Those who lobby for freedom of expression in Turkey bemoaned the state of the country on 3 May, World Press Freedom Day.
Security forces impose their understanding of “national security” on the judiciary, state and government practices and legal interpretations severly limit the freedom of press and expression.
Following local elections on 29 March, tensions hav erisen. Attacks on members of several parties have been a result.
The 40-page Bia Media Monitoring Report for the first quarter of 2009 lists seventy trials of 110 people, 60 of them journalists. They face imprisonment or the paying of compensation.
A total of 295 people, 166 of them journalists, are mentioned in the report which categorises events as “attacks and threats”, “detentions and arrests”, “press freedom and freedom of expression trials”, “corrections and seeking justice”, “European Court of Human Rights”, “reactions to censorship” and Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTÜK) implementations”.
For the last year, access to the video sharing website Youtube has been blocked in Turkey because of content “attacking Atatürk”.
The change in Article 301 makes the investigation and prosecution of a person dependent on the permission of the Ministry of Justice, thus allowing for political inflluence on the judiciary.
In the first three months of 2009, 26 people, 11 of them journalists, were on trial under Article 301, after the Ministry had permitted their prosecution.
In Eskişehir, western Turkey, ten activists were acquitted. Writer Temel Demirer, who lobbies for the abolition of Article 301, is still on trial. The trial against academics Prof. Dr. Baskın Oran and Prof. Dr. İbrahim Kaboğlu was dropped as a “ministerial favour”.
The files of Abdurrahman Dilipak, Mustafa Kemal Çelik, Aytekin Dal, Mehmet Sadık Aksoy, Mehmet Reşat Yiğiz, Nedim Arslan, and Mustafa Seven were sent to the Ministry, while the files of Ahmet Sami Belek and Şahin Bayar were taken to the Constitutional Court.
The other individuals on trial are Hakan Taştan, Turan Topal, Ersen Korkmaz and Necmettin Salaz.
In last year’s first quarter, there were 42 people on trial under Article 301. Some of them have been acquitted, some have been convicted, and some cases were dropped when the Ministry of Justice refused permission.
A total of 16 people have been tried for “spreading propaganda for a terrorist organisation”, 11 of them journalists. The prosecution demanded 45 years imprisonment for Kurdish politician Leyla Zana. Kurdish politician Aysel Tuğluk was sentenced to 1.5 years imprisonment, while Bedri Adanır, responsible editor for the Ülkeye Bakış newspaper was sentenced to 3 years and 2 months imprisonment.
Journalist Veysi Sarısözen and the owner of the Günlük newspaper where he writes, Zeynel Çiçekçi, face a trial for their evaluation of the Kurdish question. Activist Hakan Tahmaz as well as Birgün editors Bülent Yılmaz and İbrahim Çeşmecioğlu are also on trial, for an interview with PKK leaders.
The trials of Gökçer Tahincioğlu, Kemal Göktaş, Ragıp Zarakolu, Cevat Düşün, Leyla Zana, Osman Baydemir and Nejdet Atalay continue. Erkan Çapraz of the Yüksekova News has been acquitted.
A book written by PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan and entitled “Culture and Art Revolution” was confiscated when it was being printed by Aram Publications. The Keşan district governor’s offics (kaymakamlık) has filed a criminal complaint against Üstün Akmen, former president of Turkey’s PEN, alleging an insult. The book “Ape Musa’s Generals”, published by the Berçem Publications owned by İrfan Karaca, has resulted in 1 year and 3 months imprisonment. Hüseyin Gündüz, owner of Do Publications, has been sentenced to a 16,660 TL fine for publishing a book by Sertaç Doğan entitled “Şırnak is Burning 1992”. The conviction was for terrorist propaganda.
The weekly Özgür Yorum newspaper was punished with a one-month ban as a punishment for all the articles written in the 14-20 March 2009 issue. The weekly Politika newspaper was handed a one-month ban for “PKK propaganda” in its 14-20 February 2009 issue. The Analiz newspaper was also stopped from publishing for a month as a punishment for articles written between 28 February anad 6 March 2009, and the weekly Ayrıntı newspaper was also handed a one-month ban for news items and articles published between 24 and 30 January.
"Hatred and hostility"
Of the five people who face sentences under Article 216 (“inciting the public to hatred and hostility”), DTP mayor Hüseyin Kalkan was sentenced to 1.5 years imprisonment.
Writer Nedim Gürsel, whose novel “Daughters of Allah” was published by Doğan Publications, and publisher Erol Karaaslan, previously acquitted for the publication of the “God Delusion” by Richard Dawkins but now on trial again, face imprisonment for “insulting religious values.” The other people on trial under Article 216 are Oktay Candemir, Ercan Öksüz and Hürşit Kaşıkkırmaz.
Of the five people on trial for “alienating the public from military service”, conscientious objector Doğan Özkan has been sentenced to two months imprisonment and a 440 TL fine. Mustafa Karayay has been acquitted, while Ragıp Zarakolu, Cevat Düşün, Yasin Yetişgen and Birgül Özbarış are still on trial.
Murders of journalists still unsolved
The instigators of the murders of journalists Abdi İpekçi, Uğur Mumcu, Ahmet Taner Kışlalı and Hrant Dink which were perpetrated in the last 30 years have still not been found. Despite having received warnings of a murder plan against Dink, only a few gendarmerie and police officers are being tried for “simple crimes”.
