Freedom Of Speech, Until…

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You never know who is reading you. Something I wrote about the Catskills a couple of years back attracted a response from a Turkish woman. She wrote to me that she knew the area well: she had attended (of all places) the State University of New York at Binghamton!

We had a laugh. She had also left the US recently and was living once again in Istanbul, but remained interested in south-central New York state, where Binghamton is located, in particular. Occasionally, she’d ask me about the snow and frigid temperatures – she didn’t miss either in Istanbul! she always said – and inquired harmlessly about other aspects of life thereabouts. She also knew I-84 pretty well, and we’d joked about that “endless” and “dull” highway.

Free Stock Photo: Flag of Turkey.
Free Stock Photo: Flag of Turkey.

We ended up following each other on Twitter. She tweeted mostly in Turkish, which left me mostly at a loss. But she did offer an occasional observation in English and/or a link to something in English; usually it was innocuous and apolitical. Often what she shared was humorous.

A few times, though, I saw she had gently poked fun at Turkey’s current president, or linked to sites that did. While critical, what I saw was all relatively tame. You see far more vicious stuff on social media routinely hurled at President Obama, French President François Hollande, the new British Prime Minister, Theresa May, and either of the major party candidates aiming to succeed Obama as US president this autumn – Trump and Clinton.

However, we also know that last week that same Turkish president had been the target of a military coup attempting to overthrow him. Government-owned TV stations and others were seized by the military units involved. Tanks rolled into the streets of her Istanbul and blocked the bridges connecting Europe to Asia. Fighters attacked ground targets. Within hours, at that president’s request thousands of civilians took to the streets across the country to defend the government. Police with civilian help overwhelmed outnumbered coup soldiers. The clashes were sometimes horrific. Hundreds were killed.

The overthrow attempt was put down. During reporting on it when the outcome was still in doubt, I had re-tweeted something some American or British journalist wrote. Out of nowhere, that Turkish woman appeared (I had not heard from her in some time, nor seen her tweet in a while) and tweeted to both of us in English. She wrote only that the news there was very confusing.

I heard nothing more. Yesterday evening, I happened to notice that she has apparently deleted her Twitter account. Suddenly I also recalled her few scattered past tweets about Turkey’s president.

Having survived the overthrow effort, his government is now evidently carrying out far-reaching “justice” aimed well-beyond the immediate military units that had been involved, including mass arrests of civilians. Did she delete her account out of fear? Given the current climate, that would hardly be surprising.

We take our ability to speak our minds reasonably on social media for granted, until…

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