Appeals court upholds jail term for Turkish-Armenian journalist

New York, July 12, 2006— The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the ruling yesterday by Turkey’s High Court of Appeals to uphold the six-month suspended prison sentence of Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink.

Dink, managing editor of the bilingual Turkish-Armenian weekly Agos, had appealed a conviction last October under Article 301 of the penal code, which forbids denigrating Turkish identity and state institutions.

“The confirmation of this outrageous sentence against our colleague Hrant Dink sends a chill through the entire Turkish media,” CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon said. “It calls into question the country’s commitment to press freedom and legal reforms which are a pre-condition for its goal of joining the European Union. Turkey should immediately stop the prosecution of journalists under vague articles of the penal code.”

Dink, 51, has exhausted all legal recourse against the conviction in Turkey. He told Reuters he would take the case all the way to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg to clear his name.

Dink’s prosecution followed a series of articles in early 2004 dealing with the collective memory of the Armenian massacres of 1915-17 under the decaying Ottoman Empire.
Ottoman military forces, allied with Germany, killed thousands of Armenians and deported others, accusing them of sympathizing with invading Russian forces. Armenians call the killings the first genocide of the 20th century, a term Turkey rejects.

“The verdict of the Supreme Court concerning myself reveals that Article 301 and the other similar ones can never suit a democratic Turkey and should be immediately abolished,” Dink said in a statement.

European Union Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn criticized the ruling and called on Turkey to amend its law to guarantee freedom of expression. He said Turkey would have to rewrite its penal code again to meet EU standards. Turkey began formal accession talks with Brussels in October last year.

Dink, along with three other journalists at Agos, faces another charge of attempting to influence the outcome of judicial proceedings under Article 288 of the penal code for calling the Article 301 charges politically motivated.

On July 4, in a separate Istanbul courtroom, a judge postponed the trial on the Article 288 charge until December 12, the local press freedom and human rights group, Bia, reported. The postponement followed scuffles in the courtroom between Dink’s lawyers and members of the Turkish Union of Lawyers, a nationalist group led by lawyer Kemal Kerincsiz. The group is responsible for initiating the criminal case against Dink.

Bia said that since the new Turkish Penal Code went into effect on June 1 last year, 29 cases have been brought against journalists under Article 301.

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