|Home||Events||Public Statements||World Press Freedom Review||Newsletter & Publications||About IPI||Link Terminal||Contact Us|
World Press Freedom Review
1999 World Press Freedom Review
One might have expected the human rights situation to calm down in Turkey following the arrest of the Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Öcalan, the suspension of the death sentence against him, and the Kurdish rebel group PKKs ceasefire offers. Yet, in more ways than one, the opposite seems to have been the case in 1999. The problematic situation for the media in Turkey was exacerbated by a number of incidents related to a stepping up of pressure by the state and its often overzealous proponents and defenders. Two killings, one assassination and one death due to a hunger strike by a questionably imprisoned journalist, make up part of the sad tally of 1999. Scores of journalists are still imprisoned in Turkey, most having been accused of having links with terrorist groups. Information on the specific cases is very difficult to obtain. The authorities claim that the imprisoned journalists are terrorists, but in many cases the evidence used to convict them was their published work. Arbitrary arrests, beatings and even torture are still widely used means of repressing information on the Kurdish question and other sensitive topics. Although the Ankara government has signed European documents prohibiting torture, it is still being practised on a large scale all over Turkey. As well as being frequently used by the police against people imprisoned for common law offences, it is also practised against political activists, human rights campaigners and journalists.
During the past year, some fifty journalists were arrested, sometimes in a rough manner. The use of torture and other kinds of violence by state agents remains in place, despite some efforts to reinforce legislation penalising their use. The legal system rarely imposes sentences for police brutality. At least sixteen journalists were tortured in 1997, at least nine in 1998 and at least five in 1999. No known disciplinary action has been taken against any of the officers responsible for these despicable acts.
Articles 26 and 28 of the Turkish constitution supposedly guarantee press freedom. Moreover, Turkey has signed the European Convention on Human Rights, article 10 of which protects "freedom of opinion and the freedom to receive and pass on information or ideas without interference from the public authorities..." Despite this, prison sentences are frequently passed in Turkey for press offences, notably for "incitement to hatred" (article 312 of the penal code), "insulting or deriding the nation or the republic...or the security forces" (article 159), "publishing propaganda for a terrorist organisation" (article 7.2 of the anti-terrorist law -- number 3713) or "propaganda against the indivisible unity of the state" (article 8 of the same law). The Kurdish and Aramaic languages are forbidden on the airwaves. Furthermore, the words "Kurds" and "Kurdistan" are still banned from publication by the authorities. Since 1996, 166 books have been forbidden, including foreign titles by authors such as the Italian Nobel laureate Dario Fo.
The blind writer, lawyer, journalist and human rights activist Esber Yagmurdereli, in and out of jail since 1978, continues to serve his life sentence in Çankiri Prison, about 130 kilometres from Ankara. He is an Honorary Member of the Canadian, Czech, San Miguel, Slovak and Swedish PEN Centres and an Amnesty International Prisoner of Conscience. It is believed that, taking into account Turkey's complicated laws regarding remission of sentences, he is due for release in about 2015. He was originally sentenced to death, with the sentence later commuted to life imprisonment, for "trying to change the constitutional order by force". His friends and colleagues have no doubt that the case against him was framed as a way to silence him and halt his legal and literary activities. Yagmurdereli became prominent for his defence of many leading left-wing political figures and of the Kurdish community. He simultaneously edited several magazines, including Yeni Eylem, a political journal founded in 1968, and he made a name for himself as a poet and short-story writer. One of his short stories won him a famous literary prize.
Other questionable long-term current convictions include Hasan Özgün of the pro-Kurdish daily Özgür Gündem, since 1993, and Ayten Öztürk, of the extreme-left weekly Kurtulus, since 1997.
On January 4, the police headquarters of the "emergency region" South-East Anatolia (Kurdistan), in the city of Diyarbakir, banned the distribution of the far-left daily Yeni Evrensel (Universal News) in the region which currently comprises the cities of Hakkari, Siirt, Sirnak, Tunceli and Van. No motive was given to justify this decision. Since December 1, 1997, the pro-Kurdish daily Ülkede Gündem has also been banned.
Hasan Küçükoba, editor-in-chief of the pro-Kurdish daily Özgür Ülke, was arrested on January 14. He was sentenced to 13 months in prison under article 8 of the anti-terrorist law and 20 months under article 159 of the penal code following two trials. As editor of the newspaper, he was ordered to pay over 60 billion Turkish pounds (US$ 160,000) in fines before September for 300 press offences. If unable to pay, he would face another three years in jail.
