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For immediate release: July 16, 1997
Contact: Joel Campagna (212) 465-9344 x120

Jailed Editor Ocak Isik Yurtçu Receives CPJ Press Freedom Award from Terry Anderson in Emotional Prison Ceremony

Saray, Turkey, July 16, 1997--
In an emotional ceremony inside a small provincial prison here today, imprisoned newspaper editor Ocak Isik Yurtçu received the Committee to Protect Journalists’ International Press Freedom Award and called for an immediate end to the criminal prosecution of journalists and writers in Turkey for “thought crimes.”

“I would like to share this honor with all journalists fighting for press freedom and freedom of expression in Turkey and throughout the world,” Yurtçu said upon receiving the award from CPJ Vice Chairman Terry Anderson. “I hope that not only journalists but everyone imprisoned for their thoughts can win their freedom.”

The jailed editor should win his freedom soon, the leaders of Turkey’s new government told a delegation of foreign and Turkish journalists led by Anderson this week. In high-level meetings with officials over the past four days, the delegation pressed for the immediate release of Yurtçu and other jailed journalists and the reform or repeal of Turkey’s repressive press laws and “anti-terrorism” statutes.

More than 100 Turkish journalists traveled to the remote prison for today’s award presentation. The event was covered live on national television. Only a few reporters and photographers were allowed to accompany the delegation inside the prison compound. Yurtçu waved his award‹a plaque‹through the bars in the prison window, provoking an outburst of cheers and applause from the reporters gathered outside the gates.

Yurtçu, 52, the former editor of the Turkish daily Özgür Gündem, was sentenced in December 1994 to a 15-year jail term on charges related to his newspaper’s coverage of the conflict with Kurdish separatists. He was given CPJ’s International Press Freedom Award in November 1996 in recognition of his long battles with Turkish censors and for his principled decision to fight the charges against him in court rather than to leave for exile abroad, as some officials had privately urged. The 1996 award marked the start of an intensive CPJ campaign for Yurtçu’s release.

“We would like to present this award to you for your fight for press freedom in Turkey and to honor you for your courage and integrity,” Anderson said. “I know that your actions have been taken not just for yourself but for all Turkish journalists and for all Turkish citizens.”

Said Yurtçu as he accepted the plaque, “It is an honor to receive CPJ’s award from someone like Terry Anderson, who is so well respected as a journalist.”

Accompanying the delegation was Yasar Kemal, Turkey’s best-known novelist and an outspoken critic of press freedom restrictions. Kemal, who was recently prosecuted for an article he published in Germany about the Kurdish conflict here, began his long writing career at Turkey’s largest newspaper, where he worked alongside Yurtçu’s father. “If your father were alive, he would have been very proud of you today,” Kemal told Yurtçu, giving the imprisoned journalist an emotional embrace.

Yurtçu’s daughter, Fadime Ozdemir, 23, also a journalist, covered the story for her magazine.

Turkish Prime Minister Mesut Yilmaz promised the CPJ delegation Monday that his government would introduce legislation next week rescinding the convictions of Yurtçu and several other newspaper editors on the technical grounds that editors should not be liable for the content of articles they did not write. The government has promised a sweeping reform of Turkish freedom of expression restrictions later this year.

Turkish officials acknowledge that Turkey holds more journalists in jail than any country in the world. At the beginning of the year CPJ documented 78 cases of editors, reporters, and opinion writers who were jailed on charges relating directly to the content of their articles or of the publications with which they are associated.

“We know that the release of you and other editors who will be affected by the legislation is just a start, but it is an important start,” Anderson said to Yurtçu today.

Led by Anderson, the five-day mission to Turkey was organized by CPJ and the Press Council of Turkey, which is fighting for the abolition of press freedom restrictions here. The delegation included Johann Fritz, the executive director of the Vienna-based International Press Institute, and Robert Menard, secretary general of Reporters Sans Frontières of France. Representing CPJ were Anderson and founding board members Peter Arnett of CNN and Josh Friedman of Newsday, as well as CPJ Middle East program coordinator Joel Campagna and executive director William A. Orme, Jr.

At a press conference with the delegation outside the prison gates today, Arnett told Turkish reporters, “I have been a journalist for 40 years, and this has been one of the most satisfying days of my career.”

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists is an independent, nonprofit organization that documents and responds to violations of press freedom worldwide. CPJ’s Web site is http://www.cpj.org.

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