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Turkey21 April 2006

Radio journalist gets six months in prison for insulting parliament

Reporters Without Borders today reiterated its condemnation of the abusive use of article 301 of the Turkish criminal code after Sabri Ejder Öziç, the former manager of Radyo Dünya, a local radio station in the southern city of Adana, was sentenced yesterday to six months in prison for “insulting parliament.”

Öziç was originally given a one-year prison sentence on 30 December 2003 but it was quashed after a new criminal code was adopted last June. Article 301 punishes “humiliation of Turkish identity, the republic and state organs or institutions.”

He has been convicted because of comments he made about parliament in his programme “Captain’s log” on 24 February 2003, when legislators were debating whether to authorise the presence of foreign troops on Turkish soil and send troops to Iraq.

Öziç’s lawyer, Meric Tumer, said he would file an appeal in the next few days. Öziç will remain free pending the outcome of the appeal.

8 January 2004

Journalist sentenced to one year for insulting parliament

Reporters Without Borders expressed its shock at an "utterly disproportionate" one-year jail sentence imposed on former radio station boss, Sabri Ejder Öziç, for "insulting and mocking parliament".

Öziç, former head of Radyo Dünya in Adana in the south of the country, was sentenced on 30 December 2003. He was not actually imprisoned because he immediately appealed against the sentence.

"We are shocked by this sentence, which is utterly disproportionate. We remind you that under international norms, prison terms should not be imposed for press offences," Robert Ménard, secretary general of Reporters Without Borders said in a letter to justice minister Cemil Cicek. "It would be good for Turkey, which wants to join the European Union in the near future, to adopt this principle and stop taking abusive legal action against journalists who criticise the state or its institutions," he said. "What is the point of legislative reforms, even the most progressive, if they are applied so arbitrarily by local judges ? ," he added.

The Adana correctional tribunal sentenced Öziç over remarks he made on 24 February 2003 during his programme entitled "Captain’s Log". The journalist, who is an activist in the pro-Kurdish Ozgur Toplum party, criticised a government decision to allow foreign troops onto Turkish soil and to send troops to Iraq. The broadcast went out on the day it was submitted for parliamentary approval.

The court acted over these words from the broadcast: "Our council of ministers allows American soldiers onto our soil; our soldiers will be able to enter Iraqi territory (...) A war has been declared against terrorism in the world, but it is an illegitimate war. If illegitimate wars are terrorist acts, then this also is a terrorist act. If permission to send troops for terrorist acts is approved by parliament then this parliament would also be terrorist."

The prosecutor Erten Tamoglu took the view that the fact of calling parliament "terrorist" was not a criticism but an insult to a state institution, an offence, under Article 159 of the criminal code, carrying a minimum penalty of six months in prison.

Article 159, the basis of a large number of abusive prosecutions of journalists for "offences against the state and state institutions and threats to the indivisible unity of the Turkish Republic", was amended in 2002 and 2003, as part of democratic reforms undertaken with a eye to Turkish membership of the European Union.

The length of prison term under this charge was reduced from one year to six months and criticism not intended to "ridicule" or "insult" state institutions was no longer to attract prison terms. Nevertheless, interpretation by individual judges of the meaning of "critical" remains subjective and several journalists were prosecuted under this article in 2003.

Reporters Without Borders recalls that there are still many restrictions to press freedom in Turkey. Journalists daring to criticise state institutions or to touch on taboo subjects like the Kurdish question or the role of the army in the country’s political life, are censored, prosecuted abusively and subjected to heavy fines. At least five are currently in jail for having expressed their opinions in the course of their work.

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