Christof Hayzen, a German journalist with the television channel ZDF, was detained on February 17 in Istanbul along with a Turkish colleague, Mustafa Yilmaz, while they were producing a report on the Kurdish opposition. They were released several hours later without explanation.
On February 21, Jon Hemming, a British correspondent with the Reuters press agency stationed in Turkey, was briefly detained at the Diyarbakir airport and forced to turn back. A police officer told him: "You cannot enter. Journalists are not authorised to go to the region which is under a state of emergency. You must return to Ankara."
On the same day, two Swedish journalists with the daily Göteborgs-Posten -- Arne Lapidus and Sören Haakanlind -- were also arrested in Diyarbakir and forced to return to Istanbul for the same reasons. These arrests took place just one week after the arrest of Abdullah Öcalan, leader of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), and at a time when numerous arrests were taking place within the ranks of Kurdish militants and human rights workers.
At least five domestic journalists from the partly banned Ülkede Gündem were also detained between February 17 and 22.
On February 23, two journalists from Diyarbakir -- Ibrahim Atesoglu, a cameraman with the private television channel NTV, and Adnan Simsek, a reporter with the Ihlas (IHA) press agency -- were severely beaten by police officers as they were on their way to the scene of confrontations between striking shopkeepers and law enforcement officers. A few minutes earlier, at the end of a meeting held by Diyarbakir's chief of police, the journalists had heard, by means of police walkie-talkie exchanges, that several persons had been injured after police had tried to forcibly raise the metal shutters of city shopkeepers who had organised a general strike to show solidarity with Abdullah Öcalan, the jailed leader of the PKK. Having arrived on the scene, Atesoglu and Simsek were violently hit with the butt of rifles. Officers on motorbikes then drove over Ibrahim Atesoglu, who was lying on the ground. The two journalists were taken to the Diyarbakir state hospital. Atesoglu received serious head injuries. His colleague received stitches in the head.
Furthermore, on February 26, in Batman, police seized all the tapes of reporters working for local and national television stations. This happened when the journalists were about to send their footage to their stations.
On March 2, the Turkish Minister of Justice, Selcuk Oztek, ordered regional prosecutors to strictly apply the law in regards to separatist propaganda to all media suspected of supporting Abdullah Öcalan. The minister made public an order for "legal action to be taken against all those who directly or indirectly advocate political or cultural separatism, ...and publish messages, declarations or images considered criminal". Immediately after Öcalan's arrest, on February 15, Turkish authorities had placed restrictions on reporting on "the Kurdish problem". In 1998, at least twenty-three dailies or periodicals had been seized, totalling up to 139 days of suspensions, RSF reported. The Superior Audiovisual Council (RTÜK) ordered a total of ten years and 342 days of suspension against thirty-six radios and television broadcasters; at least nineteen of these were suspended under the anti-terror legislation or for having "incited hatred and racial and religious discrimination." The great majority of censored newspapers and broadcast media were pro-Kurdish or leftist. During that same period, at least 200 journalists -- working mostly for the extreme leftist and pro-Kurdish media -- were questioned by police. Ten of these were reportedly tortured.
In a high-profile case, on March 9, the journalist Koray Düzgören was sentenced to two months' imprisonment, along with the popular singer Nilüfer Akbal, by a military court in Ankara, under Article 58 of the Military Penal Code, for making propaganda against national conscription. The charges related to the declaration of support he and Nilüfer Akbal gave to Osman Murat Ülke in "Düsünceye Özgürlük 9", a pamphlet highlighting freedom of expression cases (Osman Murat Ülke is a conscientious objector prosecuted for refusing to perform the obligatory military service after he had declared his willingness to perform alternative service instead. He is currently imprisoned.) The sentences were confirmed on May 25, and on July 21 Düzgören was ordered to go to prison. Düzgören is also being tried by the State Security Court in Sanliurfa for allegedly insulting the state and government. He was charged under Article 159 of the Turkish Penal Code (TCK) because of statements he allegedly made at a meeting in Sanliurfa on December 20, 1998, that torture methods inherited from the Ottoman Empire are systematic in Turkey. Furthermore, Düzgören is a founder and board member of The Foundation for the Research of Societal Problems (TOSAV). In its publication of March 1999, there was a final declaration calling for a peaceful democratic solution to the Kurdish problem in Turkey. As a result, the publication was banned by the State Security Court in Ankara and all copies were confiscated before they could be distributed.
