Atheists and free speech in Turkey

There are a lot of atheists in Turkey. But they are mostly active on the internet. For a lot of atheist activists, it is still not advisable to carry out activities in the real world, with an openly atheist identity. A lot of atheist activism can be carried out as an evolutionist, or someone who supports humanism and/or secularism, etc but usually not as a plain atheist.

With an increasing pressure from the current islamist government, and no civil rights organizations to help them, Turkish atheists are imprisoned on the internet.

One of the biggest problems Turkish atheists have is the organized campaigns designed to pressure and silence them. Especially the constant pressure of lawsuits they face in the recent years that are usually filed by some islamist groups, the most active one being Harun Yahya (Adnan Oktar)’s group.

Turkish atheists learned to fight online battles over the years, including any attempts by islamist hackers to silence them, but they have been weak, unorganized and unprepared when it came to protecting their rights, or the rights of other individual atheists who are harassed by law enforcement officers and prosecuted by the courts because of lawsuits filed by the followers of Harun Yahya.

Freedom of speech is still a problem in Turkey. And some parts of the criminal low is open to interpretation and often abused by islamists and their attorneys (and also some judges and prosecutors).  A lot of lawsuits were filed against people in Turkey whose only action was to express and promote their non-religious or atheistic worldviews on their web sites, blog sites or youtube videos, etc.

Hundreds of websites with non-religious or atheistic content, or websites that promote evolution theory were taken down, or banned in Turkey in the recent years, most of them in response to lawsuits filed by Harun Yahya’s followers. If the website is hosted in Turkey, it would be closed down. If it is hosted in foreign countries, the access to the site from Turkey would be blocked, banning the site for Turkish viewers.

Some of the more well known examples of these bans are the banning of the wordpress domain (due to a few blog sites that allegedly had derogatory content against Harun Yahya), banning of and Turan Dursun websites in 2008 (which are 2 of the most well known and popular non-religious or atheist web sites for Turkish speaking internet community), banning of evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins’ website, blogspot domain, google groups (for a few groups that had content that Harun Yahya didn’t like) and the banning of geocites, which was a domain that provided free hosting services and again a few of them contained content that Harun Yahya didn’t approve.

These are just a few of them. In the last several years, hundreds, if not thousands of web sites with non-religious, atheistic or evolutionary content was banned in Turkey, most of them, if not all by attempts of Harun Yahya (Adnan Oktar)’s lawyers.

After the bans, then came the criminal lawsuits against a lot of these online activists in the recent years, most of them based on a highly controversial part of the Turkish criminal law, article 216, which makes it illegal to “insult and denigrate the religious beliefs of a part of the population”.

All these people did was create youtube videos that promote evolution theory, or express their non-religuous views in their blog sites, or forums or message boards. A few of the more well known examples of these are the lawsuits against approximately 150 of the Eksi Sozluk (Sour Dictionary) writers (this was a website where people posted their comments about anything, such as recent political developments, or other subjects, or of course also on religion, etc), the lawsuit against Efe Aydal who created funny youtube videos, some of them criticized Harun Yahya, the lawsuit against a cartoonist named Bahadir Baruter who drew a caricature that had the words “There is no Allah, religion is a lie” in it, and the lawsuit against the blogger who goes by the name Greener Nautilus, who creates popular and informative videos. And also the lawsuit against should be mentioned here, although this was filed against the wrong people, who had affiliation with the website, but were not the official owners or legally responsible parties for the website. (This web site is hosted in the US and the owner is a US citizen, a Turkish American).

These people and many others lived through very unpleasant experiences. Police came to their door, confiscated their computers, they were dragged to the prosecutors office to get their statements taken, treated like criminals, and suffered the financial and emotional burden of lawsuits that lasted several years in some cases. And they found themselves alone, with no civil rights organizations or anybody to help them.

Turkish atheism has a long way to go. First it has to find its dignity, level the playing field against its opponents, set up civil rights organizations to protect its rights and then fight against Islam, or religion in general.

For this reason, it is too early for Turkish atheists to even dream of campaigns such as the Dover case against “intelligent design”, or similar ones that were seen in the past in the US against creationists, etc. The fight Turkish atheists face initially is to achieve their freedom of speech first. Then comes the other fights.

Because of this, it is not surprising that you don’t see many campaigns or lawsuits in Turkey against Harun Yahya and similar ones, to attack the falsehood of their anti-evolutionary claims, etc. But instead, the first organized attack by an online evolutionist group against Harun Yahya (Adnan Oktar) is a similar one atheists have been facing in the recent years. This is a lawsuit filed by a group of evolutionists in Turkey against Adnan Oktar in Sep 2012, based on the article 216 of the Turkish criminal law, the one that was used by Adnan Oktar’s lawyers to intimidate the atheists in the recent years.

This campaign and lawsuit, uses the slogan “Adnan Oktar is committing crime” and sues Adnan Oktar as he constantly attacks, insults, and denigrates Atheists, Materialists, Evolutionists (“Darwinists” in Adnan Oktar’s words), Communists, Jews, etc. The article 216 of the criminal law is vague enough to be interpreted to allow protecting the belief systems and philosophycal views (not just religious beliefs) of different segments of society, since what it protects is the difference in the views of the people towards other people’s beliefs. So the spirit and the purpose of the law should allow this interpretation according to many lawyers in Turkey, and should easily be used against Adnan Oktar as well.

But whether it will be interpreted this way, and whether this lawsuit against Adnan Oktar will be accepted by the prosecutors and the Turkish courts remains to be seen.

The worst case, this will be a test of the Turkish criminal justice system and will reveal the double standard of the courts, if it comes to that.

The writer of this article is also a member of the group of evolutionists that filed this recent lawsuit against Adnan Oktar, and can be contacted for any information on this lawsuit.

Aydin Turk


  1. It is not possible to have freedom of speech in Turkey. Not only government but also 98% general public do not tolerate religious criticisms

  2. I am an Efe Aydal follower myself . Most comments are criticising Turkey about free speech . Well , we have problems and we admit but there is another barrier on freespeech which is youtube itself. Thanks to liberal social justice warroirs most of his videos are demonitising by youtube . If you are producing useless content such as react videos gaming , online slime making , promoting multiracial marriage or sexual prefences you are free.. If you are backed with a network you are also free , you can make video in suicide forest and get away with it
    So i recommend ,pls get off your high horse . We can defend ourselves . How would you defend yourself from unseen cencorship

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *