Committee to Protect Journalists Is Outraged By Conviction of Journalist Oral Calislart

May 19,1999

His Excellency Bulent Ecevit
Prime Minister
06573 Ankara, Turkey

Your Excellency,

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is outraged by the criminal conviction of journalist Oral Calislar, a columnist for the daily Cumhurriyet.

On May 18, Calislar was convicted of disseminating “separatist propaganda” under Article 8 of the Anti-Terror Law and sentenced to 13 months in prison by the Istanbul State Security Court. The charge against Calislar stemmed from a 1993 book he wrote, titled The Kurdish Problem with Ocalan and Burkay. The book contains interviews–originally published in Cumhurriyet in June and July 1993–with Kemal Burkay, head of the Kurdistan Socialist Party, and Abdullah Ocalan, leader of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, who is now awaiting trial in Turkey on treason charges.

After the book’s release, Calislar was charged under Article 8 and convicted of the charge in 1995. He was sentenced to two years in prison and fined 250 million TL. However, while the case was under appeal, the Turkish Parliament approved amendments to Article 8, resulting in the nullification of the conviction.

In 1996, the State Security Court arraigned Calislar on charges of violating Article 6 of the Anti-Terror Law (publishing the statements of a terrorist organization), again citing the book as the principle evidence. He was convicted of the charge, and fined 5 million TL. But on March 5, 1998, the Court of Cassation quashed the 1996 ruling, stating that Calislar’s book instead constituted “separatist propaganda,” and ordered a retrial under Article 8, leading ultimately to yesterday’s sentence. Calislar intends to file an appeal against yesterday’s ruling.

The prosecution and conviction of Oral Calislar constitute flagrant violations of the norms for free expression under international law. Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights guarantees journalists the right to “seek, receive, and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”

Nearly two years ago, Turkish government officials‹including Your Excellency–promised a delegation from CPJ that they would work to end state restrictions on the press and to implement comprehensive legal reforms to end the criminalization of journalism in Turkey. On July 14, 1997, then–Prime Minister Mesut Yilmaz told the delegation that the jailing of journalists and other restrictions on press freedom “were explained away in the past by the fight against terrorism. That was unacceptable then, and it is unacceptable now.” Mr. Yilmaz added that journalists and others should no longer be prosecuted on the basis of “their thoughts and their opinions.” Regrettably, since that meeting 22 months ago, the prosecution and imprisonment of journalists in Turkey have continued and the government’s promise of reform failed to materialize.

As of January 1, 1999, 27 journalists were in prison in Turkey for the expression of opinion or for their association with pro-Kurdish and leftist publications, and dozens more are believed to face imprisonment in cases still pending before the courts.

In July 1997, Your Excellency told CPJ’s delegation that as a former journalist who had been imprisoned for his work, you “consider freedom of expression as a vital component of democracy.” We call on you to make good on this pronouncement by adopting the following recommendations aimed at bringing Turkey’s practices in accordance with international standards:

Examine all possible legal options to rescind the sentence against Oral Calislar and initiate parliamentary efforts to dismiss charges against journalists which are now pending in court;

Immediately introduce meaningful reforms designed to abolish laws that criminalize free expression, and implement measures to secure the release from prison of journalists jailed for journalistic work.

Thank you for your attention to these important matters. We look forward to your comments.


Ann K. Cooper
Executive Director

Join CPJ in Protesting Attacks on the Press in Turkey

Send a letter to:

His Excellency Bulent Ecevit
Prime Minister
06573 Ankara, Turkey