According to Amnesty International, journalist Bayram Namaz was threatened and harassed by police after he had stated at a press conference on March 9 that his fellow detainee Suleyman Yeter had died in custody as a result of torture. On March 5, Namaz, Yeter and three others were taken from the offices of the newspaper they worked for -- Dayanisma -- and placed in neighbouring cells at the Anti-Terror Branch of Istanbul Police Station. The next day, Yeter relayed from his cell to Namaz that he had been stripped and beaten, sprayed with cold water and forced to lie on ice. That night, Namaz and the other detainees heard the cries of someone under torture. On the following morning the Fatih State Prosecutor reported that Yeter had died in custody. Lawyers were allowed to inspect his body on March 8 and saw marks on his body which they believed had been caused by torture. Namaz was released on March 9. He reported what he had been told by Yeter himself and what he had heard on the night of March 6 to 7 to Turkey's Human Rights Association. He also made an official statement to the Office of the Prosecutor in Fatih. He claimed that in the last twelve days he has been repeatedly followed by police in marked cars and was now fearing for his own safety. Namaz and Yeter were among fifteen detainees whose claim that they had been tortured in detention on a previous occasion -- in early 1997 -- was being officially investigated, after a State Security Court Forensic Institute issued a report confirming their story. Yeter had faced several detentions and threats as a result of this investigation. On March 24, the Istanbul Bar Association expressed concern that Yeter's death was in direct retaliation for his attempt to bring justice to those who had tortured him in 1997.
Yilmaz Odabasi, a prize-winning poet, writer and journalist, was sent to Bursa Prison on March 12 to serve an eighteen-month term, (which, with remission, will come to eight months). He was convicted of "insulting Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the Turkish Republic" in his volume of poetry "Dream and Life". Odabasi was first imprisoned in 1980, just after the military coup, by which time he had already published poems in literary journals. He was released after a few weeks and was allegedly tortured while in detention. In 1985 he opened a book shop in Diyarbakir and worked as a regional representative for UBA, the National Press Agency. He has also worked as a correspondent for the English-language Turkish Daily News. In 1987 he was named "poet of the year" by the review Temnuz; that same year he was sentenced to eight years in prison for membership in the Socialist Party. That sentence was overturned by the Supreme Court, however, and he did not go to jail.
A horrific case of torture began in the night of March 19 to 20 and lasted for three days. Aydogan Inal, a reporter with the pro-Kurdish weekly Hêvi in Diyarbakir, was arrested at his home by eight police officers who punched and blindfolded him before taking him to the city security headquarters. He was forced to wait for an hour kneeling against a wall before being questioned. The police officers ordered him to sign some documents and he was obliged to comply. "When I had the papers in front of me, they insulted me and hit me continuously," he said. Stunned by the blows, he fell to the ground. The policemen picked him up, told him to sing the national anthem and began hitting him again when he claimed he did not know it. They then undressed him and threw him into a cell, eventually giving him back his clothes. During the night of March 20 to 21, Aydogan Inal was taken blindfolded to a room where police officers asked him which "organisation" published Hêvi. He denied having any connection with a political movement (in other words, the banned PKK -- the Kurdistan Workers' Party). The journalist was struck several times, undressed and taken to another room where he was forced to lie on the ground. The police tied his feet up with a carpet and ordered him to put his hands behind his head. They then put pressure on his hands and feet. One of the men squeezed his testicles until he passed out, starting again as soon as the journalist came round. When the torturer noticed pus coming out of a wound he stopped and put a plastic bag over the journalist's head until he started to suffocate. Aydogan Inal also suffered a form of torture that involves being sprayed with water. On March 24, after enduring three days of ill-treatment, he was examined by a doctor at the Baglar clinic. Police officers were present at the examination -- in contravention of Turkish law. The doctor asked the journalist no questions and issued a medical certificate stating that he was "in good health". Aydogan Inal was released the same day on the orders of the state security court. In November 1998, Mehmet Eren, his predecessor with the weekly in Diyarbakir, had also been tortured by police officers, for nine days in November 1998, and subsequently left the job. The journalist was stripped naked and tied up. Police officers threatened to rape him. He was hit in the testicles and lost consciousness. He was later punched and kicked again in the face and abdomen. Yet he rejoined the paper in the spring of 1999, only to be severely ill-treated again by security police, this time along with Inal. The journalists, working out of Hêvi's Diyarbakir office, were arrested on June 15 by anti-terrorist agents near Mardinkapi, while covering a march organised by the Democracy and Peace Party. Both were taken to Diyarbakir security headquarters where they were questioned separately about links between their newspaper and banned organisations. Eren was blindfolded, stripped, beaten and insulted. In the middle of the night he was taken to an isolated place where police officers threatened him with death if he did not leave the city. Inal was also questioned about Hêvi's alleged support for banned organisations. The officers squeezed his testicles to make him answer. Just before he was released, they told him: "Leave Diyarbakir or you will be killed." Eren is now receiving psychiatric treatment.
