The country’s new criminal code, designed to help Turkey gain membership of the European Union, came into force on 1 June 2005 and imposes new restrictions on journalists. The vagueness of some parts of it allows judges to unfairly imprison them.
Journalists are still at the mercy of arbitrary court decisions that continue to send them to prison and fine them heavily. Sinan Kara, of the fortnightly Datça Haber, was jailed for nine months and fined €350 for “insulting in the media” (article 125 of the new criminal code) the sub-prefect of Datça. Burak Bekdil, a columnist with the English-language Turkish Daily News, was given a suspended 20-month prison sentence for “insulting state institutions.”
Prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan won a libel suit against Fikret Otyam, of the weekly Aydinlik and a well-known painter, who was ordered to pay him €2,835 damages. It was at least the fourth time since December 2004 that Erdogan had sued a journalist.
Some parts of the new criminal code, far from bringing Turkish laws on freedom of expression into line with Europe’s, could encourage new prosecutions of journalists and increase self-censorship habits that undermine press freedom. Article 305 punishes with between three and 10 years imprisonment actions considered harmful to “basic national interests,” including claims concerning the “Armenian genocide” and calls for withdrawal of Turkish troops from Cyprus. Article 301 provides for between six months and three years in jail for “belittling Turkishness, the republic and state bodies and institutions.”
Sandra Bakutz, a reporter for Austrian radio station Orange 94.0 and the German weekly Junge Welt, spent six weeks in prison before being acquitted of “belonging to an illegal organisation,” for which she risked between 10 and 15 years in jail.
The country’s Kurdish and Armenian minorities remain under great pressure. Editor Hrant Dink, of the bilingual Turkish-Armenian weekly Agos, was given a six-month suspended prison sentence for “insulting Turkishness” (article 301-1 of the criminal code). Five journalists from pro-Kurdish media outlets were arrested in 2005 and four of them arbitrarily held for questioning in Gülec (eastern Anatolia), where they had gone to report on the release of a Turkish soldier by activists of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).