Turkish journalists face trial despite dropping of charges against author

New York, January 24, 2005—The Committee to Protect Journalists welcomes the dropping of charges of “insulting Turkishness” against an acclaimed author but is appalled that journalists still face jail under the same draconian statute.

A court in Istanbul dismissed Monday the prosecution under Article 301 of the Turkish penal code of novelist Orhan Pamuk who made reference in a Swiss newspaper interview to the mass killing of Armenians under the Ottoman Empire during World War 1. The European Union, which Turkey is attempting to join, hailed the decision as good news for freedom of expression but called on Turkey to close loopholes in its penal code.

Five journalists go on trial on February 7, 2006, in Istanbul under Article 301 for criticizing court rulings banning a conference on the Armenian killings.

“It is obvious that as Turkey knocks on the door of the European Union it does not want the embarrassment of a high-profile freedom of expression trial,” said CPJ Executive Director Ann cooper. “Maybe the authorities hoped that by dismissing the case against an author like Orhan Pamuk Turkey’s record on freedom of expression would drop below the world’s radar. It will not. We call on the authorities to end prosecutions under Article 301 and similar statues immediately.”

The five journalists facing trial are Murat Belge, Haluk Sahin, Erol Katircioglu and Ismet Berkan of the daily Radikal, and Hasan Cemal of the daily Milliyet. If convicted they face between six months and 10 years in jail. Article 301 outlaws public denigration of Turkishness and institutions of state including the parliament, judiciary, and military.

Both Radikal and Milliyet criticized a court ban on academic conferences at two Istanbul universities in May and September last year on the Armenian killings. Organizers held the conference on September 24 by moving it to a third university at the last minute.

Three other journalists and two non-journalists face trial on Article 301 charges.