Yalçin Küçük, a columnist with the left-wing weekly Hepileri, was sentenced on March 22 to seven and a half years in prison under article 169 because he had said on Med TV that PKK militants were conducting a "holy struggle". He is currently in prison in Ankara.
The Independent Television Commission (ITC) in Britain, a Nato ally of Turkeys, announced that it had suspended for a period of 21 days the satellite television service licence of Med Broadcasting Ltd (Med TV) on March 22. The station was the only satellite station broadcasting in the Kurdish language, which is a banned language on the Turkish airwaves. Med TV also used to broadcast programming in Aramaic, another banned language in Turkey, spoken by the Assyrian minority, and in Turkish and Arabic. It was the first ever Kurdish-language satellite television station, broadcasting from England across Europe and the Middle East to an estimated audience of over 35 million Kurds. The ITC justified its decision by claiming that Med TV had broadcast "material likely to encourage or incite to crime or to lead to disorder". In the past, Med TV's news and panel discussion programmes have been targeted by jamming signals emanating from Turkey, while in Kurdish regions of Turkey, satellite dishes and antennae have been prohibited and destroyed by soldiers and police units. The National Security Council of Turkey accused Med TV of spreading "separatist propaganda" and continuously sought to prevent its broadcasts. IPI expressed its concern with regard to the suspension and condemned the Turkish government's actions in the matter.
After 26 days of suspension, Med TV was taken off the air permanently by the ITC. In a controversy following the revocation of the license, the Guardian reported claims that the ITC chairman, Sir Robin Biggam, had a serious conflict of interest in his role as a director of British Aerospace, about to start up licensed production in Turkey of assault rifles and grenade launchers for the state security forces. Rachel Harford of Britains Campaign Against the Arms Trade said: "It is hypocrisy for Sir Robin to accuse Med TV of incitement to violence when he is a director of a company selling arms to a security force which tortures and kills its own people." Neither the ITC nor British Aerospace would comment on the charge.
On May 29, a new station, CTV (Cultural Television), commenced broadcasting destined for the Kurdish community in Europe, Northern Africa and the Middle East. The production of the programming is in the hands of the Belgian-based BRD. CTV is a British company with a British license from the ITC. Cultural Television says it addresses communities throughout the world from a Christian ethical perspective.
On March 27, Çetin Günes, a 28-year-old columnist with the far-left periodical Hedef (Target), died at an Ankara hospital after succumbing to a serious heart condition. He had been transferred from the Ankara prison while on a hunger strike. Günes had been detained for questioning on July 5, 1998. That same year, he was sentenced to a one-year and four month prison term for "separatist propaganda" for writing an article, published in September 1994 in the far-left monthly Sosyalist Alternatif, entitled "The role and characteristics of a militant of the Turkish revolution." The journalist had previously been jailed and had participated in a hunger strike movement in 1996. He had been suffering from a heart condition for some time. According to RSF, Çetin Günes was sentenced for having freely expressed his opinion in an article which neither incited hatred nor called for murder.
Three reporters from the daily Star, Selçuk Koç, Leyla Ilhan and Mesut Er, were attacked with police rifle butts as they were covering skirmishes between activists of the pro-Kurdish party Hadep and nationalist sympathisers on April 4. Police tried to break up the fighting and some officers set upon the journalists to try to prevent them reporting the events. One reporter, Selçuk Koç, was taken to hospital with a broken leg. He was allowed home two days later.
