Journalist convicted on charge of ‘insulting Turkish identity’

New York, October 12, 2005—The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the conviction of a Turkish-Armenian journalist on a charge of “insulting and weakening Turkish identity through the media” An Istanbul court on Friday sentenced Hrant Dink, 52, editor-in-chief of the bilingual Turkish-Armenian weekly Agos, to a six-month suspended term. Dink and his lawyer, Fethiye Cetin, plan to appeal.

The charges stemmed from a series of articles Dink wrote in early 2004 dealing with the collective memory of the Armenian massacres of 1915-1917 under the Ottoman Empire. He called on Armenians to move beyond historical anger toward Turks and “turn to the new blood of independent Armenia.”

Turkish law, even under recent legal reforms, allows for journalists to be criminally prosecuted and imprisoned for their work. Dink was prosecuted under a provision of the new penal code that states: “A person who insults Turkishness, the Republic, or the Turkish Parliament will be punished with imprisonment ranging from six months to three years.” Turkish authorities did not elaborate on what they considered insulting in Dink’s work.

Dink, who founded Agos in 1996, was sentenced the same week talks began on Turkey’s application to join the European Union.

“This is a political decision because I wrote about the Armenian genocide and they detest that, so they found a way to accuse me of insulting Turks,” Dink told CPJ. He said he is prepared to take the case to the European Court of Human Rights to clear his name.

Turkey does not acknowledge as genocide the killings of Armenians by Ottoman Turks at the beginning of the 20th century. The European Parliament has conditioned Turkey’s entry to the EU on its formal recognition of the killings as genocide.

“Despite official promises, Turkish journalists continue to be criminally prosecuted for their work,” CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said. “At the heart of this case are the dozens of laws in Turkey that can make free expression a crime. Free expression will remain limited in Turkey as long as these laws are on the books.”

Award-winning Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk was indicted in September under the same penal code provision after an interview he gave to a Swiss magazine earlier this year in which he said, “one million Armenians were killed in Turkey.” His trial is set for December 17.

Dink faces additional charges for making critical comments at a 2002 human rights conference about Turkey’s national anthem and a daily oath taken by Turkish schoolchildren in which they say, “Happy is the one who says, ‘I am a Turk.’ ” Dink said then that he did not feel like a Turk, but like an Armenian who is a citizen of Turkey. He will appear in court in February for those remarks.