The High Cost Of Following Your Conscience In Turkey

April 6, 2011

Halil Savda a conscientious objector in Turkey. (Photo Vedat Yıldız )

Halil Savda is going to prison again.  This time for 100 days following his conviction for ‘alienating the public from military service.’

Halil is a conscientious objector and a human rights defender who has faced continued harassment by the Turkish government.  His current sentence shines a light on the lack of freedom of expression in Turkey.

Since 2004, Halil Savda has been arrested on multiple occasions and jailed three times for refusing to perform military service as a conscientious objector, serving a total of seventeen months in military prisons.  Despite the fact that  conscientious objection is generally recognized as a right according to international human rights standards, Turkey is one of very few countries that makes no military exemption for conscientious objectors.

In 2008, in an effort to save face, the military declared Halil Savda “unfit for military service.”  Halil, however, continued to speak out in support of other conscientious objectors, resulting in his current conviction for ‘alienating the people from the institution of military service’—a criminal offence under Article 318 of the Turkish Penal Code.

Article 318 violates Article 9 of the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR) and Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), both of which provide for the right to freedom of expression.  Turkey, as a signatory to these articles, is responsible under international law to abide by these requirements.

Until Turkey’s Article 318 is repealed, and Turkey recognizes the right to conscientious objection, Halil Savda and other anti-war Turkish citizens will continue to be imprisoned for their beliefs.  To quote Halil:

“It is a shame that in Turkey, conscientious objectors and those who support them are prosecuted for refusing to kill. There cannot be a more humane stance in the world than refusing to participate in wars. Yet Article 318 is a massive barrier to even expressing this opinion, making the call for peace and solidarity with other conscientious objectors a crime.”

We couldn’t have said it better ourselves.