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Turkey4 November 2003

More than 300 generals sue Islamist newspaper

Reporters Without Borders today called on the Turkish armed forces to show more respect for press freedom after 312 generals on 31 October filed suit against the Islamist daily Vakit and one of its columnists, Asim Yenihaber, demanding 367,000 euros in damages for an article headlined, "The country where a soldier who shouldn’t be a sergeant becomes a general."

In a letter to justice minister Cemil Cicek, Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Robert Ménard described the sum as "exorbitant" and as "a death warrant for the newspaper." If Vakit were made to pay this amount, "the army would have achieved its goal of silencing all press criticism."

Ménard added: "As Turkey is a candidate to join the European Union, we would have hoped the army would show more respect for press freedom, but once again we have proof that it is far from assimilating the basic principles of democracy."

The plaintiffs include army commander Aytaç Yalman, air force commander Ibrahim Firtina, navy commander Ozden Ornek and gendarmerie commander Sener Eruygur. In their libel suit, filed with a higher court in Ankara, they said the article was likely to arouse "feelings of hate and contempt towards officers with the rank of general and degrade the Turkish armed forces in the eyes of society." Describing it as a reflection of Yenihaber’s "mental and psychological disturbance," they added that "no one has the right to offend and humiliate generals."

In his column, published on 25 August, Yenihaber said: "Nothing indicates that these are generals aside from the stars on their shoulders (...) There is no place for them either in the army or in the country." Vakit has often lambasted the armed forces and the officer corps. His editors said his economic survival is now directly threatened by this libel suit.

Press freedom is still subject to many restrictions in Turkey, despite the democratic reforms it has adopted with a view to joining the European Union. Journalists who dare to criticise state institutions or broach taboo topics such as the Kurdish problem or the army’s meddling in politics are censored and are the target of abusive lawsuits, with heavy fines. At least four journalists are currently in prison for the views they have expressed in the course of their work.

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