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Turkey7 April 2005

Over-sensitive premier urged to stop legal hounding of opposition journalists

Reporters Without Borders protested against Turkish premier Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s legal hounding of opposition journalists after he won yet another defamation case against a journalist who dared to satirize him.

The latest case, on 5 April 2005 against Fikret Otyam, 79, who was ordered to pay damages of 2,835 euros, was at least the fourth the prime minister has brought against a journalist since December 2004.

(JPEG) "Recep Tayyip Erdogan should respect freedom of expression and of the press, fundamental principles of European judicial standards. Turkish journalists, like their European colleagues, should be allowed make satirical comments about the authorities without fear of being systematically dragged before the courts", the worldwide press freedom organisation said.

"Otherwise they will be in danger of operating self-censorship which is very damaging to press freedom", it added.

Fikret Otyam, who is also a renowned painter, recently wrote a sarcastic article in the weekly Aydinlik that poked fun at the prime minister’s stance on adultery. The offending sentence read: "Recep has successfully lowered the debate (on Turkish entry to the European Union) to the level of the crotch".

The prime minister, apparently without much sense of humour, took him before the 13th chamber of the Ankara correctional court, which found in his favour on 5 April.

Erdogan also launched several cases at the end of March against a satirical weekly, Penguen, for a cartoon it carried on 24 February 2005 captioned, "The world of Tayyip", which showed him in the form of various animals. He claimed not less than 24,000 euros in damages from Penguen.

He had previously brought a case against two cartoonists. One of them, Musa Kart, was sentenced by an Ankara court on 21 December 2004, to a fine of around 3,000 euros for drawing the prime minister with a cat’s head, in the leftist republican daily Cumhuriyet.

The Turkish prime minister also laid a defamation complaint against the cartoonist Sefer Selvi, who drew prime ministerial adviser Cüneyt Zapsu perched on Erdogan’s back, for the leftist daily Günlük Evrensel. The case is ongoing.

The Turkish press has protested vehemently against the prime minister’s decision to take such legal action against journalists, despite saying he would increase freedoms in Turkey in light of its application for membership of the European Union.

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