Amendments in 2003 to the anti-terrorist law generally eased pressure on journalists. Article 8, punishing "propaganda against the indivisible unity of the nation" was repealed on 30 July and journalists being prosecuted under it were acquitted. Article 7, amended the same day, now says only journalists who incite violence and encourage "terrorist methods" can be prosecuted for "making propaganda in favour of a terrorist organisation."
The scope of article 169 of the criminal code, punishing "complicity with terrorist organisations," was narrowed and defined. Two journalists were released from prison after a clause in it banning "action that helps a terrorist organisation to operate" was repealed. Others jailed for this won the right to have their cases re-examined.
Article 159 of criminal code, the source of many unjustified prosecutions of journalists for "insulting the state and its institutions and threats to the indivisible unity of the Turkish republic," was also amended. The prison term for this offence was halved, from a year to six months, and the decriminalisation in 2002 of criticism not intended to "ridicule" or "insult" state institutions was maintained.
However, a court’s opinion of what "criticism" was remained entirely subjective and thus open to abuse. The trials of many journalists for criticising the government or the army continued in 2003 and others became new legal targets for this offence. Four journalists with a pro-Kurdish daily who criticised government policy during the Iraq crisis were hauled before courts and another accused of "mocking and insulting" the army was arrested. At the end of the year, a provincial journalist was sentenced to a year in prison for insulting parliament.
A new press law, abolishing prison terms for media owners and editors and giving them more right to protect their sources, was being considered, but it also provided for very heavy fines. President Ahmet Necdet Sezer enacted a law on 23 October guaranteeing access to public data, though with many exceptions, including material that was a state secret, concerned the police or the army or was likely to harm the "honour" of a private individual.
The use of the Kurdish language was authorised on 19 June for national privately-owned radio and TV stations. But rules proposed by the National Broadcasting Council (RTÜK) restricting the number of such broadcasts and requiring Turkish sub-titles were rejected by the foreign ministry on 18 December as not in line with European standards.
New information about a journalist killed before 2003
The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) criticised Turkey on 9 May 2003 for failing to properly investigate the 1993 death of Ferhat Tepe, correspondent in the southeastern town of Bitlis for the daily paper Ozgür Gündem. It said police and legal officials had not taken steps to find witnesses and said the circumstances of his death and the fact that he worked for a pro-Kurdish paper tended to prove his father’s claim that he been murdered by the army. But it could say for sure that a government agent had killed him.
It ruled that the European Human Rights Convention had been violated because of the authorities’ failure and awarded his father, Isak Tepe, 14,500 euros for moral wrong and 14,500 euros in costs.
The body of Tepe, who was being actively sought by police, was found on 4 August 1993 in Lake Hazar (southeastern Turkey) and immediately buried. A week earlier his father, who was head of the Democratic Party in Bitlis province, had received an anonymous phone call from a man who said he belonged to the Turkish Revenge Brigade (TIT) and told him that in a reprisal against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), he had kidnapped his son. Tepe, who had several more anonymous calls, said he recognised the voice as that of an army officer he knew.
The authorities did not regard Ferhat Tepe as a journalist but as a member of the PKK and said his death was a result of score-settling inside the party. His father said his son had been tortured and killed after being kidnapped by the secret police or their agents.
Eight journalists imprisoned
Most journalists in prison in Turkey are there for "belonging to an illegal organisation" or for offences allegedly committed as members of them. Journalists that Reporters Without Borders has defended have also been convicted of putting out news and publications the authorities consider a threat to law and order or national unity, but that are well within the bounds of freedom and diversity of news by democratic standards.
Kemal Evcimen, owner and editor of the magazine Özgür Karadeniz, was arrested in Trabzon (northeastern Turkey) on 16 January 1995 and imprisoned in Erzurum, where the local state security court sentenced him on 27 November 1998 to 12 and a half years in prison for "belonging to the Revolutionary Party and Front for the Liberation of the Turkish People" (DHKPC). He was being held at the type F prison at Sincan (Ankara) and was due to be released on 29 May 2004.