Muzaffer Ilhan Erdost, a prominent writer, journalist and publisher, has been imprisoned repeatedly since 1971, either for books he wrote himself or for books he published. He is the author of articles, books, poems, essays, and stories and an active member of the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey. Just after the military coup of 1980, he was again arrested with his brother Ilhan Erdost. On November 7, 1980, Erdost witnessed his brother being beaten to death by police while in custody. (His harrowing account of the murder appears in the PEN anthology "This Prison Where I Live"). He took his brother's name, Ilhan, as his middle name in memory of this event. After his brother's death, he took over Onur Publishing House, founded by Ilhan in 1974. His current conviction stems from his book "Uc Sivas" ("Three Sivas"), an account of three occasions in the town of Sivas when civilians have been massacred. "In my book," Erdost explains, "I tried to explain the facts behind the three events in Sivas, and I concluded that the July 2, 1993, massacre (in which thirty-five people were killed in the Madimak Hotel fire set by fanatical religious groups) was a planned operation." His lawyers stressed in court that the title and back cover, far from having the separatist message ascribed to it by the judges, is a plea against the destruction of Turkey. Nevertheless, in March 1997, the court found that he had transgressed Article 8.1 of the Anti-Terror Law by "disseminating separatist propaganda." Two years later, the Supreme Court upheld his one-year prison term and fine of 100 million lira (US$ 260). At this point the Chief Prosecutor intervened by submitting the case to the General Penal Board of the Supreme Court; however, this body also upheld the sentence on April 20, 1999.
The Turkish Human Rights Association (IHD) protested the sentence as follows: "Erdost, a representative of the enlightenment tradition, a man of culture and art who has contributed to Turkey's cultural life and intellectual history since the 1960s...is again 'guilty' of thinking. The political and juridical structure of Turkey does not allow for the free expression of one's thoughts, despite this being a sine qua non of a democratic society, and this fact has now opened again the prison gates for Erdost. As a contributor to IHD's construction and chairman of our Ankara branch, as well as by his independent studies on human rights, Erdost has proved to be a defender of human rights. The barriers to the right to free expression must be abolished and all our intellectuals, artists, and politicians who are in prison for their thoughts must be freed."
On May 6, in the twenty-fifth and final hearing in the trial of six police officers for the killing of Evrensel reporter Metin Göktepe, the defendants were sentenced to seven and a half years in prison for "involuntary homicide". The Göktepe family lawyers had urged for the policemen to be sentenced for "voluntary homicide". More police brutality unfolded during the trial: Fadime Göktepe, the assassinated journalist's mother, was hospitalised after being hit with a walkie-talkie by a police officer; members of her family were also attacked by police officers; one of the litigants' female lawyers received an eye injury; the editor-in-chief of the far-left daily Yeni Evrensel, Tuncay Seyman, was violently hit in the head.
In 1996, Metin Göktepe was beaten to death by the policemen in front of hundreds of eye-witnesses in a sports complex, where police had taken detainees, including Göktepe, after the funeral of prisoners killed by police during prison riots. In a protest to the lenient sentencing, which did not include any of the higher-level officers present during the killing, in spite of a trial that lasted over two and a half years, RSF recalled that teenagers had been sentenced by Turkish courts to nine-year prison terms for having shoplifted two kilograms of candies. The life of an uncomfortable journalist is apparently worth less than candy to the Turkish judiciary.
On May 18, Oral Calislar, a columnist for the mainstream daily Cumhurriyet, was convicted of disseminating "separatist propaganda" and sentenced to 13 months in prison by the Istanbul State Security Court. IPI condemned the sentence. The charge against Calislar stemmed from his 1993 book "The Kurdish Problem with Öcalan and Burkay". The book contains interviews -- originally published in Cumhurriyet in June and July 1993 -- with Kemal Burkay, head of the Kurdistan Socialist Party, and Abdullah Öcalan, leader of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, who was awaiting trial in Turkey on treason charges at the time. After the book's release, Calislar was charged and convicted in 1995. He was sentenced to two years in prison and fined 250 million TL (US$ 630). However, while the case was under appeal, the Turkish Parliament approved amendments to the law under which he was charged, resulting in the nullification of the conviction. In 1996, the State Security Court arraigned Calislar on charges of violating another Article of the Anti-Terror Law (publishing the statements of a terrorist organisation), again citing the book as the principle evidence. He was convicted of the charge, and fined 5 million TL. But on March 5, 1998, the Court of Cassation quashed the 1996 ruling, stating that Calislar's book instead constituted "separatist propaganda," and ordered a retrial under yet another article of the law, leading ultimately to the May 18 sentence. Calislar filed an appeal against the ruling.
