CPJ urges Turkey to end criminal prosecutions of journalists

Istanbul, Turkey, July 23, 1999–The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) issued a report today documenting Turkey’s continuing use of criminal prosecutions to silence journalists who report on sensitive topics, such as the Kurdish question and the role of Islam in politics.

At a press conference in Istanbul, a CPJ delegation expressed its concern that the prosecutions continue despite official promises made to CPJ and other international press freedom organizations that visited Turkey in July 1997. During high-level meetings at that time, Turkish government officials pledged unequivocally to take steps to end the criminalization of journalism.

“Our colleagues in the Turkish media remain at risk just for reporting the news or stating a view,” said CPJ Executive Director Ann K. Cooper. “While the majority of those targeted for prosecution write for the pro-Kurdish, Islamist, and leftist press, recent cases against a prominent mainstream Turkish reporter and a foreign correspondent show that no one is immune.”

Two years ago, then-deputy Prime Minister Bülent Ecevit told CPJ, “I consider freedom of expression as a vital component of democracy.” Today, Ecevit is Turkey’s prime minister. CPJ has requested a meeting with him to discuss the press freedom concerns raised in the report and is awaiting a response.

Following CPJ’s 1997 mission, the Turkish government granted a limited amnesty that resulted in the release of at least eight jailed editors and quashed dozens of cases pending against journalists in court.

“But the government’s promise of comprehensive legal reform remains unfulfilled,” Cooper said. At the end of 1998, CPJ confirmed through its research that Turkey held 27 journalists in prison–more than any other country in the world for the fifth consecutive year.

CPJ’s investigation, conducted during the past two weeks by Middle East Program Coordinator Joel Campagna, revealed that journalists continue to be indicted, convicted, and imprisoned for the publication of news and opinion. “The 27 cases documented in the report represent only a sampling of the total number of criminal cases pending against journalists, which CPJ believes to number in the hundreds,” Campagna said.

Among the most recent cases included in CPJ’s 12-page report:

  • On May 18, 1999, Oral Çalislar, a veteran reporter with the mainstream daily Cumhuriyet,was convicted of disseminating “separatist propaganda” under Article 8 of Turkey’s infamous Anti-Terror Law. Çalislar’s offense was a 1993 book in which he reprinted interviews with Abdullah Öcalan, leader of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), who was recently sentenced to death in Turkey on treason charges. The interviews had originally been published earlier that year, without incident, in Cumhuriyet.He received a 13-month prison sentence.
  • On June 4, 1999, Turkish authorities arrested Hasan Deniz, an editor with the Kurdish nationalist daily Özgür Bakis.An Istanbul State Security Court then charged Deniz under Article 169 of the Turkish Penal Code (aiding an illegal terrorist organization). The basis for the charge was a news article that had appeared in the newspaper a few days earlier, reporting that the PKK supported Öcalan’s call for an end to the brutal 15-year conflict between the Turkish army and Kurdish rebels in Southeast Turkey.
  • Six days after Deniz was arrested and charged, a criminal court in Istanbul charged Andrew Finkel, a Turkey-based correspondent for Timemagazine and several other Western publications, with insulting the Turkish military–an offense that carries a six-month prison term. The charge against Finkel, an American citizen, stemmed from an article he had written for a mass-circulation Turkish daily describing his recent visit to a garrison town in the Southeast. Quoting military officials, Finkel wrote that the soldiers were apparently trying to win the “hearts and minds” of local inhabitants. They were “a long way from being an army of occupation,” he added. Even so, prosecutors concluded that Finkel had insulted the military.

CPJ called on the Turkish government to take immediate steps to reform laws that stifle free expression and to guarantee the internationally recognized right to report news and opinion without reprisal.

The delegation also urged the government, as a gesture of good will, to endorse an amnesty proposal from the Turkish Journalists Association. This week the group submitted legislation to the government that, if approved by parliament, would release journalists who are imprisoned for their work and cancel pending prosecutions.

The report, Turkey: Criminal Prosecutions of Journalists, is available online. The Committee to Protect Journalists is an independent, nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to safeguarding press freedom worldwide.

Back to top.