Nureddin Sirin, a columnist with the Islamist weekly Selam, was arrested on 6 February 1997 and sentenced in September that year to 17 and a half years in prison for "belonging to the Hezbollah."
He was also convicted of several press offences. The Istanbul no.2 asssizes court found him guilty on 13 October 1998 of writing an article on 15 June 1997 headed: "We must be on the side of the oppressed, even if they are atheists." The conviction was cancelled under an amnesty in December 2000. The court also sentenced him to 10 months in prison for writing an article on 20 May 1997 headed: "Is Turkey a colony of the United States and Israel?" This too was cancelled under the amnesty.
He was given a three-year prison term by the no.2 Istanbul state security court in May 2000 for "incitement to religious hatred" in a 3 October 1999 article called "Satanism or Kemalism." The sentence was confirmed on appeal on 7 October 2002 and he filed a further appeal. He applied in August 2003 to benefit from a law passed the previous month to "reincorporate into society" supporters of armed organisations. He was in prison in Kandira (northwestern Turkey).
Memik Horuz, editor of the far-left magazine Isçi Köylü (Village Labourer), was arrested on 18 June 2001 and charged by the Ankara no.2 state security court with "helping an illegal organisation." He was sentenced to 15 years in prison on 13 June 2002 for "interviewing activists of the TKP/ML TIKKO (the armed wing of Marxist-Leninist Turkish Communist Party) and publishing them in the former magazine Özgür Geleçek. The sentence was upheld by the higher appeals court on 24 January 2003.
Sinan Kara, former owner of the fortnightly general interest magazine Datça Haber and ex-correspondent for the Dogan news agency in the Datça region, was sent to Urla prison in the western city of Izmir on 27 October after the higher appeals court upheld in June a one-year sentence for threatening Mert Ciller, son of former prime minister Tansu Ciller. He was to spend at least 144 days in prison.
He had taken photos of Ciller’s son as he was holidaying in Datça in June 2000 and said a Ciller bodyguard attacked and injured him and damaged his camera. He filed a complaint with police, but witnesses presented by the bodyguard claimed Kara himself was the aggressor and had made threats. Kara, a critic of local politicians, had been jailed from 26 December 2002 to 7 February 2003 for failing to send two copies of the magazine to the sub-prefect as required by the press law.
Four journalists freed
Mustafa Benli, owner and editor of the monthly Hedef, who also writes for the magazines Liseli Arkadas and Alevi Halk Gerçegi, was conditionally released on 17 January 2003 because his health had greatly deteriorated after repeated hunger-strikes. He was jailed in February 1998 and sentenced in November 1999 to 12 and a half years for "belonging to an illegal organisation" (article 168-2 of the criminal code). His lawyer, Hasan Erdogan, appealed on 24 October 2000 to the European Court of Human Rights, which has not yet ruled.
Hasan Özgün, correspondent for the pro-Kurdish daily Yeniden Özgür Gündem in Diyarbakir (southeastern Turkey), was freed on 21 April after more than nine years in prison. But he faced up to 12 more years in jail for insulting state institutions (article 159 of the criminal code) by petitioning legal officials in 1998 for a new trial, denouncing police violence under the state of emergency in southeastern Anatolia and the murder of journalists working for pro-Kurdish newspapers. He was arrested in December 1993 and sentenced by a state security court on 17 January 1996 to 12 and a half years in prison for "belonging to the Kurdistan Workers Party" (PKK). His colleagues were reportedly tortured into implicating him while being interrogated in 1993,.
Mehmet Ali Varis, editor of the monthly Uzun Yürüyüs, was freed on 13 May after 25 days in prison for "separatist propaganda" (article 8 of the anti-terrorist law) in a piece he wrote headed "We have to win." The Istanbul state security court had sentenced him to six months in prison, commuted to a fine equivalent to 616 euros. He did not pay it and was jailed on 17 April in Tekirdag (eastern Thrace) and the magazine was ordered closed for a month. He had already paid a fine in early April for printing an article about nationalism. The magazine is published legally but the authorities consider it a mouthpiece of groups linked to the TKPML (the banned Marxist-Leninist Turkish Communist Party).
