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Turkey9 June 2006

Court acquits fifth journalist who criticised conference ban

Reporters Without Borders today hailed an Istanbul court’s decision yesterday to acquit Murat Belge, a columnist with the daily Radikal, of criticising a judicial ban on a conference about the Armenian genocide, for which he had faced a sentence of up to 10 years in prison.

“Belge’s acquittal is good news for press freedom in Turkey,” the organisation said. “The judges recognised that his criticism of the judicial authorities was not a crime. As a result, he has avoided an extremely severe sentence that would have been a disgrace.”

The court dismissed all the charges against Belge, who criticised the ban in two articles in September 2005. Similar charges against four other journalists were dropped in April.

11 April 2006

Court drops charges against four journalists but a fifth still faces trial

Reporters Without Borders hailed today’s decision by an Istanbul court to drop charges against four journalists - Ismet Berkan, Erol Katircioglu and Haluk Sahin of the daily Radikal and Hasan Cemal of Milliyet - for criticising a judicial order. But it deplored the court’s decision to proceed with the trial of Radikal columnist Murat Belge, who faces a sentence of between six months and 10 years in prison on the same charge.

“We are relieved to learn that the charges have been dismissed against four journalists who faced the possibility of imprisonment for what they had written,” the press freedom organisation said. “We issued a statement on 8 February calling for the withdrawal of the charges, and we reiterate this appeal now on behalf of the Radical columnist, who could still get a long jail term.”

Reporters Without Borders added: “We hope the authorities will in future resist these growing prosecutions against journalists and freedom of expression activists.”

8 February 2006

Call for charges against five columnists to be dropped

Reporters Without Borders has called for charges to be dropped against five columnists working for Radikal and Milliyet, two of Turkey’s most respected dailies.

The case against Ismet Berkan, Murat Belge, Erol Katircioglu, Haluk Sahin and Hasan Cemal opened on 7 February and they face up to ten years in prison for daring to criticise a judicial decision and expressing opinions on the Armenian question - a taboo subject in Turkey.

They have been accused of insulting the judicial authorities under Article 301 of the criminal code and of interfering with the judicial process under Article 288.

Reporters Without Borders attended the opening of the trial, which turned into a near fiasco after one of the plaintiffs, Hanefi Aktas, a nationalist lawyer and member of a jurists’ organisation, threatened the court and accused it of partiality and of backing European deputies, strongly opposed to the trial.

Security forces had to intervene to remove him, after which order was restored in court. The hearing lasted more than four hours because of these incidents and a raft of defence calls for the case to be withdrawn.

“This trial is a disgrace for press freedom and unworthy of a democratic state,” said Reporters Without Borders. “Turkey cannot sentence journalists to prison terms because they comment in their columns on judicial decisions.”

“The charges are inadmissible and we urge the judicial authorities to withdraw this case against these five journalists on a technicality. We express our support for these columnists and we salute their courage and back their call for an acquittal”, said the organisation.

Members of the ultra-nationalist jurists’ organisation which sued the journalists did not meet the deadline since they lodged their complaints more than two months after the articles appeared. Under this rule, only the case against journalist Murat Belge could be allowed to proceed.

Moreover, under Article 301, neither an individual nor a group can become civil parties because this is the role of the state and its institutions. The jurists’ organisation cannot therefore sue the five columnists on this basis.

The complaints under Article 288 are also inadmissible because the journalists only criticised a judicial decision made in September, therefore it is incorrect to accuse them of influencing the judicial process since judgement had already been given.

The next hearing was fixed, amidst much confusion, for 11 April.

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