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Turkey28 September 2006

Five journalists charged under controversial article on Turkish identity

Reporters Without Borders today reiterated its condemnation of article 301 of the Turkish criminal code, which makes it a crime to insult state institutions and national identity, after it was used to prosecute two more journalists in a trial that began on 22 September in Batman, a southeastern city with a mainly Kurdish population.

Reporter Mehmet Sah Ayaz of the Batman Ekspress local weekly and his brother Murat Ayaz, the newspaper’s owner, are accused of “insulting the state” in an article last February that criticised the government’s economic policies and condemned Batman’s disadvantaged situation.

The reporter rejected the charge. “All I did was inform the public using my right to criticise,” he said. His lawyer, Sadik Bulbul, insisted that the article contained no insult. The next hearing has been set for 24 November.

Recalling a recent comment by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan suggesting that article 301 could be amended, Reporters Without Borders said: “We remind the Turkish authorities that this article is incompatible with European legislation.”

Article 301 is also being used to bring a new prosecution against Hrant Dink, a journalist of Armenian origin, who already received a six-month suspended sentence for “insulting Turkish identity.” He is to be tried for comments he made in an interview for Reuters about the massacre of Armenians during the First World War.

He told Reuters: “Of course it was a genocide. A people that lived on these lands for 4,000 years disappeared.” Arat Dink, the owner of a newspaper that reprinted the interview, the Turco-Armenian weekly Agos, and the newspaper’s owner, Serkis Seropyan, have also been charged under 301.

The article has been in effect for more than a year and in that time it has been used to bring charges against some 40 journalists, writers, human rights activists and unionists.

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