By UGUR TOK
Oliver Stone’s Oscar winning movie – Midnight Express (1978) based on Bill Hayes’ 1977 non-fiction book, which showed the images of prison conditions and brutality in jails of Turkey in 1970s was hard-hitting and humiliating for Turkish public and authorities in the last three decades. Having put human right abuses on the stage, the movie imaged Turkey and Turkish people as backward and brutal. Branded with a bad image, Turkey has felt the negative impacts of the movie in tourism and international arena for many years.
Turkey has exerted considerable efforts to repair the damage caused by Midnight Express since almost three decades. In every occasion, Turkish officials reacted to the negative comments that the movie raised accused the movie of exacerbating racist view towards their country. Turkey has also taken some concrete steps to correct its human rights image in the consecutive years. Thanks to the Turkey’s EU membership bid, human rights records of Turkey expeditiously changed in a positive way in the last decade. In this regard, Bill Hayes, the writer of the book “Midnight Express” has extended his apology to Turkey in 2004 due to the Turkish image that he substantiated in his book and the movie.
When intending to claim Turkey is in a right way with regard to human rights, the progress in human rights has been sharply stopped in recent years. Through increasingly authoritarian tendencies of Erdogan government, promising improvements in human rights record have dramatically come to an end. Indeed, investigations conducted by domestic and international rights groups indicate that Turkey has gone further away on the abuse of human rights.
In other words, Turkish authorities, unfortunately, have been recasting the Midnight Express in recent years in its territories with its real public figures. It is possible to expect that the new movie depicts horrendous conditions (torture, rape, ill treatment, despotism) will be more factual than the previous one which was highly criticized due to its surreal scenario and foreign cast. This time, Turkish authorities will not able to assert the contrary of the accusations made against themselves in the international community owing to its unprecedented human rights violations also published in the credible reports.
The recent human rights reports including the one released by UN Special Rapporteurs on Turkey present a trailer of abuses and persecutions held in the detentions and arrests. In those reports, there is a wide consensus on the fact that the human rights record of Turkey is dramatically getting worse in recent years. Each credible report published by prominent non governmental organizations addresses the sharp deterioration of human rights in Turkey.
It is crystal clear fact that failed coup attempt on the 15th of July 2016 which still awaits clear answers, has rapidly screwed up the fragile human rights situation in Turkey. Although the Turkish government endeavors to legitimize its violations of human rights with national security motivations such as “unprecedented terror threats against the existence of the state and nation”, the reports of NGOs and other countries bring very serious infringement of human rights led by AKP government into the consideration of international community. Human-rights groups and activist are outraged about the alarming trend.
Once Turkey was flattered as being a source of inspiration for Arab world and star of Middle East, in the last term, it is described with negative adjectives such as illiberal, authoritarian, antidemocratic. The recent human rights report that Washington-based think tank Freedom House lately published classified Turkey as “not free” country for the first time since the report series began in 1999.
Turkish government is quite uncomfortable with human rights reports which highlights the severe violations and ill treatments in Turkey. The reports displeasing the Turkish authorities would probably not be the last one which starkly addresses the grave violation of human rights performed by the government. While Turkey is turning into the world’s leading jailer for journalists and academics, the unprecedented crackdown and persecutions lead the country into a horror movie. Someone should remind Turkish authorities who still claim to be democratic country that the ballot box in itself is not enough to sustain a democracy without good human right record, rule of law and all sorts of freedom. In a nutshell, highly increased authoritarian tendencies of the government, the erosion of media freedom and freedom of speech, as well as mass violation of human rights in Turkey will undoubtedly inspire to future Oscar-winning movies.