CPJ calls for Turkey to overturn journalist’s 15-month sentence

New York, June 9, 2010–The Committee to Protect Journalists calls on Istanbul’s Yargıtay High Court to overturn on appeal a 15-month prison sentence given to Turkish journalist Irfan Aktan on Friday. Aktan was found guilty of “producing terrorist propaganda” in an article published in an issue of the biweekly Express in October 2009.

The article described skepticism among Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) members toward a government policy known as the “Kurdish Opening,” which aims to diffuse the PKK insurgency. Aktan spoke to PKK members and quoted PKK-sympathetic media outlets, including ROJ TV, based in Denmark, and Özgür Halk newspaper. The nationalist Kurdish insurgency has been ongoing since the late 1970s, and the PKK is outlawed in Turkey.

Merve Erol, Aktan’s editor, was fined 16,660 Turkish lira (US$10,393) for the same article, according to Aktan’s lawyer, Tora Pekin. Aktan told CPJ that Pekin filed an appeal at the Yargıtay High Court today.

“This is a clear case of Turkey using anti-terror laws to silence critical media,” said CPJ Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator Mohamed Abdel Dayem. “We call on the court to overturn the prison sentence against Irfan Aktan and throw out the fine against Merve Erol on appeal.”

Pekin told CPJ that the article is news analysis, not a “propaganda piece.” He added that the sentence “demonstrates the lack of freedom of reporters and writers to provide information about the Kurdish issue, and the lack of freedom of the public to be informed.”

Aktan, 29, also writes for the independent weekly Yeni Aktuel and is a contributor to Newsweek‘s Turkish edition.