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For immediate release: Aug. 14, 1997
Contact: Joel Campagna (212) 465-9344; [email protected]

Turkish Parliament Passes Law to Amnesty Yurtçu, Editors

New York, N.Y., Aug. 14, 1997 -- Turkey’s parliament passed an amnesty bill today that will allow the release from prison of several editors jailed for their expression of news and opinion. The release will fulfill a government pledge made to a delegation of press freedom groups in July. The law, which parliament passed with unanimous approval, will free at least eight editors, including Ocak Isik Yurtçu. The editor of the daily Ozgür Gündem, Yurtçu was sentenced in 1994 to more than 10 years in prison for his newspaper’s commentary on the 12-year conflict between the Turkish government and Kurdish insurgents. He was the 1996 recipient of the Committee to Protect Journalists’ International Press Freedom Award and Reporters Sans Frontieres’ (RSF) Fondation de France award, given for his commitment to upholding the values of a free press.

Other journalists who will be included in the amnesty include Naile Tuncer, Hatice Onaran, Mustafa Aslan, Fatih Yesilbag, and Ibrahim Ozen. The law is expected to take effect Saturday, following its publication in parliament's official gazette.

Terry Anderson, CPJ's vice chairman and leader of the delegation to Turkey to seek the release of nearly 80 imprisoned journalists, said, “It is wonderful and gratifying to see the prime minister keeping his promises. It’s the first step toward establishing more freedom, not only for the Turkish press, but for the Turkish people. It gives us more confidence that the prime minister really intends to follow through on his promises, and we hope to see the next step and the release of more imprisoned journalists in the near future.”

Anderson led a delegation, from July 13-16, of international press freedom groups including representatives from RSF, the Press Council (Turkey), the International Press Institute, and the Union of Newspaper Owners (Turkey). On July 14, Prime Minister Mesut Yilmaz promised the delegation that his government would immediately pursue amnesty legislation to release of a limited number of editors and would later seek more comprehensive legislation to release other imprisoned journalists.

The new amnesty law suspends the jail terms of editors -- those legally designated as responsible for all material published in their newspapers -- for a period of three years. The law stipulates that if a similar “offense” is committed within the three-year period, those amnestied must serve their previous sentence in addition to any new sentencing. Prior to the law’s passage, the Turkish parliament rejected a more far-reaching proposal to expand the amnesty to include authors, writers, cartoonists, and other journalists who have been convicted under the sweeping provisions of Turkey’s Anti-Terror Law and the Penal Code.

Yurtçu, who was the focus of international media attention on July 16 when the delegation visited him in Saray Prison, said, “This is the first official recognition by the government of the absence of press freedom in Turkey. I am hoping that this recognition will open the way to freedom of thought in Turkey and to a democratic society ... where thought is not a crime.”

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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