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Turkey6 February 2002

Bill for tightening the legislation on violation of the press laws

In a letter addressed to Gunter Verheugen, commissioner for the extension of the European Commission, Reporters Sans Frontières (RSF) denounced the bill by the Turkish parliament amending the legislation sanctioning violation of press laws.

"Under coverage of reforms required by the European Union, the power is still broadening the scope of press offences curbed by the law. It sounds incredible but it has become an abiding feature of the policy of the Turkish authorities in terms of human rights: on the one hand, general commitments have been taken towards the European Union within their joining the partnership; on the other hand, all means have been set up to control the freedom of expression ever closer", declared Robert Ménard, general secretary of Reporters Sans Frontières. "We ask you to make it clear for the Turkish authorities that these bills are unacceptable", M. Ménard added in his letter to the European Commissioner.

Further to amendments to the Constitution, in October 2001, with a view to getting closer to the European Union, the Turkish authorities had committed themselves to amending the articles of the penal code pertaining to the press. Nonetheless, the modifications proposed on January 24 rather aim at tightening the legislation. The bill met strong opposition, but should be presented again soon.

Article 312 of the penal code punishes "incitements to hatred and hostility through discrimination". The bill presented by the authorities, on January 24, holds that the "probability" of incitement to racial hatred will be regarded as an offence and "insult to the honour of persons" as well as "insult to part of the people" will be included as new charges of indictment, matched with a six-month to two-year imprisonment sentence.

Article 159 of the penal code punishes "jibes and insults against State institutions" with one to six year imprisonment. If the new release of article 159 happens to reduce the heaviest sentence to three year imprisonment, from now on it extends to whoever insults "Turkishness", the Turkish nation, the Turkish State, parliament, Cabinet, ministries, tribunals, armed or security forces, as well as its representatives. Questioning only one of these institutions is punished with the same sentence

Articles 7 and 8 of the law against terrorism condemn "propaganda by a terrorist organisation " and "separatist propaganda". The bill provides for extending the article 7 of the antiterrorist law to "propaganda by terrorist organisation through incitement to using terrorist means". As for article 8 it aims at punishing "written, visual or oral propaganda through meetings, demonstration or march, with three year imprisonment and a fine reaching one up to three billion Turkish liras (902 euros). According to the bill, in the case the propaganda represents an incitement to commit terrorist acts, the imprisonment sentence issued cannot be converted into a fine.

Reporters Sans Frontières reminds that more than fifty journalists have been judged in 2001 in compliance with these articles:

Erol Özkoray, founder and editor in chief of the quarterly review Idea Politika, is still arraigned in compliance with article 159 of the penal code, for "insult to the army" and "insult to the Republic". In several articles, he had analysed the role played by the Turkish army within the institutions as well as its economic influence. He deemed that the army was hampering the democratisation of the country applying to join the European Union. A first trial, that opened on 9 November 2001, ended with a dismissal of charges. Five other proceeding have been taken against him one of which occurred further to the publication of an interview by Robert Ménard, general secretary of Reporters Sans Frontières, which mentioned "schizophrenia" of the Turkish regime. The first hearing of that second trial is planned for 4 April 2002.

On 13 February 2002, Fatih Tas manager of Editions Aram, will enter an appearance before the State security court n° 3 of Istanbul, in compliance with article 8 of the antiterrorist law, for having published in September 2001, a collection of articles by the linguist and political analyst Noam Chomsky. They were dealing with the Kurdish issue and were entitled "American Interventionism". Noam Chomsky will attend the hearing.

Nese Düzel, journalist for the opposition daily Radikal, is charged with "incitement to hatred through religious discrimination " in compliance with article 312, for an interview performed on 8 January 2001 with Murtaza Demir, president of an association from the community of Alevis, known for being progressive Muslims. The journalist has already been heard three times by the judge.

On February 15, Celal Baslangiç, journalist for the Radikal, and Osman Tuna, manager of the Editons Iletisim, will enter a second appearance before the second criminal court of Sultanahmet in Istanbul for having published the book " Temple of Fear". As soon as it was published in August 2001, the piece of work had been seized by the legal authorities. Both had been accused for "mocking and insulting Turkish armed forces" in compliance with article 159.

Since 29 June 2001, Fikret Baskaya, editorial writer for the pro-Kurdish daily Özgür Bakis and a scholar, is imprisoned at the prison of Kalecik in Ankara. On 26 January 2001, the Court of Cassation had upheld a one-year and four-month imprisonment sentence together with a 1,066,000,000 Turkish lira fine (855 euros) brought by the State security Court for " separatist propaganda ", in compliance with article 8 of the antiterrorist law. The editorial writer had written in an article entitled "Is it a historical trial?" published on 1st June1999 in the daily Özgür Bakis, that "Turkish leaders have always regarded the Kurdish issue as an issue of public nature whereas it is a national issue and they though they could solve it by applying a chauvinistic, racist and nationalistic policy".




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