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Shut Your Mouth or Go to Prison!

Instanbul.

“April Fool!”

Got any tricks up your sleeve for the first of the month to gull or dupe a comrade? Time for a laugh, to invent some fantastic story and convince others that it’s true.

‘The Spaghetti Harvest’ for instance a spoof by the serious BBC programme Panorama which had people believing that pasta grew on trees; the 1999 Wall of Sound hoax that ‘revealed’ Britney Spears was ten years older than she claimed; the National Public Radio’s 1992 announcement that Nixon was to run again for President (“hadn’t done anything wrong, and wouldn’t do it again”).

Don’t get caught yourself!

Here’s one to play on your writer friends –

Tell them that a new law has come out and that:

You will be heavily fined or can go to prison for two years if you say anything nasty about anyone in the government or draw ‘disrespectful’ cartoons of them

You can be fined and go to prison for up to ten years for contradicting the government’s version of history, speaking against national service in the army, or generally being considered contrary to national fundamental interest

Covering issues such as euthanasia or cases of rape or suicide can also land you in jail.

Material deemed ‘obscene’ will also invoke a prison sentence

The sentence will be increased by a third if it is published in the press

That should be enough for them to be wetting their knickers!

But of course, the seasonal joke has a time limit, and you’re not supposed to keep it up for more than the day.

“April Fool’s is past and gone You’re the fool and I am none!” was the formula retort we children were taught to chant at anyone trying to stretch out a jest unduly.

But what if this rather sick April fool’s joke didn’t end that day, but was kept up and went on and on? And to make it even sicker was sanctioned and approved by the government and turned out to be REAL!

Sorry to give the game away in advance but the whole of the above scenario is the situation faced by the journalists of Turkey, all part of the New Penal Code which comes into force on April the First 2005.

Earlier this month 250 Turkish journalists took to the streets of Istanbul in a demonstration demanding changes to this new prospective law, unfurling banners that read “Don’t Let Turkey be Uninformed!” and “No to Censorship!” marching and shouting, “A Free Press Cannot be Silenced!”

At the rally point in front of the Post Office, Turkish Journalists’ Union (TGS) Chairman Ercan Ipek├ži announced:

“Investigations made into journalists will lead them to ‘auto-censor’ – the most dangerous form of censorship. We are trying to warn the government of this danger. We hope our voices will be heard.”

“We call for the law to be amended to abolish prison terms for press offences.”

It all comes into law this April Fool’s Day 2005, but it is NOT a joke.

Watch out America. Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, the deviser of this new penal code is counted a ‘personal friend’ of George W Bush

It can’t happen here?…

MICHAEL DICKINSON is a writer and artist who works as an English teacher in Istanbul, Turkey. He designed the cover art for two CounterPunch books, Serpents in the Garden and Dime’s Worth of Difference, as well as Grand Theft Pentagon, forthcoming from Common Courage Press. He can be contacted through his website of collage pictures at http://CARNIVAL_OF_CHAOS.TRIPOD.COM