New York, September 29, 2000 — A Turkish journalist standing trial for “insulting” Turkey’s powerful military in a book of interviews with former conscripts of the civil conflict in southeastern Turkey was acquitted of all charges today.
Nadire Mater, a free-lance journalist who writes for the news agency Inter Press Service (IPS), had been charged with two counts of “insulting” the Turkish military, a crime under Article 159 of Turkey’s Penal Code. The charges stemmed from her authorship of Mehmed’s Book: Soldiers Who Have Fought in the Southeast Speak Out, which consists of interviews with 42 retired Turkish soldiers who fought in the civil conflict in southeastern Turkey, where the government has been fighting a bloody war with Kurdish insurgents for much of the last 15 years.
An Istanbul court banned distribution of Mehmed’s Book on June 23, 1999, also under Article 159 of the Penal Code. Police subsequently confiscated unsold copies from the book’s publisher, Metis Publishers. Before the ban took effect, however, Mehmed’s Book went through four editions and sold around 9,000 copies. Mater had faced the prospect of between two and twelve years in prison. Her publisher, Samih Sokmen, who had faced a possible fine, was also acquitted.
A good day for press freedom
“This is a good day for press freedom in Turkey and a good day for Turkey,” said CPJ board member Kati Marton, who attended today’s verdict hearing. “We welcome Nadire’s acquittal and hope she’s the last journalist prosecuted under these laws. The next step is for the authorities to lift the ban on Mehmed’s Book, so that everyone may have access to this important work.”
The Beyoglu Criminal Court was a scene of powerful drama today, packed with Mater’s supporters, members of the press, and human rights and representatives from human rights and free expression groups. Among those in attendance were Mater’s husband and daughter, as well as journalist Ragip Duran, imprisoned in 1998 for an article he wrote based on an interview with Abdullah Ocalan, head of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Mater’s daughter Cigdem wept in the courtroom after the verdict was read.
The prosecution can still appeal the verdict, but is not expected to do so. If it fails to file an appeal within a week’s time, then the case will be considered closed and the ban on Mater’s book will be lifted immediately.
“The Turkish government must take bold action to eliminate the repressive laws used to punish journalism and to guarantee everyone the constitutional right of free speech,” added Marton. “Unless this happens, Nadire Matter will not be the last journalist to face this kind of prosecution.”
TURKEY: Verdict tomorrow in Nadire Mater case Posted September 28, 2000