Of the 700 Turkish and foreign journalists who received accreditation to cover the treason trial of Abdullah Öcalan, the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) leader, only twenty were given permission to attend the hearings daily. Cellular telephones, portable computers, cameras and camcorders were strictly prohibited. Reporters each received two pencils and paper in order to take notes during the hearings. Only the Anatoly press agency and the Turkish television station TRT were authorised to send live information and to rebroadcast images. Only foreign correspondents, and not special envoys, could attend hearings. Italian correspondents were not authorised by Turkish authorities to attend the hearings, in retaliation for the Italian press' coverage of Öcalan's stay in Rome in late 1998, and because of disagreement between the Anatoly agency and Stampa Estera, the association of Italian journalists. Furthermore, the far-left daily Yeni Evrensel and the pro-Kurd daily Özgür Bakis did not receive the necessary accreditation to follow the trial in the hearing room on the island of Imrali. At the OSCE summit in Istanbul in November, journalists from these same two papers were at first accredited, but then singled out, detained briefly and stripped of their accreditations.
On June 4, the well-known human rights activist Akin Birdal, President of the prominent Human Rights Association (HRA) of Turkey was imprisoned. He was convicted and sentenced to 12 months' imprisonment in July 1998 for a speech he made on September 1, 1996, calling for "peace and understanding" with respect to the Kurdish minority. Birdal was convicted for "inciting racial hatred" under article 312 of the Turkish Penal Code. The indictment specifically mentioned Birdal's reference in the speech to "the Kurdish people" as an incriminating phrase. The sentence was confirmed on appeal on October 27, 1998. As a result of the conviction, Birdal will no longer be able to act as president of the HRA and will no longer be permitted to be an official of any association. The ban is a lifetime ban, but may be appealed after five years. He will serve his sentence at the Ankara Central Closed Prison.
There are several other charges currently pending against Birdal, all related to his writings and public speeches. In addition to facing numerous criminal prosecutions, Birdal was physically attacked on May 12, 1998, when two gunmen entered his office in downtown Ankara and shot him seven times in the lungs and leg. The attack followed a reckless campaign in the press purportedly based on leaked information from the prosecutor's office about alleged connections between the PKK and the Human Rights Association. These accusations were later shown to be false. Immediately after the attack, then-Prime Minister Mesut Yilmaz repeated the accusations against the HRA, describing the attack as part of an internal feud within the PKK. However, the extreme right-wing organisation Turkish Revenge Brigade took responsibility for the attack. Currently, a number of people, including a retired army major, are on trial for the attempted murder of Birdal.
Also on June 4, state prosecutors at the Istanbul State Security Court charged Hasan Deniz, editor of the daily Özgür Bakis with violating article 169 of the Penal Code (aiding an illegal organisation) and ordered his immediate arrest. According to staff at Özgür Bakis, the charge against Deniz stems from the newspaper's publication of an article on the previous day, titled "PKK Gives Support to Öcalan's Project". The article reported on a statement issued by the outlawed PKK supporting the call by Öcalan -- standing trial in Turkey on treason charges at the time -- for an end to violence and a "democratic solution" to political violence between Turkey and Kurdish rebels. The story had been widely reported by the local and international press. At the moment there are around 90 court cases running against the Özgür Bakis, including five in the Supreme Court.
On June 10, Andrew Finkel, a free-lance journalist based in Istanbul who reports for Time magazine and The Times of London and appears on CNN, was indicted by a Turkish court. Finkel, a British national, was charged with "insulting state institutions" under article 159 of the Turkish Penal Code. The charge comes in response to a February 1998 article Finkel wrote for the daily newspaper Sabah headlined "Shurnak 1998," which discussed Turkey's ongoing military operations against the Kurds in the southeast. An expert panel's report, submitted to the court, concluded that Finkel did not insult the military. Another hearing was scheduled for November 16, pending the report of a second panel of experts on the validity of the charges. If he had been convicted, Finkel would have faced up to six years in prison. Finkel said that the charges against him are but the latest example of the Turkish authorities' use of provisions of the penal code to harass and intimidate his Turkish colleagues. "Because Prime Minister Ecevit has himself stood in the darkness, as an imprisoned journalist", said Finkel, "it behoves him to join in the campaign to change these repressive practices."
