TURKEY

Turkish Court Sentences Soccer Player On BS Propaganda Charges

Deniz Naki has been sentenced for supporting peace

TURKEY
AFP/Getty Images
Apr 06, 2017 at 2:07 PM ET

By daring to speak out against the brutal and repressive Turkish government, a Kurdish-German soccer player and political activist received five years’ probation and a suspended 18-month jail sentence on Thursday after being found guilty of inciting “terrorist propaganda.”

In February 2016, following a game in which he’d netted the winning goal, Deniz Naki, who plays for Amedspor, a third division team in the Turkish Football Federation (TFF),  posted a Facebook message offering support to members of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) who had been killed in combat with the Turkish security forces.

The post read: “We dedicate this victory as a gift to those who have lost their lives and those wounded in the repression in our land which has lasted for more than 50 days. We as Amedspor have not bowed our heads and will not do so. We went on to the pitch with our belief in freedom and won.”

Naki was born in Germany to Kurdish parents and maintains dual citizenship. His family fled Turkey in the 1970s after his father was imprisoned and tortured for his Communist sympathies. “My parents taught me not to remain silent in the face of injustice,” Naki told Der Speigel.

In response to the Facebook post, the TFF levied a 12-game suspension, claiming that Naki’s message represented, “ideological propaganda.” Naki was brought before the court in November 2016, charged with spreading propaganda and providing aid and comfort to a terrorist group, namely the PKK, citing the Facebook post and additional statements made on social media as well as interviews in which he was critical of the Turkish military, called President Erdogan a “dictator,” and called for an end to the fighting.

For over three decades, the PKK has been engaged in armed conflict in Turkey, resulting in over 40,000 deaths, though an accurate total remains nearly impossible to calculate given the inability to trust figures provided by both the Turkish government and the PKK. Designated a foreign terrorist organization by both the U.S. State Department and the European Union, the Marxist-Leninist PKK originally sought the creation of an independent Kurdish state and conducted guerilla attacks, including the use of suicide bombers. Of late, the party has has modified its goals, seeking greater rights and autonomy for Kurdish citizens in Turkey.

That hasn’t dissuaded President Erdogan from attempting to wipe the PKK off the Turkish map over the last two years, following the collapse of a ceasefire agreement in 2015.

Via Lawfare:

Over time, the operation morphed into a full-fledged offensive against the PKK and turned southeastern Turkey into a war zone. Since August 2015, hundreds of civilians have been killed and hundreds of thousands displaced. President Erdogan has stated that Turkey will continue battling the PKK until every last fighter is “liquidated.” This spiral of violence has eliminated any chance of a formal peace process in the near-term.

According to Bild, Fabio De Masi, a member of the European Parliament who was present to observe the legal proceedings, called the court’s ruling “absurd,” adding if Naki wants to stay out of prison, “He should not even use the word peace” for the next five years. De Masi also claimed that pressure to find him guilty had been exerted by unnamed political forces within the Turkish government.

“I was acquitted in my first trial and it’s disappointing to come out of here with such a verdict,” Naki said following the verdict (translation via Deutsche Welle). “I gave a message of peace. I said I was against the war and I have been punished for this. I am someone in love with peace and I will always give this message. I am ready to pay the price whatever it is.”

The trial represented a second bite at the apple for the Turkish courts. (Naki was originally acquitted of the same charges.) The President of FC St. Pauli, where Naki played from 2009 to 2012, offered his support, congratulating him for his commitment to “freedom, peace and humanity,” Oke Göttlich tweeted. “It is difficult to comprehend that the same judge could reverse his earlier decision.”

Naki’s legal representatives said he will not appeal the ruling.