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Turkey13 May 2002

Attackers force closure of RSF "predators of press freedom" exhibition

Groups of violent protesters have forced closure of the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) exhibition of 38 "predators of press freedom" whose photos were stuck to a giant world map on the floor of the main hall of the Saint-Lazare railway station in Paris to mark International Press Freedom Day last 3 May.

The exhibit, which included a picture of Turkish armed forces chief of staff Gen. Hüseyin Kivrikoglu, was closed on 10 May, after pro-Turkish demonstrators had daubed paint and attacked visitors, following vigorous protests by the Turkish authorities, who threatened to review military relations with France if the exhibition was not dismantled.

"These violent reactions to our exhibition prove what we have been saying all along - that any criticism of the Turkish army elicits a brutal reaction from the authorities," said RSF secretary-general Robert Ménard. "Turkish journalists who criticise it are immediately prosecuted and one of them, Fikret Baskaya, has been in prison for nearly a year for writing an article in this vein.

"Turkey is supposing to be conforming to the democratic standards of the European Union, not exporting its rejection of free expression and criticism to the capitals of EU member-states," he added.

About 30 demonstrators sprayed the map and the pictures of the 38 predators, especially that of Gen. Kivrikoglu, with red paint on 9 May after the Turkish authorities asked the French government to "punish" RSF and threatened to review ties with France. Visitors to the exhibition were shoved and attacked with tear gas by the protestors, who were accompanied by a dozen Turkish journalists. RSF repaired the exhibit and lodged a legal complaint. The next day, protestors again set upon visitors, after which the station authorities decided to dismantle the exhibition.

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 the Turkish government and army’s handling of the Kurdish question.

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