Journalists who were targeted by security forces on Labour Day protests in 2007 and 2008 have learned that no officer was punished. Those who suffered injuries or material loss were awarded 1,000 TL compensation.
Alleged links to armed groups
Protests against arrests for alleged links to armed organisations such as the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), the Marxist Leninist Communist Party (MLKP) and Ergenekon are increasing.
The Ankara representative of the Cumhuriyet newspaper, Mustafa Balbay, was arrested for alleged membership in the Ergenekon organsiation on 6 March. Nadiye Gürbüz, broadcasting coordinator of Izmir Democratic Radio, was arrested for alleged “financial relations” with the MLKP. It is still unclear whether the reason for their arrests was their journalistic activities.
Four reporters of the Dicle News Agency (DİHA) are currently in prison, and Abdurrahman Gök has also been sent to prison for spreading terrorist propaganda. Accused of the same offence, Erdal Güler, responsible editor for the Revolutionary Democracy (Devrimci Demokrasi) magazine, has been sentenced to 1.5 years imprisonment.
Threat of 61 years imprisonment
A total of 24 people, 13 of them journalists and 2 caricaturists, face a total of 61 years imprisonment and 1 million 673 thousand 480 TL compensation and legal fines. Journalist Perihan Mağden was sentenced to a 3,480 TL fine for criticising the clip “Don’t make a plan” which makes references to the suspected murderers of Hrant Dink.
University student Berna Özaslan, education trade unionists Hasan Özaydın and Betül Öztürk and Mehmet Emre Battal from the “People’s Houses” were sentenced to eleven months 20 days imprisonment each for shouting the slogan “Lightbulb Tayyip” (referring to PM Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the lightbulb emblem of his party) at two protests. O.B. is being sentenced at a children’s court in Bursa. Şerafettin Gökdeniz, Sercan Bakır and Ekin Can Kınık of the Labour Youth are being sentenced for the slogan “Born in Istanbul, become American, Tayyip Erdoğan, son of murderer Bush”, while Melih Kaşkar, editor of the local Milas Önder newspaper, faces imprisonment for a humorous anecdote.
Use of Kurdish language prosecuted
The ban on Kurdish for media, politicians and prisoners has been intensified. Şah İsmail Özocak, an independent candidate for the “1,000 Hopes” platform in the 2007 general elections has been sentenced to a fine of 3,000 TL for “spreading propaganda in Kurdish”, a language he says he does not speak.
DTP members Murat Polat, Ufuk Sünger, Hüseyin Özdenk, Nurcan Kasun, Zeki Yıldırım and İbrahim Halil Ateş have been sentenced to five months each imprisonment for posters and flyers saying “Bijî Yek Gulan” (Kurdish for “Long live 1 May”).
Increase in ECHR-ordered payments
In previous reports we were able to report that there was a reduction in compensation payements which the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) sentenced Turkey to paying. However, in the first three months of 2009, there has been an increase: The ECHR sentence Turkey to paying a total of 58,122 TL (28,411 Euros) in six cases brought by eight people (2 of them journalists) and the Özgür Radio station. The amount in the same period last year was 36,150 TL (21,000 Euros).
While the ECHR did not find a violation of the freedom of expression in the application of Bülent Falakaoğlu and Fevzi Saygılı from the Yeni Evrensel newspaper, it did so in the cases of İbrahim Güçlü, Sedat İmza, Ayhan Erdoğan, Mehmet Cevher İlhan, Serpil Ocak, Ayfer Çiçek, Nuri Günay and Murat Kaya.
In the first three months of 2009, sentences handed down to Cevat Düşün of the Alternatif and Gelecek newspapers for “terrorist propaganda”, to politician Orhan Miroğlu for “speaking Kurdish during an election campaign” and to Abdurrahman Dilipak, whose case started in a military court but was not concluded after five years, were all taken to the ECHR.
Attacks and threats continue
Compared to the same period last year, attacks on journalists doubled 15 journalists (Fırat Akyol, İbrahim Gündüz, Özden Erkuş, Ediz Alıç, Rengin Gültekin, Kadir Puslu, Meral Özdemir, Mahmut Bozarslan, Mehmet Emek, Diya Yarayan, Gamze Dondurmacı, Doğan Durak, Neşet Öner, Şükrü Öner, Orhan Kaplan) were attacked by various groups when reporting on the pre-election period or on protests. There were seven cases in the same period last year.
Ankara Mayor Melih Gökçek said about two well-known TV journalists/ news presenters, Mehmet Ali Birand and Uğur Dündar, “If Turkey does not become a difficult place for Mehmet Ali Birand and Uğur Dündar after the elections, then shame on me.” He has been taken to court, as well as the threats that a MHP mayor in Mersin made towards Cemal Dolaşmaz. Writer Latife Tekin was abused in Muğla, while former Susurluk Committee President Mehmet Elkatmış, who had given statements to the press, found a note in his office saying “Shut up.”
Some good news…
Armenian-language Nor Radio (Nor Zartonk) started its Internet broadcasts on 17 January. It can be accessed via www.norradyo.com and broadcasts from 8 pm to 1 am.
Writer Murat Coşkun, who had been arrested for the book “Woman, Language of Painé, and Mehmet Ali Varış, editor of the Uzun Yürüyüş (Long March) magazine, have been released. (EÖ/AG)