Three periodicals were each suspended for one month in June. The extreme-left periodical Hedef was suspended by the state security court no. 1 (decision taken on July 28, 1998), as of June 10, 1999. The extreme-left monthly Liseli Arkadas was suspended for the same period, following a decision taken on November 27 1998 by the state security court no. 3. The extreme-left monthly Uzun Yürüyüs was suspended for one month for "breach of state unity" after publishing a story headed "Overview of the region and the Kurds" in which "PKK terrorist actions" were qualified as "the freedom struggle", and "a part of Turkish territory" as "Kurdistan".
In four separates cases, Zeynel Engin, owner and editor-in-chief of the extreme-left fortnightly Halkin Günlügü (People's Diary), was sentenced to 16 months' imprisonment and a fine of over two billion TL on June 10. The state security court no.1 sentenced him to 10 months' imprisonment for "propaganda for an illegal organisation" and "separatist propaganda" following the publication on November 16, 1997, of four articles: "State security policy is the real constitution of the counter-guerrilla forces"; "The people of Dersim are not alone"; "Scenarios on the Black Sea won't happen"; and "Revolutionary revenge cannot be delayed". The state security court no. 3 sentenced him to six months' imprisonment for "propaganda for an illegal organisation" following the publication of an article in the August 16 1998 edition.
Hüseyin Aykol, journalist with the foreign service of the pro-Kurd daily Özgür Bakis, was arrested by police on June 18 at Istanbul airport as she was about to leave for the Netherlands. The police checked whether the publications she had on her (books, magazines, etc.) were banned. One edition of her newspaper and a few books were confiscated. The journalist was released after being detained for questioning for a day.
On June 24, Nuray Yazar, editor-in-chief of the extreme-left fortnightly Proleter Halkin Birligi (Proletarian People's Union) was arrested by police in Istanbul. The arrest was ordered by the prosecutor of the state security court who confirmed the sentence in absentia to one year, three months and ten days' imprisonment and a three billion TL fine. She is presently in the Barkirköy jail for women and children. The newspaper was banned for two weeks, as of June 25.
Amberin Zaman, correspondent for the US daily Washington Post and the US-run radio station Voice of America, was arrested by plainclothes policemen on June 28 in Kiziltepe, in the south-east Anatolian sub-prefecture Mardin, as she was leaving the mayor's office. At the police station her notes and cell phone were confiscated. "They made me strip down to my underwear and refused to let me call my embassy". When she objected, a policewoman retorted: "We can search you ten times like that, even one hundred times if we want to!" She is accused of travelling without a permit in an emergency area. The journalist claimed that the town is outside of the emergency area. Zaman was released after making contact with the US embassy.
Also in June, the appeal court confirmed the 20-month prison term passed on Vedad Bakir, head of news at Radyo Karacadag, a station based in Sanliurfa, in the south-east of the country. On September 29, 1998, a state security court in the emergency region of Diyarbakir sentenced him for "incitement to hatred and hostility" (article 312). On March 21, 1998, Vedad Bakir had worked as a journalist for a newsletter published by Med TV and had written about events that took place during Newroz (the Kurdish new year) in Sanliurfa.
On July 4, a team from the German TV channel ZDF was attacked by an individual and insulted by a few dozen people while taking pictures in Kizilay square in Ankara. Manfred Bainczyk, head of the Turkey office, Jürgen Heck, cameraman and Manfred Peter, assistant cameraman, were accused of pro-PKK propaganda. They were then arrested by the police who asked them for their permit to film (which is not required) and checked their videos. When the channel's correspondent, Nigar Rona, arrived, the police demanded they show their press cards, which they did not have, and their passports. They were released after two hours. The ZDF team was covering the Ankara visit of a German member of parliament from the Green party, Claudia Roth.
Ayse Tusun, another reporter with the pro-Kurdish daily Özgür Bakis, was arrested on July 5 at Adana, in southern Turkey, when she arrived on the spot where the authorities said the PKK had carried out an attack. Police officers struck her and asked her what part she had played in the terrorist act: "If you do not admit the attack, we will make you disappear. If you do not tell us all you know, we will humiliate you." The journalist was touched sexually and forced to listen to music at a very high volume. The officers also threatened to send her to hospital "to check her virginity."
