Turkish court rules letter criticising Turkey’s assault on Afrin was not terror propaganda

A Turkish court in the capital of Ankara has dismissed legal proceedings against 167 intellectuals, artists, and civil society activists who signed a joint letter criticising Turkey’s military operation in the northwestern Syrian province of Afrin, Diken news site reported on Friday.

Turkey’s military launched Operation Olive Branch on Jan. 20, 2018, with support from Free Syrian Army (FSA) fighters, aiming to take Afrin from the majority-Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its armed wing, the People’s Protection Units (YPG).

Ankara sees the PYD/YPG as an extension of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has been fighting inside Turkey since 1984 and is designated as a terrorist organisation by the United States and the European Union.

A group of prominent figures, including academics, journalists, artists, and human rights activists, sent a joint letter to Turkey’s parliament urging them to oppose the operation.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan called the signatories “traitors, conscienceless and cowards” and ordered a criminal investigation over terror charges, according to Diken.

Turkish prosecutors have launched an investigation into the petition on Dec. 8, 2018.

Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor's office ruled that an academic had not made propaganda for a terrorist organisation by signing the petition, Diken said.

The joint letter did not promote or legitimise acts of violence by terrorist organisations and thus it did not overstep the bounds of freedom of expression, the ruling said.

Academics Ahmet İnsel, Baskın Oran, and Murat Belge, Turkey’s famous pollster Tarhan Erdem, Kurdish activist Nurcan Baysal, artists Genco Erkal, Gülriz Sururi, Halil Ergün, authors Burhan Sönmez and Oya Baydar, journalists Hasan Cemal and Zeynep Oral were among the 167 signatories that included people coming from different ideological backgrounds.

Last month, in a decision hailed as an important step for freedom of expression, Turkey’s Constitutional Court ruled that charges brought against hundreds of academics who signed a 2016 petition criticising the Turkish military’s heavy-handed anty insurgency tactics had violated their freedom of expression.