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Turkey28 January 2008

Local media continue to be hounded under laws that need to be changed

Constant harassment of the media shows that serious efforts are needed by the authorities to bring Turkey’s laws and judicial practices into line with democratic standards, Reporters Without Borders said today. “Laws under which any comment straying from the standard nationalist discourse can be prosecuted must be abolished as they perpetuate an outmoded and archaic concept of Turkey, and are responsible for great injustice,” the organisation said.

Two journalists in southeastern Anatolia are currently facing the possibility of imprisonment. Yasin Yetisgen, the editor of the regional weekly Coban Atesi, has been charged under article 318 of the criminal code and Law 5816 of 1951 (concerning crimes against the republic’s founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk) for publishing a column by Berkant Coskun headlined: “Don’t send me to the army, Mum.”

The column, published in the 8 November issue, resulted in copies of the issue being seized the next day. Yetisgen is due to appear before a criminal court in Gaziantep on 9 May.

Haci Bogatekin, the owner of the newspaper Gerger Firat, was arrested on 8 January on the orders Sadullah Ovacikli, the prosecutor of the sub-district of Gerger in the southeastern province of Adiyaman, because of a 4 January editorial entitled “Feto and Apo.” He is accused of “propaganda” and “praise” of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which carry maximum penalties of three and seven and half years in prison, respectively.

“Feto” is the nickname of Fethullah Gülen, an influential Muslim community leader who now lives in the United States. “Apo” is the nickname of PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan, who is serving a life sentence in Imrali prison in northwest Turkey.

Ovacikli shouted at Bogatekin: “How dare you use the name ‘Feto’ to refer to our master Fethullah Gülen, someone who is loved by millions of people?” The prosecutor added: “Either you apologise in your next issue or thing will go badly for you.” Bogatekin refused to give a statement to Ovacikli and used his right to remain silent. He subsequently explained why he wrote the article to the Gerger court.

In his view, radical Islam is the biggest danger facing Turkey. At the same time, the forces of religious fundamentalism and Kurdish terrorism are clashing and “this battle is spreading, especially in the Kurdish regions of Turkey, and abroad.” He says the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) won last July’s elections thanks to Gülen, and their plan is to steer “the struggle for the liberation of the Kurds” toward Islamic radicalism.

Accusing the Turkish army, seen as the guardian of secularism, of abandoning the towns to the religious sects in order to pursue the PKK militants in the mountains, he calls for an end to the fighting between the army and PKK.

When the court released Bogatekin, the prosecutor immediately appealed. The case has been transferred to a court in the city of Adiyaman, which must now decide what happens to Bogatekin. The editor has filed a complaint against Ovacikli with the High Council for Judges (HSYK).

Several Kurdish media have meanwhile been targeted by the authorities. The staff of the Kurdish daily Gündem (Agenda) have decided to stop publishing in protect against political and judicial harassment in recent months. They staged a demonstration on 16 December in Galatasaray Square, in the district of Beyoglu in the European part of Istanbul, in protest against “constant pressure against press freedom.” Nonetheless, the police did not allow the staff to distribute the last issue.

According to Gündem, since August 2006, eight Kurdish newspapers have been suspended by the authorities 18 times for periods of up to a month.

Gündem, which was launched in January 2007, has been suspended six times. Güncel (Agenda), launched in March 2007, has been suspended three times. Ülkede Özgür Gündem (The Country’s Free Agenda), launched in March 2004, has been suspended twice. Gerçek Demokrasi and Yedinci Gün have been suspended twice. Haftaya Bakis (Overview of the Week) and Azadiya Welat, the only newspaper published in Kurdish, have been suspended once.

Article 318 of the criminal code has not been modified as part of the reforms carried out since 2002 with a view to rapprochement with the European Union. It provides for jail terms of six months to two years for distributing propaganda or encouraging activities that could divert the population from military service. The sentence is increased by a half for journalists and news media.

Similarly, the government has not touched Law 5816, under which insulting Ataturk is punishable by one to three years in prison. In this case against, the sentence is increased by a half for journalists and news media.

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