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Turkey30 January 2007

Despite reassuring statements from government officials, journalists continue to be threatened and prosecuted

Reporters Without Borders today reiterated its call for the repeal of article 301 of the criminal code punishing attacks on the Turkish identity, as the country continued to be abuzz with protests and reactions to the 19 January murder of newspaper editor Hrant Dink, whose funeral on 23 January drew 100,000 mourners.

The editor of the bilingual Turkish-Armenian weekly Agos, Dink had been convicted under article 301 and was facing another prosecution under the same article at the time of his death. Foreign minister Abdullah Gül has said the article is clearly problematic and that changes need to be made. While supporting his comments, Reporters Without Borders believes the article should be completely repealed.

Gül’s comment is not the first. Last November, a European Union commission that is monitoring Turkey’s progress towards joining the EU stressed that: “Article 301 and other provisions of the Turkish penal code that restrict freedom of expression need to be brought in line with the European Convention of Human Rights.” Anticipating the commission’s comments, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan had already appealed to civil society to suggest how the article could be reformed.

“Despite that, nothing concrete has so far been initiated and for this reason, we would like to stress today that promises are not enough,” Reporters Without Borders said today.

A person who has confessed to being one of the instigators of Dink’s murder, Yasin Hayal, uttered threats against Nobel literature laureate Orhan Pamuk when he was brought before an Istanbul court last week. Ogün Samast, the 17-year-old youth who fired the shots that killed Dink, told police when first questioned that he “felt no remorse.” He said Dink had deserved to die for insulting the Turkish people

Nationalism was the driving force behind Dink’s murder and it continues to fuel threats against journalists. Agos contributors requested, and obtained, police protection after getting death threats in an e-mail message signed by the Turkish Brigades for Revenge (TIT). It was a TIT member, Semih Tufan Günalthay, who ordered the 1998 murder of Akin Birdal, Turkey’s leading human rights activist. At least six journalists and writers are currently getting police protection.

A 36-year-old ex-soldier yesterday surrendered to the police after threatening to blow up a ferry in northwestern Turkey in protest against the pro-Armenian slogans chanted at Dink’s funeral. The man, who was carrying a very powerful kind of explosive known as C4, unfurled a Turkish flag over the ferry and announced that: “I did it for Turkey.” The daily newspaper Tercuman said on 26 January that those who were not proud of being Turkish should leave the country.

Although the repeal of article 301 is now being widely discussed, journalists are still being prosecuted under it. They include Umur Hozatli, who is being prosecuted over two articles published last September in which he criticised a police raid on the premises of Özgür Radio and the leftist weekly Atilim and accused the police of “cooperating with certain judges to illegally imprison people regarded as separatists or terrorists.”

Last November, Reporters Without Borders noted that at least 65 people, including many journalists and writers, had been prosecuted under article 301 since its adoption as part of the new criminal code in June 2005.

Six people have so far been charged in connection with Dink’s murder. Samast is charged with shooting Dink. Hayal is accused of being one of the instigators. Ahmet Iskender, Ersin Yolcu, Zeynel Abidin Yavuz and Erhan Tucel, are also charged with inciting the murder. Tucel is a student who supports a national group in Trabzon, Samast’s home town.

Dink was killed by several shots fired at him outside the Istanbul offices of Agos, for which he wrote columns as well as being the editor. A well-known journalist and one who was respected by his colleagues, Dink had been the target of several prosecutions over his views on the massacre of Armenians under the Ottoman empire. In 2005, he received six-month suspended sentence for “humiliating Turkish identity.” He was prosecuted again in September 2006 over an interview he gave to Reuters in which he referred to the massacres in Anatolia during the First World War as “genocide.” He had been facing a possible three-year prison sentence.

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