Turkish government launches fight against 139,141 books

Turkish government’s censorship efforts and its fight against education and culture have reached a new peak with the statement of Numan Kurtulmuş, Minister of Culture and Tourism, on Wednesday. Minister Kurtulmuş has reportedly stated that Turkish government has launched legal investigation about 139,141 books and publications printed in Turkey by publishing houses affiliated with the Gülen movement.

Talking about the presence of 1,142 libraries under the administration of Culture and Tourism Ministry in Turkey, Minister Kurtulmuş has said that the books and other publications printed by publishing houses, which were closed down by the government decrees over their alleged affiliation with the Gülen movement under the rule of emergency declared in the aftermath of controversial coup attempt on July 15, 2016, were withdrawn immediately from the libraries. Kurtulmuş has also said that these books were bought by the libraries or granted to libraries between 1982 and 2014.

According to a report revealed by Stockholm Centre for Freedom (SCF) on early September 2017, one of the charges used for substantiating massive arrest warrants and indictments is possession of books or other published materials by Fethullah Gülen and the publishing houses affiliated with the Gülen movement following the July 15, 2016 coup attempt.

Some related excerpts from the report are as follows:

“With government decree-law no. 668, dated July 27, 2016, publishing houses that printed and distributed Gülen’s books were shut down. Following that, upon a petition by the Bakırköy Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office, a penal court of peace ruled to ban the sale, distribution and publication of 672 books and digital media products authored by Gülen. The judgment also stipulated the collection of all published works by Gülen as criminal evidence and ordered a halt to their further publication.

Considering that Gülen has authored 64 books so far, with some selling as many as 1 million copies in Turkey and many translated into dozens of other languages, the classifacation of these books as criminal evidence implicates millions in Turkey as suspects.

Even before the decree-law and the Bakırköy court decision, the government treated possession of books and magazines of the publishing houses listed as shuttered in decree-law no. 668 as a crime. Fearing prosecution for owning such books and magazines that were perfectly legal before, people started burning or destroying them and even throwing them in the garbage. There were reports that the police collected some of these banned books from dumpsters and that people were arrested if their fingerprints were found on them. In the town of Kadirli in Turkey’s southeastern province of Osmaniye, an imam who threw away books authored by Gülen was arrested, as reported in the media on July 23, 2016. There were dozens of similar reports.

People were in a panic and tried to find ways to get rid of these books and magazines, which had been sold with the permission of the Ministry of Culture and could be found on the shelves of public libraries. Unfortunately, arrests for this reason had already started before decree-law no. 668. These written materials, which in no way promote terror or violence, were banned not by a judicial decision but by an administrative one. Following the said decree, the Gülen-affiliated NT bookstores, the largest bookstore chain in Turkey before it was seized by the government and later shut down, were raided by AKP followers.

It should be recalled that criminal law bans the retroactive effect of laws. The Turkish Constitutional Court considered the collection of books by Abdullah Öcalan, leader of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), who is serving an aggravated life sentence, a violation of rights and reversed the judgment. In a country where the rule of law is respected, books that do not promote terrorism or violence cannot be banned and people in possession of these books cannot be accused of membership in terror organizations.

However, more interestingly, biology, chemistry, mathematics and physics textbooks and test books as well as other relevant publications by publishing houses that were linked to the Gülen movement, which was operating in the fields of education and culture, with many training centers and the nation’s best performing private schools, were banned and accordingly hundreds of thousands of these textbooks were burned.”

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