Publisher convicted

New York, August 2, 2002
—On July 31, Abdullah Keskin, a Turkish publisher charged with “separatist propaganda” for publishing a U.S. journalist’s book about Turkey’s Kurdish minority population, was convicted and sentenced to a six-month prison sentence, which the court converted to a fine of about US$500.

An Istanbul State Security Court ruled on Wednesday that Keskin had violated Article 8 of Turkey’s Anti-Terror Law when his publishing house, Avesta, printed a Turkish edition of After Such Knowledge, What Forgiveness? My Encounters in Kurdistan, a book about the Kurds written by retired Washington Post correspondent Jonathan Randal.

Keskin, who was out of the country and did not attend the hearing, will appeal the verdict, his lawyer said.

State prosecutors based the charges against Keskin on several passages from the book that contained references to “Kurdistan,” which literally means “land of the Kurds.” Turkish courts often cite such references to justify prosecuting journalists and intellectuals for allegedly supporting the separatist ambitions of Turkey’s Kurdish minority population. Despite recent legislative efforts in Turkey aimed at alleviating restrictions on freedom of expression and improving the country’s chances of membership in the European Union, courts continue to apply restrictive laws to prosecute journalists for their work.

“While we are relieved that Keskin will not spend time in prison, this conviction shows that practicing journalism can still be a crime in Turkey,” said CPJ executive director Ann Cooper. “Turkey is far from bringing its laws in line with international standards for press freedom.”
Randal’s book, originally published in 1997, was later translated into several languages. The Turkish edition, which Avesta published in 2001, was confiscated on January 15, 2002 and remains banned.

In January 2002, Keskin was charged with violating the Anti-Terror Law. His trial began on April 3.

Currently, Turkey jails more journalists than any other country in Europe or the Middle East. At the end of 2001, thirteen Turkish journalists were in prison, mainly because of their affiliation with pro-Kurdish or leftist publications.