102 out of 173 in the latest worldwide index
Area: 774,820 sq. km.
Head of government: Recep Tayyip Erdogan, since March 2003
The nationalist and hard-line secular model inherited from the era of Kemal [Ataturk, founder of the republic and first president] has been challenged by the emergence of other models within society. The aspirations of the Armenian and Kurdish minorities have been recognised thus clashing with a concept of Turkish national identity against which their demands amount to crimes.
Judges, soldiers and police have all made use of Article 301 of the criminal code to put journalists under enormous pressure. This law punishing damage to “Turkish identity” with prison sentences of up to three years was the basis of several thousand separate legal proceedings. Amendments adopted by parliament in April 2008 have not produced any noticeable improvement. Now it is damage to “the Turkish nation” that is sanctioned and with sentences of up to two years in jail. But Article 301 is not the only weapon in the legislative arsenal that restricts free expression in Turkey. Other laws deal with damaging the memory of Ataturk (Law 5816 of 25 July 1951), or turning people against military service (Art. 318). Penalties are very often increased by half when it is a media committing the offence.
The daily Taraf faced proceedings after publishing a series of articles in October 2008, based on military documents. The reports said that the army knew in advance that Kurdish rebels were crossing mountains in the north of Iraq and heading towards the Turkish border, one month before they launched an attack in which 15 soldiers were killed. Its editor is facing five years in prison. Reporter, Cengiz Kapmaz, of the daily Ulkede Ozgur Gundem was sentenced to ten months in prison under anti-terror law 3713 for an interview carried by his paper with a pro-Kurdish parliamentary deputy in which he spoke in favour of a return to the political scene of the paramilitary PKK.
The trial of the alleged killers of Hrant Dink, a Turkish journalist of Armenian origin shot dead on 19 January 2007 outside the offices of his newspaper Agos, continued in Istanbul. Hearings have been opened to the press and public since July, after the main defendant reached his age of majority.
There are many reasons to suspect the direct involvement of security forces in Dink’s murder, both locally and in Ankara. But most of them have not faced any criminal proceedings. A recent interior ministry decision to open an investigation into this aspect of the case could however lead to the opening of a judicial inquiry. The journalist’s family have also urged judges to examine the possibility that the secret organisation Ergenekon, which has been accused of a terror plot, could have been implicated in the Dink murder.
The Internet has not escaped pressure with a score of websites being blocked within the country after legal rulings during 2008, including YouTube, Dailymotion and Google Groups. Most frequently the websites are made inaccessible under law 5651 relating to “preventing crimes in the computer field”. This law allows prosecutors to ban access to a site within 24 hours if they consider its content “likely to incite suicide, paedophilia, drug use, obscenity, or prostitution” or “rejection of the law of Ataturk”.