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For immediate release: Aug. 15, 1997
Contact: Joel Campanga (212) 465-1004; [email protected]

International Press Freedom Awardee Ocak Isik Yurtçu Released From Prison

New York, N.Y., Aug. 15, 1997 -- After serving nearly 32 months in prison for his newspaper’s critical coverage of Turkey’s ongoing conflict with Kurdish insurgents, editor Ocak Isik Yurtçu was freed from Saray Prison today, one day after Turkey’s parliament unanimously passed an amnesty law allowing for the release of several jailed editors.

Yurtçu, the former editor of the pro-Kurdish daily Ozgür Gündem was sentenced in December 1994 to more than 10 years in prison for news articles that appeared in the newspaper during his tenure as editor from 1991 to 1992. A State Security Court convicted him under sweeping provisions of Turkey’s Anti-Terror Law and Penal Code, which included disseminating “separatist propaganda.” In November 1996, Yurtçu received the International Press Freedom Award from the Committee to Protect Journalists in recognition of his courage and integrity in resisting Turkey’s harsh treatment of independent journalists covering the Kurdish conflict.

Yurtçu’s release came one day after parliament passed a new amnesty law granting three-year suspended sentences to editors convicted for a wide range of articles that appeared in their newspapers, the majority of which concerned the Kurdish conflict. Turkish law holds that editors are legally responsible for what appears in their papers. The amnesty provision requires that if a similar “offense” is committed within the three-year period, those amnestied must serve their full sentence in addition to any new sentences.

CPJ vice-chairman Terry Anderson, who presented Yurtçu his award last month in Saray Prison, said “This is important to me personally because Yurtçu is now free. But it is also important because it is the first step that the Turkish government has taken toward improving freedom of expression and freedom of the press in Turkey.”

In July, Anderson led an international delegation of press freedom organizations to Turkey to urge government officials to release the country’s 80 imprisoned journalists. The new amnesty law should lead to the release of several editors, in addition to Yurtçu. According to CPJ’s research, even with the anticipated release of these editors, there will still be more journalists in prison in Turkey than in any other country worldwide.

Yurtçu’s release fulfills the July 14 promise made by Prime Minister Mesut Yilmaz to Anderson and representatives from CPJ, the Press Council (Turkey), the International Press Institute, Reporters Sans Frontieres, and the Union of Newspaper Editors (Turkey), that he would seek a limited amnesty for a group of imprisoned editors before parliament adjourned for a summer recess. The prime minister also pledged that his government would pursue more comprehensive legislation in the Fall in order to secure the release of other jailed journalists.

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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