal court in Ankara banned 136 websites from being accessed from within the country. They include specific YouTube channels, Pinterest, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter accounts and a number of independent media platforms.
One of the platforms, human rights newspaper Binaret, which receives the majority of its funding from the European Commission, will have all 200,000 plus articles completely blocked within Turkey.
The court cited concerns over “threats to national security” as the reason for the ban, yet no evidence, citations, or reasoning were given in support of this statement.
Reporters Without Borders, the International Press Institute, Committee to Protect Journalists, and the OSCE Representative on Media Freedom, Harlem Desir, have all spoken out against the court decision and asked the Turkish government to reconsider their ban.
The same organizations recently spoke out publicly about Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama’s “draconian media law” which they say “falls short” of international media and human rights best practices. They called on Parliament to not accept the law due to their belief “that the package would be detrimental to freedom of expression”.
Ten local organisations also called for the bill to be withdrawn, saying it was “worse than the previous draft” and how such laws were unprecedented in any democracy.