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Turkey10 May 2002

RSF urges Turkey to respect press freedom in wake of exhibition protests

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) called today on Turkey to "act decisively to keep the promises it has made to the European Union about human rights and respecting freedom of expression."

The call, in a letter from RSF secretary-general Robert Ménard to Turkish armed forces chief of staff Hüseyin Kivrikoglu, came after strong reaction in Turkey to the featuring of the Gen. Kivrikoglu on the world press freedom map currently displayed by RSF in the main hall of the St Lazare railway station in Paris.

The pictures of 38 heads of state and military or paramilitary leaders deemed by RSF to be responsible for serious attacks on press freedom in their countries have been placed on a huge 200 sq. metre map on the floor of the station hall. The two-week exhibition, opened on International Press Freedom Day on 3 May, also presents the work of photographer Yann Arthus-Bertrand contained in the new album of photographs sold by RSF to raise funds for its activities, that are described in accompanying display panels.

RSF’s announcement of the exhibition invited visitors to "learn to recognise" the "predators of press freedom" designated by RSF, not to come and "trample on" their faces as some Turkish media have said.

The positions RSF takes rarely meet the approval of the countries criticised but are supported by carefully-gathered facts about press freedom violations. The 16 pages that Turkey takes up in RSF’s recent annual report, Press Freedom Throughout the World, published on 3 May, can be read on the RSF website

RSF notes that more than 50 journalists of all opinions appeared before Turkish courts last year because of what they wrote or said. Those who criticised the army were routinely targeted. This year, more journalists have been put on trial.

One of them, Erol Özkoray, editor of the political science and international relations quarterly Idea Politika, faces at least three trials, including one for accusing the army of wanting to slow Turkey’s efforts to join the European Union. This legal harassment has forced the magazine to stop publishing. Journalist Fikret Baskaya has been in jail since 29 June last year after being sentenced to 16 months imprisonment for an article that appeared on 1 June 1999 criticising Turkey’s handling of the Kurdish question.

RSF also notes that the national TV and radio monitoring authority, RTÜK, keeps tight control over the broadcast media. Most of the 60 or so TV stations and 50-odd radio stations suspended by RTÜK last year were not targeted for political reasons but the duration of such closures was especially long in politically-tinged cases. The law provides for up to a year’s suspension for broadcasting Kurdish music or for "questioning the constitutional set-up" and in such cases RTÜK is often pressed to act by the armed forces themselves.

This crude rejection of any criticism is the clear mark of a regime that does not fully respect free expression. The legal reforms undertaken in line with Turkey’s promises to the European Union have not always had the hoped-for results and penalties for media offences remain particularly harsh.

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