Reporters Without Borders Condemns Turkey for Arbitrary Prosecutions

(RWB)—Several trials of journalists took place in Istanbul on June 4, with some receiving long jail sentences just for doing their job. In a recent statement, Reporters Without Borders said it deplores the fact that Turkish authorities continue to bring arbitrary prosecutions against journalists on fanciful charges that lack any grounds.

Reporters Without Borders deplores the fact that the Turkish authorities continue to bring arbitrary prosecutions against journalists on fanciful charges that lack any grounds.

Irfan Aktan, the publisher of the political fortnightly Express, and Merve Erol, its editor, were found guilty of propaganda on behalf of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which is regarded by the authorities as a terrorist organization. As has happened in many other media cases, they were convicted under article 7-2 of the Anti-Terrorism Law for a story about PKK strategy.

The court changed Aktan’s sentence twice. First he was sentenced to a year in prison. Then, the sentence was increased to 18 months because the alleged propaganda was carried out via the news media. Finally it was reduced to 15 months because of his “good behavior” during the trial. Erol was sentenced to a fine of 16,000 Turkish lira (or 8,000 euros). If the sentence is confirmed, he will still have to serve a minimum jail term of 10 months. Their lawyers said they would appeal.

In a separate trial, Filiz Kocali, the former publisher of the pro-Kurd daily Gunluk; Ramazan Pekgoz, its editor; and Ziya Cicekci, its owner, were all sentenced to seven and a half years in prison under the same article of the Anti-Terrorism Law for reports published on Aug. 8-9, 2009.

Reporters Without Borders condemns these verdicts and regrets that Turkey is using the fight against terrorism as a pretext for attacking press freedom.

The one positive development on June 4 was the acquittal of investigative journalist Nedim Sener on the charge of using confidential documents for his book about newspaper editor Hrant Dink’s murder (“The Dink Murder and the Intelligence Lies”). The court accepted the defense argument that the information was all to be found in the released details of the Dink murder investigation. Reporters Without Borders hopes the acquittal will be upheld if the prosecution and plaintiffs appeal.

The other journalist tried on June 4 was Mehmet Baransu, a reporter for the daily Taraf, who was accused of revealing the details of confidential documents about “national security matters” in two stories published on April 13, 2009. The prosecutor requested a 10-year jail sentence under Article 329-1 of the criminal code. The next hearing is scheduled for Oct. 6.

Reporters Without Borders also condemns the fact that reporter Ismail Saymaz of the daily Radikal is to be prosecuted for the seventh time in connection with his coverage of the investigation into the alleged “Ergenekon” conspiracy. In the latest prosecution, he is accused of “violating the confidentiality of a judicial investigation” for revealing the details of a statement made by one of the defendants in police custody. In the seven prosecutions, he is facing a total possible sentence of 58.5 years in prison.

Turkey is a signatory of the European Convention on Human Rights, Article 10, which enshrines the right to freedom of opinion and expression. Reporters Without Borders urges Turkish authorities to take the necessary measures to ensure that the convention is respected and that their citizens can enjoy a free and pluralist press offering a wide range of views.

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