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Turkey13 November 2008

Journalists expected to remain silent on subject of torture

The trial of Baris Pehlivan, producer of the programme “I am a witness” on the 24-hour TV news channel CNN Türk, and Nurettin Yilmaz, a former Kurdish politician and parliamentarian and author of “Witness of the recent past,” will begin in the Istanbul district of Bakirkoy on 18 November. Charged with “inciting hatred and hostility” under articles 216 and 218 of the criminal code, they could get four and a half years in prison.

“There is still strong opposition to public discussion of cases of torture,” Reporters Without Borders said. “There is no justification for such reticence, regardless of the reasons. Torture is disgraceful and barbaric, and is condemned by international law. Torturers should not be protected by a law of silence. It is the victims - and those who help to make the public aware of torture - who should be protected. Instead, they are prosecuted.”

The press freedom organisation added : “We are seeing an inversion of normal standards in this case, which comes just a few days after a European Union progress report found that there has been an increase in torture cases in Turkey and pointed out that Turkey still has not ratified the optional protocol to the United Nations Convention Against Torture, signed in 2005.”

Pehlivan invited Yilmaz on to his programme on 24 July 2007 to talk about his book, in which he described how he was tortured in Diyarbakir prison following his arrest during the September 1980 military coup. Eight months after the programme went out, state prosecutor Ali Çakir decided on his own initiative to bring charges against them before a criminal court in Bakirkoy, a district on Istanbul’s European side.

Çakir alleges that Yilmaz, by talking about the torture he underwent from 1980 to 1984, and Pehlivan, by “serving as an intermediary for the transmission of these comments to public opinion” set “one part of society against another in a dangerous manner” and thereby constituted “a threat to public order.”

It is not an isolated case. Reporter Alper Turgut of the daily Cumhuriyet was convicted last month of “trying to pervert the course of justice” and fined 20,000 Turkish lira (10,000 euros) for questioning the acquittal of three Istanbul policemen on charges of torturing three people who write for far-left publications. His lawyer appealed on 14 October.

Six prison guards are currently detained and some 30 police officers have been summoned as witnesses in a separate case of alleged torture of four people in a police station and in prison. One of the four victims died on 10 October. One of the many questions raised by this case is the fact that members of the security forces are still free eventhough, they have been formally identified by plaintiffs.

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