Yasar Camyar, owner and editor of the weekly Alinterimiz, was freed on 20 August as a result of the amendment of article 169 of the criminal code punishing those who help terrorist organisations. He had been jailed 25 August 2002 for several press offences. The Istanbul no.3 state security court had given him a sentence of three years and nine months on 20 April 2001 for "helping a terrorist organisation through the media" in a September 2000 article praising the activities of the Turkish Union of Revolutionary Communists (TIKB) in type F prisons.
An article in the same issue calling for freedom for the Kurdish people drew a sentence of a year in prison and a heavy fine for "separatist propaganda" (article 8 of the anti-terrorist law). He was still being prosecuted, notably for incitement to hatred through discrimination and for mocking and insulting state institutions.
14 journalists arrested
Yusuf Abay, an editor for the pro-Kurdish daily Yeniden Ozgür Gündem in the eastern city of Agri, was arrested on 3 January 2003 and held by police for five hours without being formally questioned. On the orders of the local prosecutor, police searched the paper’s offices for "illegal publications" and seized some copies of the paper, as well as books and magazines.
Mahmut Akil, of Kurdish weekly Azadiya Welat, and Gönül Mörkoç, of the pro-Kurdish news agency DIHA, were arrested on 12 February while reporting on a demonstration against a ban on lawyers and relatives visiting Abdullah Öcalan, head of the imprisoned Kurdistan Workers Party (now the Freedom and Democracy Congress of Kurdistan, KADEK). They were freed a few hours later.
Six journalists from the Reuters, CHA and IHA news agencies, the all-news TV station NTV and the daily paper Zaman, were arrested on 1 March by soldiers as they tried to cover the arrival of a convoy carrying Patriot missile-launchers at the air force base in Batman. They were released after an hour.
Portuguese reporters Alfredo Leite (assistant editor of the daily Jornal de Noticias) and Jose Manuel Rosendo (of the radio station RDP) were arrested by plainclothes police on 29 March in southeastern Turkey for entering a Kurdish-populated military zone near the Syrian border. Leite said they had gone to report in a Kurdish village, a soldier had let them go through and there was no sign saying it was an out-of-bounds military area. The journalists were held for a few hours in a military prison in Cizre and then freed, but their press cards were confiscated.
Yiannis Kanelakis, of the privately-owned Greek TV station Mega, and station technician Anestis Moutafis were arrested and held for questioning by the army in Caykara, near the northeastern city of Trabzon, on 7 October while reporting on the Greek Pontiac people living in the Pontos area. Also arrested were Stefanos Taximanidis, president of the Greek Pontiacs Federation, and his assistant, Stathis Taxidis. They were released, but the two journalists were detained until the next day and their film and written material was confiscated. The Greek consulate said the authorities wanted to see if the film contained anything "insulting" to Turkey. Police had also arrested them on 5 October after a local resident told police they were "making Pontiac propaganda."
Erol Ozkoray, former editor of the magazine Idea Politika, was arrested at Istanbul airport on 22 December when he flew in from Paris. He was freed the next day. An arrest warrant for him had been issued on 14 November after he criticised the army in an article in late 2001 asking what purpose it served. The issue of the magazine had been seized and banned by the justice ministry at the request of the army leadership. The magazine stopped appearing in June 2002. Ozkoray was acquitted on 29 December by the no.2 Istanbul assizes court.
18 journalists physically attacked
Ferit Hayva (owner), Umut Tarhan (editor) and Fahrettin Gök and Suat Delen (journalists), of the regional daily Prestij, in the eastern city of Van, were attacked by more than 15 intruders at the paper’s offices on 4 January 2003. Hayva and Gök were hospitalised with head injuries and filed a complaint against the attackers. Tarhan, who said he had received threats, said the incident was a reaction to articles criticising local video-game clubs. Police arrested six suspects on 6 January.
