Turkish journalists face ongoing criminal prosecutions

New York, June 7, 2006— The Committee to Protect Journalists is concerned by the ongoing criminal prosecution of journalists in Turkey. Three journalists are before the courts in Istanbul this week for their work.

Perihan Magden, a columnist for the weekly magazine Yeni Aktuel, went on trial today charged with discouraging Turks from performing military service by defending conscientious objectors.

In a December article, Magden took up the case of Mehmet Tarhan, who received a record four-year sentence in military jail for refusing to wear his military uniform, The Associated Press reported. Magden called for the establishment of civilian service as an alternative to military conscription. She faces up to three years in jail if convicted under article 318 of the Turkish penal code. Magden’s trial was adjourned until July 27.

The trial of journalist Murat Belge of the daily Radikal resumes tomorrow. He is charged with attempting to influence the outcome of judicial proceedings through his writing. He wrote an article last year challenging the decision of an Istanbul administrative court to ban an academic conference on the mass killing of Armenians under the Ottoman Empire from 1915 to 1917. The Armenian massacre is still taboo in Turkey. If convicted, Belge faces up to four and a half years in prison under article 288 of the Turkish penal code. Charges against four other journalists prosecuted along with Belge for writing about the conference ban were dropped in April.

Another journalist for Radikal, Ismail Saymaz, will also appear in criminal court tomorrow on charges under article 288, which stem from an article alleging the torture of children by authorities, according to the Turkish press freedom organization Bia.

“The existence of repressive laws in Turkey gives an opening to the enemies of press freedom. We urge Turkish prosecutors to withdraw the charges against these journalists, and refrain from filing future charges,” CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said. “We call on the Turkish government to continue to work for the repeal of laws that restrict work of the press.”

Bia says that since the new Turkish penal code went into effect on June 1, 2005, 17 journalists who discussed human rights cases, the Armenian conference ban case, and torture cases, have been charged with attempting to influence court decisions under Article 288.