Şenol Buran was arrested in Istanbul, Turkey, on the day after Christmas. Buran is the manager of the cafeteria in the Cumhuriyet newspaper offices, the newspaper where the editor and at least 12 senior staff were arrested in late October. What did Buran do, you ask? He was overheard by a member of the security staff saying that if Turkish President Erdoğan came into the cafeteria, he (Buran) would not serve him tea. Yes, that is the high crime that got Mr. Buran arrested and sent to jail, where he is now awaiting trial. Insulting the president is a crime punishable by up to four years in prison in Turkey.
Here in the U.S., that could never happen, right? Or is it … ???
In a recent interview with Chris Matthews, Kellyanne Conway said this:
“People feel like with Donald Trump, they have license to say whatever the heck they want about this guy with no consequences, with no blowback. The guy has a right to defend himself. And he rarely draws first blood. It’s when he is attacked he likes to set the record straight. I’m seen as ungracious. Why are we sore winners? I’m not a sore winner, I’m a winner. My guy’s a winner. He’s the next president of the United States. This has to stop, Chris, this incendiary rhetoric of people who just can’t admit that they lost. It has to stop, because it’s costing a lot of angst.”
Consequences? Blowback? Might I remind Ms. Conway that this is the United States of America and that every citizen has the right to free speech? And might I further remind her that her boss, Trump, is a public figure and we can all say anything, short of making a threat against him, that we like? And Miss Kellyanne needs to get used to it. Donald Trump may well take office at noon on 20 January 2017, but he will do so without the support or admiration of the majority of the nation. And those of us who do such things as speak and write against injustice in the world, will continue to do so until such time as the Trump regime permanently silences us.
Now for those like the troll I seem to have picked up who think I am blowing things out of proportion, a few things to note here. Turkey has a secular parliamentary representative democratic republic form of government, similar to that of the U.S., including a Constitution with guarantees of free speech. However, less than two years after Erdoğan became Prime Minister of Turkey in 2003, a law was passed, Article 301, making it illegal to insult Turkey, the Turkish nation, or Turkish government institutions. In 2014, Erdoğan became President of Turkey, and between then and March 2016, there have been no less than 1,845 cases opened against people accused of insulting the president. In 2016, the World Press Freedom Index ranked Turkey 151st out of 180 countries. (An interesting note, the U.S. ranks only 41st)
Still think it can’t happen here?
Two hundred and twenty-five years ago this month, Virginia ratified the Bill of Rights, thereby enshrining the first ten Amendments to the Constitution. The question is can it survive another year, let alone another 225? Could the Trump regime dismantle the Bill of Rights? Most of us who have given the matter considerable thought think it is highly unlikely. Unlikely, but definitely not impossible. Though both houses of Congress will be dominated by Republicans who have proven themselves to be ineffectual, there is a carrot-and-stick in operation, the carrot being re-election in 2 years for representatives, 2-6 years for Senators. So it is unlikely that they would agree to a curtailment of what some think is the most important right we have.
However, this administration will be like no other before it, and we cannot be certain. Unlike any presidential candidate in recent history, Trump has aligned himself with white supremacists, has put down every religion except one, has called Mexicans rapists and murders, has threatened to ban Muslim people from the country, has put down women, the disabled, Jews, and others. He is a narcissist with zero tolerance for criticism from individuals or the press. So, who knows?
Also, there is a precedent. The Alien and Sedition Acts were four bills passed by the Federalist-dominated 5th United States Congress and signed into law by President John Adams in 1798. These laws included new powers to DEPORT foreigners, and also included severe repression of domestic protest.
“The most controversial of the new laws permitting strong government control over individual actions was the SEDITION ACT. In essence, this Act prohibited public opposition to the government. Fines and imprisonment could be used against those who “write, print, utter, or publish . . . any false, scandalous and malicious writing” against the government.” – U.S. History
The acts expired two years later in 1800, prisoners were pardoned and fines were returned. But then in the last century, during WWI, Congress passed the Sedition Act of 1918, which limited speech and the expression of opinion that cast the government or the war effort in a negative light or interfered with the sale of government bonds. The Sedition Act of 1918 stated that people or countries cannot say negative things about the government or the war.
All of which offers proof that what Donald Trump has proposed in his campaign rhetoric is not impossible. He said he would “open up our libel laws so when [newspapers] write purposely negative stories … we can sue them and make lots of money”. He also threatened, “with me, they’re not protected, because I’m not like other people…We’re gonna…have people sue you like you never get [sic] sued before.”
The frightening part? He is not like other people. No, he certainly is not, but I do not mean that in any good or positive way. He believes himself to be above the law, above the Constitution which he has never even read.
He also has defended dictators like Vladimir Putin from accusations of killing journalists, saying there is no proof. Russia has one of the least free presses in the world. According to PolitiFact, at least 34 journalists have been killed there since 2000.
Would Congress be foolish enough to pass some new form of sedition law? I do not pretend to know, but it would not surprise me. They have acted quite foolishly for the past 8 years … why stop now? And Trump has people like Steve Bannon and Roger Stone, Jeff Sessions and others who would work to see that Trump’s will be done.
The bottom line is that nobody knows for certain what the coming year will bring in this and many other areas. All who cherish our freedoms must stand firmly rooted against any attempts to infringe upon them. We must use our voices and venues to keep the world informed when we see injustice or threats, for silence is consent. We must, as the saying goes, “Use It Or Lose It”. We thought Trump getting nominated was absolutely impossible. We were wrong. We thought Trump being elected was absolutely impossible. We were wrong. So to think Trump restricting our Constitutional rights impossible …