Latif Aydemir, managing editor of the daily Dogru Haber, in the northern city of Zonguldak, was attacked in the street by thugs on 6 February. He said he had received threats the day before, after an article appeared about disco managers in the region. He said he thought one of them, Ilhan Ozkara, and eight other people had carried out the attack. Police arrested several suspects.
Burhan Ekinci, of the DIHA news agency, was attacked by a far-right activist on 6 July in Istanbul while covering a demonstration by the Nationalist Action Party (MHP) against the arrest by US forces of a dozen Turkish soldiers in Suleymaniye, in Iraq. Ekinci was punched in the face and hospitalised and the news agency filed a complaint.
Güray Ervin, cameraman for the TV station Kanal D, was stabbed by a shopkeeper while covering the arrival of police at an Istanbul shopping centre on 10 July to investigate illegal sales of CDs. He had head wounds but was not seriously hurt.
Rujhat Avsar, correspondent in the northwestern city of Bolu for the daily Cumhuriyet and owner of the local daily Bolu Detay, as well as Bolu Detay reporter Eyüp Karakas, Caner Güngör, bureau chief in Bolu for the Ihlas Haber Ajansi (IHA) news agency, and his cameraman, were attacked by managers and employees of the local Coca Cola factory and the gas company Aygaz. The journalists, who had gone to cover a fire at the warehouses of the two firms in the village of Küçükberk, near Bolu, were kicked, punched and hit with iron bars and their equipment was damaged. They were taken to hospital.
Seven journalists were attacked by staff at the public hospital in Kartal, in eastern Istanbul, on 30 August while waiting to go into the emergency department to film a woman who had been stabbed by thieves. The journalists were Ismail Polat (of the daily Milliyet), Ercan Yildiz (Cihan news agency), Ayhan Simsek and Yalçin Bel (the daily Sabah), Aziz Özen (the daily Vatan), Sevgi Özdemir (the daily Aksam) and Cem Kerpiççiler (the daily Hürriyet). Most were kicked and punched by security guards and nurses and were hospitalised elsewhere. The journalists filed a complaint and four hospital staff were arrested on 1 October.
Orhan Yildirim, correspondent for the Islamist daily Zaman, was beaten up by Abdulmenef Karagöz, boss of the football club in the eastern city of Erzurum on 21 November as he tried to take a picture of him being arrested by police for tax evasion as he left a hospital. The journalist, who was hospitalised, filed a complaint.
Harassment and obstruction
Ata Gunduz Kursun, cameraman with the IHA news agency, was roughed up in the western city of Afyon on 5 January 2003 by Cemal Enginyurt, a former MP of the Nationalist Action Party (MHP) for Ordu, while filming a brawl between party members who then demanded he hand over the video-cassette. His camera was damaged.
The National Broadcasting Council (RTÜK) ordered five local radio stations to close for a month on 15 January. They were Aktüel Radyo, in the southeastern city of Diyarbakir, for broadcasts "undermining national independence, indivisible national unity and the reforms and principles of Atatürk," and Kanal 43 (in Kütahya, western Turkey), Radyo Söz (the western city of Bursa), Sevgi FM (Bursa) and Yunus FM (Kahramanmaras, in the southeast) for "inciting society to violence, terror and ethnic discrimination and inciting people to hatred and social, racial, linguistic, religious and regional discrimination."
The same day, RTÜK issued warnings to 18 media outlets: the national Star TV for disrespecting "the national and moral values of the society and the growth of the Turkish family"; local stations Söz TV and TV21 (Diyarbakir) for harming the "rule of law and the spirit of public service"; ETV (Edirne, northwest), Radyo Ekin (Ankara) and Radyo Kent FM (Içel, south) for "hurting people’s feelings by going beyond the bounds of criticism"; Kent TV in Mugla (southwest) for violating the ban on "criticising or humiliating a person on grounds of language, race, colour, gender, political opinion, general beliefs, religious affiliation or similar reasons;"
The radio station Izmir FM (Izmir, west) for "invasion of privacy"; Radyo Ekin (Ankara) for broadcasts "inciting violence and stirring up racism or hatred"; Sanliurfa TV (Sanliurfa, southeast), Zigana TV (Trabzon, northeast), Mersin TV (Mersin, south), Deha TV (Denizli, southwest), ÖRT, Gökkusagi Radyo and Hilal Yildiz Radyo (Izmir) for "breaking advertising guidelines."
