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Turkey19 June 2008

Court acquits owner and editor of Armenian weekly

Reporters Without Borders welcomes yesterday’s acquittal of Serkis Seropyan, the main owner of the Armenian-Turkish newspaper Agos, and his editor, Aris Nalci, on charges of “trying to obstruct a fair trial” by publishing an editorial that criticised the one-year suspended prison sentences imposed on three of its journalists.

The three Agos journalists included Arat Dink, the son of the Agos editor Hrant Dink, who was murdered in January 2007. They were convicted for reprinting an interview Hrant Dink gave to Reuters in 2006 in which he mentioned the Armenian genocide.

“We hail the acquittal of Seropyan and Nalci but the prosecution should not have been brought in the first place as it shows that Dink’s murder has not sufficed to deter those who still think it is a crime just to mention an historical event, the Armenian genocide,” Reporters Without Borders said. “Prosecuting journalists in order to put pressure on society is a practice that must stop.”

They were acquitted by a criminal court in the Istanbul district of Sisli at the request of a new prosecutor, Mucahit Ercan, who yesterday said in court that the editorial’s content “remained within the scope of free expression.” The previous prosecutor, Isa Dalgiç, had called on 26 May for them to be sentenced to three years in prison under article 299 of the criminal code.

The offending editorial was published in Agos on 9 November 2007. Seropyan and Nalci were summoned by the public prosecutor’s office on 16 January of this year and ordered to pay a fine of 23,500 euros. When they refused to pay, the public prosecutor’s office decided to take them to court.

As he left the Sisli court building yesterday, Agos lawyer Kemal Aytaç condemned the way journalists continue to be harassed. “This trial should never have taken place,” he said. “Their acquittal proves it. Even when you are cleared by the courts, the fact that you have been prosecuted has an effect. And some, like Hrant Dink, pay for it with their lives.”

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