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Nilay Karaelmas (Karman) Tel: 90-312-426-1727
Judith Leynse Tel: (212) 465-1004, ext. 105 Fax: 90-312-426-5881

Press Freedom Groups Launch Mission to Free Turkey’s Jailed Journalists

New York, N.Y., July 11--The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is sending an emergency mission to Turkey today to press for the release of imprisoned Turkish journalists.

Led by CPJ Vice Chairman Terry Anderson, the delegation will hold high-level meetings in Turkey starting Sunday, July 13, to urge the new prime minister and his government to expedite the journalists’ release and to reform or repeal the statutes under which they were convicted. CPJ documented 78 cases of journalists in jail in Turkey as of the beginning of the year, far more than in any other country. CPJ’s Attacks on the Press in 1996 showed that a record 185 journalists were in prison in 24 countries.

CPJ’s delegation also includes board members Peter Arnett of CNN and Josh Friedman of Newsday, CPJ Middle East program coordinator Joel Campagna, and executive director William A. Orme, Jr. In Ankara, the delegation will be joined by other leading journalists and the executive directors and other members of the Press Council (Turkey), the Newspaper Owners Union (Turkey), International Press Institute, and Reporters Sans Frontières. The delegation will spend five days in Turkey, meeting with President Suleyman Demirel, Prime Minister Mesut Yilmaz, and other government officials and political leaders in Ankara.

“We are joining our Turkish colleagues and calling on the Turkish government to end the criminalization of independent reporting,” said Orme. “The jailing of journalists for exercising their internationally guaranteed right to free expression cannot be tolerated in a democracy.”

On Wednesday, July 16, the delegation will travel to Saray Prison to visit imprisoned journalist Ocak Isik Yurtçu, the former editor of the now-closed newspaper Özgür Gündem. CPJ has championed Yurtçu’s case as emblematic of the plight of all Turkish journalists jailed for articles considered critical of the government’s 11-year conflict with Kurdish insurgents. Terry Anderson, the former Associated Press correspondent who was held hostage in Lebanon for seven years by Shiite Muslims, will present Yurtçu with the CPJ International Press Freedom Award given in absentia in New York last November.

CPJ’s mission is the latest step in its long-term effort to halt the criminalization of independent reporting in Turkey. Walter Cronkite, CPJ honorary chairman, and Kati Marton, CPJ board member and former chairman, each undertook a mission to Turkey for CPJ in 1995. The committee has led an international campaign for Yurtçu’s release since November 1996. More than 300 prominent journalists and media industry leaders signed an appeal on his behalf, which was presented to the Turkish ambassador in Washington.

The mission is endorsed by leading U.S. and international journalism and freedom of expression organizations including the American Society of Newspaper Editors, World Press Freedom Committee, Canadian Committee to Protect Journalists, Norwegian Forum for Freedom of Expression, North American National Broadcasters Association, Independent Journalism Centre of Nigeria, Network for Defense of Independent Media in Africa, International PEN Writers in Prison Committee, Free Media Movement of Sri Lanka, Institute for the Studies on Free Flow of Information of Indonesia, Periodistas of Argentina, ARTICLE 19, Freedom House, International Federation of Journalists, and Pacific Freedom of Information Network.

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 address is http://www.cpj.org.

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