Also on 15 January, the trial began of nine radio stations accused by RTÜK of not keeping for a year recordings of all their broadcasts - Davet TV (Gaziantep, southeast), Baskent TV and Radyo Anadolu (Ankara), Anadolu FM (Kayseri, central Turkey), Radyo Ceylan (Adana, south), Can Radyo and Deniz FM (Kayseri) and Melodi FM (Istanbul). The station heads faced between six months and a year in prison and fines of between 625 and 6,250 euros each. Özgür Radyo (Istanbul) was also accused of violating the terms of its licence and its chiefs faced between six months and two years in jail and a fine of between 62 and 6,250 euros.
A Paris court on 29 January dismissed a lawsuit against Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Robert Ménard by former Turkish army chief Gen. Hüseyin Kivrikoglu for using his picture without permission. Kivrikoglu, who was accused by the organisation of attacking press freedom in Turkey, was ordered to pay 2,000 euros in damages as well as costs.
The court said he should have sued for defamation, not for unauthorised use of his picture, an offence that falls outside the French press law. He had sued after his picture appeared along with 37 other world leaders in a campaign against "predators of press freedom."
Cemal Dogan, programme chief of Gün FM and Gün TV, was fined 20,000 euros by the state security court in Diyarbakir on 13 February for broadcasting songs by four Kurdish singers - Ferhat Tunç, Ahmet Kaya, Sivan Perwer and Diyar.
Several journalists from national TV stations Star and TV8, Reuters news agency and Diyarbakir media Olay and Can TV, went with members of the People’s Democratic Party (DEHAP) by bus to the eastern town of Silopi on 16 March to protest against the impending invasion of Iraq and to commemorate the Massacre of Halepçe (northern Iraq), where several thousand people, mostly Kurds, were killed in a chemical weapons attack on 16 March 1988. At the entrance to Silopi, soldiers allowed national and foreign journalists to pass but ordered local journalists to return to Diyarbakir.
The governor of Diyarbakir announced on 17 March that Turkish and foreign journalists wanting to work in six towns and cities in the region - Diyarbakir, Mardin, Batman, Sirnak, Hakkari and Van - or wanting to cross into nearby Iraq would have to get two-month press cards at the Diyarbakir press centre, officially set up by the government to cope with the flood of journalists in the border region.
Muharrem Cengiz, owner of the cultural monthly Kültur, Sanat Yasaminda Tavir, and its editor, Ahu Zeynep Görgün, appeared before the Istanbul state security court on 25 March for printing a poem by Chilean writer Pablo Neruda called "Song for mothers who have lost their sons" and five other items published in September 2002. Cengiz was acquitted, but Görgün was given a jail sentence of three years and nine months, commuted to a 5,500-euro fine for "helping an illegal organisation" in two articles paying homage to political prisoners who had died while on hunger-strike. The court suspended the magazine for a day.
Ali Celik Kasimogullari (owner) and Mehmet Colak (editor), of the daily Yeniden Özgür Gündem, were fined 2,500 euros on 26 March for publishing statements by Osman Öcalan, of the banned Freedom and Democracy Congress of Kurdistan (KADEK). The paper was banned for two days.
The authorities ordered a British BBC TV team to leave the southeastern province of Sirnak, near the Iraqi border, on 31 March after the BBC broadcast film of military installations and convoys in the area.
