Journalists face criminal prosecution

New York, December 14, 2005—The Committee to Protect Journalists is alarmed by the recent prosecution of journalists under laws that criminalize comment about the Turkish state, its institutions, and history.

In the past three months, the authorities have used the catch-all provisions of Article 301 of the penal code to stifle writing about the massacres of Armenians by Ottoman Turkish forces 90 years ago, and articles critical of the judiciary and the military. According to CPJ research at least eight journalists have been convicted of, or face criminal charges, under Article 301 despite official promises to end criminal prosecutions of journalists.

“These prosecutions show that Turkey still has a long way to go to meet its international obligations to reform restrictive media laws as it pursues its application for membership of the European Union,” said CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper. “We urge the authorities to accelerate the reform of those laws and to drop criminal charges against journalists for their reporting.”
On December 2, 2005, an Istanbul state prosecutor charged five journalists— Murat Belge, Haluk Sahin, Erol Katircioglu and Ismet Berkan of the daily Radikal, and Hasan Cemal of the daily Milliyet—with violating Article 301. The article outlaws “public denigration of Turkishness, the Republic, the Grand National Assembly of Turkey (Parliament) … the Government of the Republic of Turkey, the judicial institutions of the State and the military or security structures.”
If convicted, the journalists face between six months and 10 years in jail. Their trial is scheduled to begin on February 7, 2006.
The charges stem from columns published in Radikal and Milliyet that strongly criticized Turkish court rulings banning an academic conference on the Armenian massacres. The court stopped the conference from taking place at two Istanbul universities, once in May and again in September, but organizers held the conference on September 24 by moving it to a third university at the last minute, according to international press reports.

In October, an Istanbul criminal court sentenced Hrant Dink, editor-in-chief of the bilingual Turkish-Armenian weekly Agos, to a six-month suspended term for violating Article 301. 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 authorities did not elaborate on what they considered insulting in Dink’s work. But Dink told CPJ at the time that his conviction was, “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.”
Armenians have sought for many years to have the international community recognize the killing of up to 1.5 million Armenians in the Ottoman Empire as the first genocide of the 20th century.

On November 16, 2005, the appeals court upheld the suspended 20-month jail sentence of Burak Bekdil, a columnist for the English-language Turkish Daily News, for a satirical article he wrote in August 2001 criticizing Turkey’s judicial system, according to news reports. He was convicted under a law that that was replaced by Article 301.

Last week, a court in the southeastern city of Diyarbakir began hearing a criminal case against Birol Duru, a correspondent for Dicle News Agency. Duru is charged under article 301 with “public denigration of the military or security structures” in response to an article he wrote which accused Turkish security forces of burning forests in southeastern Turkey. According to press reports and human rights organizations, Duru has been detained since August 10, 2005, when he was in Dinabey village in the Yedisu district investigating allegations that the local military commander grew cannabis with villagers. The court denied Duru bail and adjourned until December 29, 2005.