CPJ welcomes new Turkish amnesty law but presses for meaningful reform of press statutes

September 17, 1999 12:00 PM ET

September 17, 1999

His Excellency Bulent Ecevit
Prime Minister
06573 Ankara, Turkey

Your Excellency,

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is writing in response to the Turkish parliament's approval last month of an amnesty law (law 4454 for 1999) that will secure the release of a number of jailed journalists and writers imprisoned on the basis of their published work and which is expected to temporarily cancel dozens of other prosecutions pending in court.

CPJ welcomes the passage of this legislation, which effectively postpones court cases and jail terms against individuals charged or convicted for publishing news and opinion for a period of three years. A number of unjustly imprisoned journalists and writers---32 according to the Turkish government---are expected to be released from prison in the coming weeks, while dozens of other cases pending in court will also be suspended. CPJ has already received reports that a number of journalists have been released.

We hope that passage of this law is a first step towards comprehensive reform of the host of laws that are used to criminalize the profession of journalism in Turkey. While the amnesty law is a welcome development, it is only a temporary solution to the larger problem of criminal prosecutions of journalists. According to its text, if a journalist commits a similar "offense" within the three-year probationary period, then he or she will be required to serve all previous sentences in addition to any new sentence confirmed by the courts. Similarly, cases pending in court against journalists would be reactivated.

As with the limited amnesty for editors passed by parliament in August 1997, the current amnesty law provides no guarantee that new cases will not be filed against journalists for what they publish. Indeed, almost as soon as the 1997 amnesty law went into effect, prosecutors began flooding the Turkish court system with new cases against editors.

In the absence of comprehensive legal reform aimed at abolishing the repressive laws that are used to punish free expression in Turkey, journalists will continue to find themselves in court, and possibly prison, for merely practicing their profession. We hope that the recent comments of Appeals Court chief justice Sami Selcuk, who sharply criticized restrictions on freedom of expression and urged constitutional reform, will bring needed urgency to this topic.

We are pleased that Your Excellency has promised to put constitutional reform on the government's agenda, and we look forward to your efforts towards bold and meaningful change.

Thank you in advance for your attention to this important matter. I look forward to a reply at your earliest convenience.


Ann K. Cooper
Executive Director

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His Excellency Bulent Ecevit
Prime Minister
06573 Ankara, Turkey


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