Güler Yildiz, former editor of the weekly Cinar in the southern city of Mersin, was sentenced on 1 April to 10 months in prison commuted to a 340-euro fine for "mocking and insulting" the armed forces by printing extracts from a book ("Mehmet’s Book") by former Reporters Without Borders correspondent Nadire Mater. It contained accounts by soldiers who had done their military service in southeastern Anatolia and been involved in the battle between the Turkish army and supporters of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Yildiz had been convicted in 2001 and 2002 for the same reason. The court did not take into account the 2002 amendment to article 159 of the criminal code which decriminalised "criticism."
Two trials began on 14 April of Fikret Baskaya, former columnist on the pro-Kurdish daily Özgür Gündem, for two collections of articles first published more than a decade ago. The first case involved "separatist propaganda" after the appearance of the third edition of a book called "Failure of a paradigm, introduction to criticism of the official ideology." The Ankara state security court prosecutor called for a conviction under the anti-terrorist law for passages criticising government policy towards the Kurds. Baskaya was acquitted on 26 August.
When the book first came out in 1991, Baskaya was jailed for 20 months and fined. The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) later condemned the conviction as a violation of freedom of expression.
The second trial concerned the third edition in January 2003 of a book called "Writings against the grain," consisting of articles that appeared in 1993 in the dailies Özgür Gündem and Evrensel. Baskaya was accused of "mocking and insulting" the state and the armed forces" (article 159 of the criminal code) in two of the articles - "About secularism, Atatürkism and religious conservatism" and "Nothing new on inflation." Baskaya could be jailed for up to six years and fined 1,870 euros.
Murat Gezer (Cihan news agency), Abdurrahman Akin (Reuters) and Seyhmus Cakan (Dogan news agency) were injured on the head and hands during a demonstration on 3 May in the eastern town of Bingöl, where an earthquake had killed more than 150 people two days earlier. The journalists were attacked by police and hit by stones thrown by people who has come to protest to the town governor about inadequate relief assistance.
An Ankara court suspended indefinitely on 21 May the Internet website Ekmekveadalet.com, the online version of the far-left weekly Ekmek ve Adalet, for "mocking and insulting" the armed forces. The paper, which is very critical of the government and the army, is regularly accused by legal officials of being the mouthpiece of the banned Revolutionary Party and Front for the Liberation of the Turkish People (DHKPC).
The trial that begun in 2002 of Erol Ozkoray, former editor of the magazine Idea Politika, and Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Robert Menard for "insulting the army and the state" continued on 28 May before an Istanbul court. Ménard had called the Turkish authorities "schizophrenic" in an interview in the December 2001-February 2002 issue of the magazine. The two journalists each faced six years in prison.
Ozkoray was also being prosecuted for three press offences involving "insulting the army and the state." The next hearing in these trials was set for 11 June 2004. Ozkoray had published in his magazine and on its website in 2001 articles about the Kurdish question and the role of the army in Turkey’s politics. The magazine has not come out since June 2002.
In 2003, Ozkoray filed eight libel suits and one for giving false evidence after being accused in the Turkish media of treason and corruption for giving evidence in support of Reporters Without Borders in its legal battle with former army chief Gen. Hüseyin Kivrikoglu.
A third warrant was issued on 3 June for the arrest of Dogan Özgüden, editor of the news website Info-Türk, who lives in Belgium. A trial had begun in 2002 of him, freelance journalist Emin Karaca and Mehmet Emin Sert, publisher of the monthly Türkiye’de ve Avrupa’da Yazin, with the prosecution calling for six years imprisonment for articles in the April 2002 issue marking the 30th anniversary of the execution of three left-wing youth leaders. Sert also faces a heavy fine.
RTÜK called on 27 June for the national station Flash TV to explain why it had broadcast on 15 and 26 May a programme allegedly "unhealthy for the physical, psychological and moral development" of children and teenagers outside the recommended hours for such programmes.
RTÜK also gave a warning to the national TV station Kanal D, which belongs to the Dogan group, aboutnews programmes on 29 March,1 April and 10 May which it said "went beyond the bounds of criticism and people were offended." The national TV station TGRT was warned at the same time about violating the rule of presumption of innocence during its 10 May news programme. RTÜK also cancelled the operating licences of the TV stations History Channel and Number One for allegedly not complying with formalities about cable TV operations.
