The Loup Bureau affair and European case law

Published 09.09.2017 01:45
Updated 09.09.2017 01:47
French gendarmes stand guard during a demonstration in support of PKK terrorists fighting against Turkey, Strasbourg, France, Feb. 11.
French gendarmes stand guard during a demonstration in support of PKK terrorists fighting against Turkey, Strasbourg, France, Feb. 11.

An increasingly important part of the Western media accept every allegation concerning human rights in Turkey at face value if it is against the current government, but disregard investigations on crimes by terrorist groups fighting Turkey and the Turks

A new affair of the "journalist" arrested in Turkey, this time Loup Bureau, provoked some emotion in Western media, particularly French ones, as Loup Bureau is French. Once again, and in spite of the fact that this person does not describe himself as a journalist, but merely as a student, corporatist reflexes and a desire to sell papers replaced investigation and fact checking. Only the version of the indicted person and his supporters has been spread, uncritically, for example in Le Monde, Aug. 3, 2017. I have no access to the investigation file. The goal of this article is simply to show what can be found and analyzed without being in Turkey, without even asking a question to Turkish police and justice departments.In a tweet posted on July 25, 2015, Loup Bureau wrote (in English): "A thought to all my Kurdish friends who are currently facing the violence of the Turkish state #PKK #Turkey #airstrikes." If words have a meaning, this tweet calls "friends" the terrorists of the PKK, indeed targeted by the Turkish Air Force during the summer of 2015. There can't be any confusion with the peshmergas (Iraqi Kurdish fighters), as they received logistical support and training from the Turkish military, against the Daesh terrorist organization, as early as 2014. The outlawed PKK, on the contrary, attacked the peshmergas, for example in May 2015, at Kelashin, Iraq, two months before this tweet. As a result, this statement has nothing to do with any sympathy for the Kurds in general, and everything to do with support for a terrorist group in particular. Correspondingly, in a tweet posted on Jan. 10, 2016, Loup Bureau vehemently contested (calling it "propaganda") the terrorist label for the PKK, as well as the fact that this group does not represent the majority of the Kurds.

Now, let's compare these tweets with the Aydın v. Germany case in front of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). A PKK supporter named Ayşel Aydın in 2001 launched a petition "I also am a follower of the PKK" ("Auch ich bin ein PKK'ler"), finishing with these words: "I hereby declare that I most severely condemn the prohibition issued against the PKK and the criminal prosecution of PKK membership and of active sympathy for the PKK. I further declare that I do not acknowledge this prohibition and that I assume all responsibility arising therefrom." It is quite clear that there is no difference in nature between the two discussed tweets by Loup Bureau and this petition. Yet, Ayşel Aydın was first sentenced in 2003 and in 2004, an appeal by the German justice system was considered for having violated German law of associations. Her application in front of the Federal Constitutional Court was rejected in 2006, and the next year, she filed another one, in front of the ECHR, in the name of article 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights, the one that protects freedom of expression.

Aydın and Bureau cases

In the judgment regarding Aydın v. Germany, on Jan. 27, 2011, the ECHR observed that "The applicant emphasized that the self-declarations did not advocate the use of violence against the State or against individual persons." Regardless, the ECHR concluded that there was no violation of the freedom of expression, which means that the conviction was "necessary in a democratic society," as a result of "a pressing social need." If such a conviction was necessary in Germany, in the context of 2001 (when the number of terrorist attacks by the PKK was close to zero), it is even more necessary in the context of Turkey in 2015-2017, as the PKK killed hundreds of unarmed civilians, soldiers, policemen and policewomen during this period.

If we now look at the French law and case law, the comparisons are also illuminating. Apologizing for terrorism became a crime in France in December 1893, as a result of the anarchist terrorism of the 1890s, particularly a bomb attack in the National Assembly itself. More recently, in November 2014, the Cazeneuve Act transferred this crime from the law of July 29, 1881 on the freedom of the press to the criminal code. It means that perpetrators can be judged in immediate appearance and, before that, put into custody by police. It also means that the limitation statute is extended from one year to three years. As a result of this change, and also of the terrorist attacks of January and November 2015, 385 persons were sentenced for apologizing for terrorism during the year 2015 alone. Among them, a man suffering from a mental deficiency, who stated to policemen: "They killed Charlie [journalists and cartoonists of Charlie Hebdo], I had a good laugh!" He received six months in jail. More recently, in November 2016, an 18-year-old student was sentenced to three months in jail for having called his Wi-Fi network "Daesh21." As the investigation demonstrated, he is not connected to any jihadi network and his decision to choose such a name for his Wi-Fi was a joke of very bad taste, but not the expression of any support for violence.

Strong reactions to the promotion of terrorism

These sentences are quite understandable after the trauma of terrorist attacks perpetrated in France. It is even possible to understand (without, this time, endorsing) that, with good intention, the French Parliament made a crime, in June 2016, the "usual" consultation of websites promoting terrorism - this measure was censored on Feb. 10, 2017 by the Constitutional Council (decision 2016-611 QPC). But precisely, all these strong reactions to terrorism should help French, and more generally European audiences able to understand the concerns of Turkey in front of PKK terrorism, even more as dozens of PKK members have been sentenced in France and other European Union countries (the ban on Roj TV, a PKK mouthpiece, in Denmark in 2014, dissolution of the Ahmet-Kaya "cultural" center in Paris the same year, for funding the PKK, and of the House of the Kurdish People in Marseille in 2016, for the same reason, etc.). Actually, I think most of my compatriots are perfectly able to understand the situation in Turkey, if they get the right information.As a result, the core of the problem is the quality of the work of the journalists.

Ignoring not only the arguments of Turkish police and justice, but even tweets that everybody can access with an internet connection, and European case law about support for terrorism, it is simply failing to inform the readers appropriately. Besides the Loup Bureau case, it is also remarkable to notice how the investigations of Amnesty International and of the American newspaper The Nation about the crimes perpetrated by the Democratic Union Party (PYD) and the People's Protection Units (YPG), the Syrian branches of the PKK, particularly the ethnic cleansing against Arabs and Turkmens, or the persecution of anti-PKK Kurds (in particular: Roy Gutman, "Have the Syrian Kurds Committed War Crimes?", The Nation, Feb. 7, 2017). Yet, it is not possible to avoid discussion on the merits with the usual logical fallacies used when it is about Turkey: The admirers of the current Turkish government are rare, to say the very least, in Amnesty International and in the staff of The Nation and this newspaper's investigation is based on more than 80 interviews with Arabs and Syrian Kurdish refugees in the region as well as PYD/YPG officials.

As a result, it appears that an increasingly important part of the Western media accept every allegation concerning human rights in Turkey at face value if it is against the current government, but disregard investigations on crimes by terrorist groups fighting Turkey and the Turks, no matter how deep and serious these investigations are. This is obviously an extreme example of a double standard.

Some of the best contemporary accounts of the Turkish War of Independence were written by French journalists: For example, Berthe Georges-Gaulis, Angora, Constantinople, Londres. Moustafa Kémal et la politique anglaise en Orient, Paris: Armand Colin, 1922; and Jean Schlicklin, Angora, l'aube de la Turquie nouvelle, Paris: Berger-Levrault, 1922. More recently, pertinent analyzes of the PKK were made by French criminologists, such as François Haut. So, it is time to ask, in the two countries: What went wrong?

* MA in History from Paris-Sorbonne University

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