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Turkey7 December 2005

Five columnists face up to 10 years in prison

Reporters Without Borders today criticised Turkey’s prosecution of five journalists, who face prison sentences of between 6 months and 10 years, as “further diminishing” the country’s freedom of expression at a time when it is hoping to join the European Union.

The prosecutor-general announced on 3 December he would prosecute the five - well-known columnists Ismet Berkan, Murat Belge, Erol Katircioglu and Haluk Sahin of the centre-left paper Radikal and Hasan Cemal of the centrist daily Milliyet - for criticising the Istanbul administrative court’s ban on a university conference in September about the Armenian question.

The threatened punishment was “totally out of proportion” to the offence, the worldwide press freedom organisation said. “Turkey refuses to allow its journalists to criticise its own institutions. We note that the European Court of Human Rights only yesterday condemned Turkey for jailing a member of the Party for Democracy and Peace (DBT) “.

“The prosecution of these prominent liberal commentators shows that legal action against journalists has become harsher since the new criminal code came into force on 1 June,” it said.

The journalists, who all work for the large media group Dogan, are due to appear before an Istanbul magistrates’ court on 7 February next year to answer a complaint by the Union of Jurists, a Turkish pro-nationalist association of lawyers.

Four of them are being prosecuted under article 301 of the code (also being used in the current trial of the well-known writer Orhan Pamuk) about insulting Turkish identity or “Turkishness” or state institutions (paragraph 1). The article’s paragraph 2 penalises publicly insulting the government, judiciary, army or police. Previously the government had simply used article 125 (“insults by the press”) against journalists.

Turkish-Armenian writer Hrant Dink was given a suspended six-month prison sentence on 7 October for “insulting Turkish identity”. Writer and journalist Emin Karaca was sentenced on 13 September to 5 months in prison and fined €560 under article 301 (2).

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