The Diyarbakir station Gün TV was suspended for a month by RTÜK on 30 June for broadcasting reports about the conditions of detention of PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan, who has been jailed since 1999 on the island prison of Imrali. RTÜK also said the station’s news bulletins between 5 January and 23 February were identical to those on the foreign-based Kurdish TV station Medya TV, which is banned in Turkey and considered a mouthpiece of KADEK, the successor party to the PKK.
On 3 July, RTÜK banned for a month five TV stations - Star TV, Kanal 6, Star Max, Star 6 Heyecan TV and Footgol Star 8 TV - belonging to the family of politician and media magnate Cem Uzan for defending the family’s private interests. They had broadcast strong criticism by Uzan of prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on 13 and 14 June.
In a speech in Bursa, Uzan had criticised the energy ministry’s cancellation of a contract with two electricity supply firms, Cukurova and Kepez, owned by his family, and attacked Erdogan and his moderate Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP). Uzan heads the new Young Party, which opinion polls show could threaten the AKP.
Erdogan sued Uzan on 25 June for 540,000 euros in damages for slander. RTÜK accused the Uzan TV stations of airing programmes "defending the unjust interests of their boss, shareholders and family members" and asked for explanations for this from Uzan TV stations Flash TV, Star 4, Star 5, Star 7 and New TV, and also from the privately-owned TV station Habertürk, which it accused of the same thing and also of insults and incitement to unfair competition.
The newspaper Özgür Siirt, in Siirt (southeast), was fined 32,250 euros on 10 July for refusing to print a retraction of a 17 May report that said relief aid for earthquake victims in Bingöl was being held up by local officials. The city governor had asked for the retraction and began legal action against the paper’s owner and editor, Mehmet Nas.
Editor Mehmet Colak and commentators Hakan Duman, Celal Besiktepe, Kemal Aktan and Mustafa Kahya, all of the pro-Kurdish daily Yeniden Özgür Gündem, were accused by a Beyoglu (Istanbul) court on 17 September of "mocking and insulting the state" and faced three years in prison under article 159 of the criminal code.
Besiktepe and Colak were prosecuted for a 13 March editorial called "The gods of the war," criticising Turkey’s policy in the Iraq conflict and saying that the "fresh blood" of Turks, Kurds, Arabs, Palestinians and Iraqis was being sought "to save the bankrupt Turkish economy."
Kahya was charged for a 28 March editorial saying Turkey had always chosen "the side of the aggressor against the victim." Colak and Duman were also charged in connection with another one (28 February) about Iraq, saying it was not the Kurdish Liberation Movement that would be fighting for money in the cause of US profits in the Middle East, but Turkish soldiers. Aktan was acquitted in connection with an editorial the same day saying the government was heading for a war that would end in a massacre of the Kurdish people.
The next hearing of the trial was set for 19 February 2004. Since Yeniden Özgür Gündem was founded in September 2002, it has been the target of 82 prosecutions.
An Ankara court adjourned on 24 October a libel suit by prime minister Erdogan against the owner of the daily Islamist Milli Gazete, Haz?m Oktay Baser, and its editor, Selami Caliskan, for 18,200 euros in damages for "insulting" him in an 18 August article calling him "an opportunist, not a democrat" and quoting criticism of him by Suat Pamukçu, secretary-general of the Islamist Happiness Party (Saadet Partisi).
A group of 312 army generals - including the heads of the army (Aytaç Yalman), air force (Ibrahim Firtina), navy (Ozden Ornek) and police (Sener Eruygur) - sued the Islamist daily Vakit and its columnist Asim Yenihaber for 367,000 euros in libel damages in an Ankara court on 31 October over a 25 August article by Yenihaber headed "The country where a soldier unfit to be a sergeant becomes a general." They said it stirred up "hatred and distrust" towards generals and "degraded" the armed forces in public eyes.
