Turkish Dissident Faces Ten Years in Prison for 'Blasphemy' Against Islam

Will you take a stand for Canan Kaftancioglu?

Canan Kaftancioglu, a Turkish politician and critic of Islam, has received a ten-year-long prison sentence for “blasphemy against Islam.” If the Court of Cassation upholds the verdict, Kaftancioglu will have to serve time in prison.

Canan is the executive director of the Istanbul branch of Cumhuriyet Halk Partisi (CHP), the secular opposition. Islamists have suffered a crushing defeat in Istanbul, the largest city in Europe and the fourth largest city in the world, thanks to Canan's relentless efforts. Canan has multiple college degrees and a long history of human rights advocacy, including working for TIHV (Turkish Human Rights Foundation). She has written her dissertation about “Torture Victims in Forensic Medicine.” Her father-in-law was assassinated by Islamists.

Islamists are furious because they lost Istanbul, and Canan has now become their scapegoat – given her courageous and colorful rhetoric. Canan once quipped on Twitter: “men with small dicks want to build big mosques.” She posted pictures of herself eating pork (forbidden in Islam) and acknowledged the historical reality of the Armenian Genocide. She once wrote, “stop praying, Muslims: there is no room left in paradise.” She expressed support for Kurdish dissidents, accused the current Turkish government of serial murder, and wrote that “being human is a higher dignity than being Turkish.” She is a Socratic provocateur, perhaps. But her irreverent statements serve a higher purpose: to protest human rights violations. She is the proverbial canary in the coal mine.

Turkey was once an imperfect but functional democracy. Now it is an increasingly theocratic state under the totalitarian presidency of Tayyip Erdogan. Erdogan’s presidential achievements include electoral fraud, persecution of religious minorities, war crimes in Africa, massacring Kurdish civilians, unparalleled corruption, banning Wikipedia and Twitter, centralized online censorship, stacking the courts, persecuting academics, and terrorizing journalists. Swedish lawmakers pressed charges of genocide against him. Various commentators have called him a tyrant, a terrorist, and a war criminal. He has been condemned by international organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

Erdogan’s world view is hateful, racist, imperialistic and totalitarian. He believes that Muslims can conquer Europe via demographic jihad. He denies that men and women are equal. He wrote an anti-Semitic play in high school, with a plot borrowed from The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. He once endorsed a German faction of al-Qaeda. He is also a catastrophic failure in economic matters. He had the constitution rewritten to invest himself with unlimited executive powers. And yet he is shameless enough to market himself as a human rights advocate to The Washington Post.

[Cartoon: Turkish dissidents satirize Tayyip Erdogan, the totalitarian president of Turkey, in an iconic cartoon called “The Erdogan Zoo” (2005). Erdogan sued the cartoonists for libel and lost.] 

Canan is not alone in her vigorous critiques. Turkish intelligentsia often voice colorful criticisms towards Islam as well. Past examples include Aziz Nesin, who caused a violent rampage by translating The Satanic Verses into Turkish, Muazzez Ilmiye Cig, who claimed that the Islamic headscarf was originally worn by Sumerian prostitutes, and Fazil Say, a famous pianist who quoted satirical verses comparing the Islamic paradise to a brothel. Turkish secularists marched in solidarity with the Hebdo magazine.

Canan’s critiques are also consistent with the philosophy of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the statesman who established the modern Turkish republic. Kemal was a stern critic of Islam. In an official letter, he used the word tahrifat [desecration] and safsata [charlatanism] to describe the opening verses of the Quran. In a formal address to the Turkish parliament, he criticized the idea of divine revelation. In a personal epistle, he ridiculed the Muslim concept of paradise and martyrdom. His subsequent reforms involved dissolving the clerical class, purging Turkish from Arabic and Persian vocabulary, and restoring historical churches converted into mosques. He also disbanded the Caliphate, the Islamic version of the Vatican, via parliamentary decree. Terrorist organizations such as al-Qaeda and ISIS are failed attempts at resurrecting the Caliphate.

Kemal’s political legacy is upheld by Cumhuriyet Halk Partisi, which represents the second largest electorate with fifteen million voters (30%). Kemalists mustered millions to chant slogans against Islamic fundamentalism in 2007. Kemalist politicians have called for abolishing the Ministry of Religious Affairs, ending compulsory religious education, and outlawing the Muslim Brotherhood. CHP’s official registered agent in the United States, Yurter Ozcan, has accused CNN of spreading Islamist propaganda. Onder Sav, former vice president, once criticized Muslim pilgrims for “allowing Mohammad to steal their money.” CHP’s official policy states an orientation in favor of NATO and the European Union. The party is popular among religious and ethnic minorities.

Kaftancioglu’s comments are protected under the universal principles of free speech and liberty of conscience. There is no credible basis for a jail sentence according to binding precedent from the Court of Cassation, the European Court of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. However, tyrants like Erdogan rarely abide by international laws.

The prison sentence handed to Kaftancioglu, if upheld, will have an enormous chilling effect on the free speech rights of all dissidents and religious minorities worldwide.

Please sign the petition below, and circulate widely. Thank you.

Take a stand for Canan Kaftancioglu: HERE.

You may contact CHP:USA: HERE.


Kursat Christoff Pekgoz is a Ph.D. student at the University of Southern California. He has advocated for the civil rights of secular dissidents and religious minorities while living in Turkey. He has been banned from Twitter for criticizing Ilhan Omar and for posting, “radical Islam is wrong.”


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