Last week, Nadire Mater, a reporter with Inter Press Service (IPS), learned that she had been formally charged with “insulting” the Turkish military-a crime under Article 159 of the Turkish Penal Code. If convicted, she faces between one and six years in prison.
The charge stems from the publication of her recent book Mehmed’s Book: Soldiers Who have Fought in the Southeast Speak Out,which was banned by Turkish authorities in June. The book consists of interviews with 42 retired Turkish soldiers who had fought in the civil conflict in southeastern Turkey.
In her indictment, dated August 9, 1999, state prosecutors cited some 40 quotes from former Turkish conscripts as the basis for the charge.
Mater’s first court hearing is scheduled to take place on September 29, one day after U.S. President Bill Clinton’s expected meeting with Turkish Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit in Washington.
An Istanbul court banned distribution of Mehmed’s Book on June 23, claiming that it had insulted the military. Police confiscated copies from the book’s Istanbul-based publisher, Metis Publishers. Prior to the ban, four editions of the book had been printed and around 9,000 copies sold.
Mater’s recent indictment underscores the shortcomings of the amnesty law approved by Turkey’s parliament on August 18. The law, signed by President Suleiman Demirel on September 2, suspends court cases or jail terms against individuals charged or convicted of “crimes” committed through the media for a period of three years. A number of journalists have already been freed under the amnesty, and dozens of court cases are expected to be quashed temporarily.
But journalists such as Mater, who have committed “crimes” since the April 23 cutoff date, do not qualify for the amnesty. Moreover, those who do qualify still face a three year probationary period, meaning that if they commit a similar “offense” within the three-year period, they will be required to serve their previous sentence in addition to any new sentence confirmed by the courts.
As long as laws used to prosecute journalists for their published work remain on the books in Turkey, reporters and editors will remain under threat of prosecution and possibly imprisonment.