They said the article was a sign of the writer’s "mental and psychological problems" and that "nobody has the right to insult and humiliate generals." Yenihaber had attacked senior officers as incompetent and said: "Nothing shows that they are generals except for the stars on their shoulders. They have no place either in the army or the country." The financial survival of Vakit, which often harshly criticises the military, would be at risk if such high damages were awarded, the paper said.
Istanbul’s no.1 state security court banned on 18 November publication of any material likely to interfere with the preliminary investigation into suicide bombing attacks on two synagogues in Istanbul three days earlier that killed at least 25 people.
The court extended the ban on 20 November to investigations into two bomb attacks on British interests in Istanbul that day, which killed at least 27 people and injured about 500. It said media coverage would hinder the search for evidence at the site of the attacks and harm the investigation. Only official statements about it could be printed and no statements by eye-witnesses or the injured. RTÜK president Fatih Karaca warned the media about their coverage and asked them not to show pictures of violence and blood, saying it was the their responsibility "not to play into the hands of terrorists by frightening and terrorising people."
Istanbul police chief Celalettin Cerrah blamed the "irresponsibility of the media" for the deaths in the 20 November bomb blasts when he spoke at the funeral on 22 November of two policemen killed in one of them. He said the media had published sensitive information about the suicide-bombers who carried out the 15 November attacks and said police had been on the verge of arresting them when the new bombings occurred. Prime minister Erdogan also called at the funeral for the media to take a more responsible attitude.
At the urging of the national press council, the editors of 13 newspapers decided to set their own rules and standards to be applied during a period of fighting terrorism. Police chief Cerrah said on 24 November that his accusations against the media had been made at "a moment of grief."
The pro-Kurdish daily Yeniden Özgür Gündem was suspended for 12 days on 21 November and two of its journalists were fined more than 9,000 euros for reporting the statements of the leaders of the banned KADEK party in violation of article 6 of the anti-terrorist law forbidding publication of "statements by armed terrorist organisations."
The Istanbul no.5 state security court fined the paper’s owner, Ali Celik Kasimogullari, and editor Mehmet Colak 1,000 euros each for articles on 19 May reporting what KADEK presidential council member Murat Karayilan had said.
They were also fined a total of 2,960 euros by the Istanbul no.2 state security court for quoting another member of the KADEK council, Osman Öcalan, on 25 May and for an report about the death in Italy of an Italian activist, Dino Frisullo, who had been tried and jailed in Turkey for supporting the PKK during a demonstration in Diyarbakir. The court said the paper had "undermined national security" and suspended it for six days.
The journalists were also fined a total of 2,150 euros and the paper suspended for three days for an article on 6 August headed "People’s guerrilla propaganda statement about the coal mines" and another the same day about the plight of KADEK leaders. Colak and Kasimogullari were fined a total of 1,950 euros and the paper closed for three days because of an article headed "KADEK’s demands."
Ruhat Mengi, of the daily Vatan, appeared before an Istanbul court on 11 December accused of "insulting" two legal experts helping to revise the criminal code in editorials on 15 and 16 May criticising the code’s articles providing for reduced sentences for rape and crimes of honour. The experts asked for 68,000 euros in damages.
Sabri Ejder Öziç, former head of the Radyo Dünya in the southern city of Adana, was sentenced to a year in prison on 30 December by an Adan court for "insulting and mocking" parliament in a broadcast on 24 February. Özic, a supporter of the pro-Kurdish Ozgur Toplum party, had criticised the government for proposing to allow US troops on Turkish soil and to send Turkish troops to Iraq. Parliament had been due to vote on the issue that day.
The article said the world war on terrorism was "illegal" and was itself a terrorist act and that if the Turkish parliament approved sending troops to take part in a terrorist war, it too was terrorist. The prosecutor said calling parliament "terrorist" went beyond criticism and was an insult to a state institution, punishable under article 159 of the criminal code by at least six months in prison. Özic, who was not jailed, appealed against his sentence.