Musician and 2010 Freemuse Award winner Ferhat Tunç has been sentenced in Turkey to one year, 11 months and 12 days in prison for “making propaganda of a terrorist organization”. The charge relates to messages shared on Tunç’s social media in December 2016, with the terrorist organization referring to the Kurdistan Workers Party and Kurdistan Peoples Community. The sentencing took place at the 36th High Criminal Court in Istanbul and Tunç plans to appeal the verdict at the Court of Appeal in the next week.
Alongside this case, Mr Tunç faces two additional trials on the charges of “publicly inciting hatred and hostility” for tweets shared on 16 April 2017, including ‘#WeAreNotSilent’; and “insulting the President” through messages shared on his social media in 2016.
Freemuse calls for a transparent, fair and impartial appeals process and for the Turkish government to drop all charges against Tunç.
“The sentencing of Ferhat Tunç to prison is a human rights scandal in Turkey. When a musician who sings peacefully is imprisoned for promoting terrorism, the world knows that Turkey is stepping up its efforts to silence artists and art communities. The imprisonment of Tunç is the imprisonment of artistic freedom in Turkey,” Freemuse Executive Director Dr Srirak Plipat said.
The continued persecution and prosecution of Mr. Tunç is in violation of international human rights laws including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) which Turkey ratified in September 2013 and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which Turkey signed in August 2000.
In his over 30-year career as a musician, Tunç has been the target of numerous investigations and cases against him either because of his music or political expressions.
In an interview with Freemuse on 26 September, Tunç stated that:
”This is the ‘keep quiet’ message to the opposition groups. Do not write, draw, talk but obey the message. It is a threat to all intellectuals and artists who openly oppose.
It is in our hands to make this threat impossible. Instead of acting according to circumstances and power, we will insist on defending the values of freedom of thought and democracy without hesitation and fear.”
Furthermore, Ferhat Tunç asserted his innocence in his defense statement, reported by Bianet:
“I am an artist. An artist is an intellectual advocate of social values. I protect the principles of art. An artist cannot act according to circumstances or power, as it would be betrayal of art. Art and artists cannot fit in an ideology. The arts is defined as a tool for ‘expression’ from the time the first human communities existed, until today.”
Background on Ferhat Tunç and the current climate in Turkey
Ferhat Tunç has been a musician in Turkey for the past 30 years. Throughout his career, he has been subject to continued persecution and prosecution by the Turkish authorities for his political and artistic expressions.
The most recent case facing Ferhat Tunç was filed on 23 January 2018 after he returned from performing a concert in Switzerland. The indictment accuses Tunç of “inciting the public to enmity and hostility” for his personal tweets that mention #HayırSusmuyoruz [#NoWeAreNotSilent] and #HayırYargılanamaz [#NoCanNotBePutOnTrial] from 16 April 2017.
Prior to this, on 13 October 2017, an indictment was filed against Mr. Tunç by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan for “defaming the President” through messages shared on his social media. The official Filing of Criminal Charges states that Ferhat Tunç used his Twitter account to share statements that constitute the crime of “defaming the President” and subjects Mr. Tunç to five years and eight months in prison if convicted. Mr. Tunç has denied that the aim of the tweets were to defame President Erdoğan and will affirm his innocence at the Büyükçekmece Court in Istanbul on 26 October 2018.
These criminal cases are the most recent example of the extensive harassment Mr. Tunç has endured by Turkish authorities for his music and political activism. This protracted persecution and prosecution has been so significant that it catalysed a February 2015 European Court of Human Rights ruling that convicted the Turkish government of violating Mr. Tunç’s freedom of speech by sentencing him to three months in prison over comments he made at a concert in 2003.
The harassment and prosecution of Ferhat Tunç illustrates the limiting artistic environment in Turkey, an environment that has significantly reduced since the state of emergency was enacted after an alleged coup attempt in July 2016. The state of emergency continues to hold sway in Turkey 26 months on, during which there has been an unprecedented crackdown on public officials, journalists, academics and others, including artists. Anti-terror and insult laws were used to imprison and prosecute artists, as well as cinema regulations to ban film screenings. Kurdish arts and cultural centres have been particularly targeted, suffering closures and dismissals.
Overall the outlook for freedom of artistic expression in Turkey remains bleak, and Ferhat Tunç’s imprisonment sentencing to one year, 11 months and 12 days for “propaganda for a terrorist organization” through social media posts only affirms this.