Makbule Türk, of the extreme-left journal Alinterimiz, was arrested on July 29. She was charged under article 169 of the penal code.
On August 26, IPI condemned the banning of a Turkish television channel, Kanal 6, because of its coverage of the previous week's devastating earthquake. The privately-owned national television channel was shut down for one week because of its critical coverage of the government's handling of the rescue and cleanup operation and of companies it blamed for poorly constructed buildings that collapsed in the quake. Turkey's broadcasting watchdog, the High Board of Radio and Television (RTÜK), barred the station from going on air for a week from August 30, on charges of "encouraging violence, terror and ethnic discrimination and allowing broadcasting that could create feelings of hatred among the people." The Turkish government and military, stung by media criticism of its handling of the aftermath of the disastrous quake -- which may have killed more than 40,000 people -- have blamed the media for "going too far" and "having a negative effect on morale." On August 25, Health Minister Osman Durmus, the main target for criticism, urged the RTÜK to take action against six national television channels he accused of "directing grave insults towards him." Durmus is alleged to have spurned offers for help from Armenia and Greece. During the Council of Ministers meeting of August 22, Prime Minister Ecevit allegedly told State Minister M. Yalova that "certain media are doing a poor job" and that it was necessary to "have discussions with the RTÜK to put a little order in the situation." On the previous evening, the semi-official Anatolia agency had reported statements by the superior administrative officer which criticised the press for "focusing exclusively on foreign rescue workers and ignoring Turkish soldiers". That same day, representatives of the government agencies responsible for rescue operations refused to speak to journalists.
On August 27, Aydin Korkmaz, editor-in-chief of Yeniden Yeni Cesme, in Izmir, voluntarily surrendered at the Urla prison, to serve his thirteen-month and six-day prison sentence, imposed by the Izmir State Security Court. The journalist was sentenced for "incitement to hatred" and "propaganda against the unity of the State" in an editorial titled "Celebration on 1 May, sadness on 6 May?" The journalist did nothing more than passively express his opinion.
On August 28, the Turkish parliament approved an amnesty bill for journalists and writers who were jailed on the basis of their published work. The law was signed by President Suleiman Demirel on September 2. The new legislation "freezes" court cases or jail terms against individuals charged or convicted of "crimes" committed through the media for a period of three years. A number of journalists and writers -- 32 according to the government -- were expected to be released from prison over the following weeks. In fact, only six were released due to the new law over the next four months. "Dozens" of other cases pending in court were also to be suspended. The new law is a welcome development, but only limited, temporary relief to Turkey's persistent press freedom problem. According to the law's text, if a similar "offence" is committed within the three-year period, those amnestied will be required to serve their previous sentence in addition to any new sentence confirmed by the courts. Similarly, court cases pending against journalists would be reactivated.
Journalists who committed "crimes" prior to April 23, 1999, will not qualify for the amnesty. This arbitrary cut-off date allowed a Turkish court to bring fresh charges against Nadire Mater, who crossed the line with her interviews with Turkish soldiers. Just weeks after the amnesty was approved, the court charged Mater with insulting the military (see below). So while some will benefit from the amnesty, all of Turkey's journalists still run the risk of crossing that invisible line. Under the amnesty, Yilmaz Odabasi was released on September 8 and Ismail Besikci was released on September 15. Later on, Hasan Küçükoba, Dogan Güzel and Nuray Yazar were also released.
Yet the suspension of proceedings against those journalists for three years is not unconditional, and it may force them into self-censorship. If those who benefited from the law are charged with other press offences during that period, they will have to serve the sentences for which they were granted an amnesty.
On September 2, Yalçin Küçük, a journalist of the far-left magazine Hepileri and a writer, received an eighteen-month prison sentence for "separatist propaganda" in a speech he delivered in 1993. On September 14, the High Court confirmed the three-year and nine-month prison sentence passed against Yalçin Küçük for having "facilitated the work of the PKK through propaganda". The journalist is currently jailed at the Gebze prison in Izmit because other trials are currently underway before the Istanbul courts. Yalçin Küçük has been jailed since October 29, 1998.
Also on September 2, the one-month suspension of the far-left monthly Devrimci Cözüm, which had been confirmed by the High Court on July 29, took effect. The editor-in-chief, Neriman Tufan, was sentenced to pay a fine of nearly 158 million Turkish pounds because of four articles on the pro-Kurd party Hadep and on the disturbances during the Kurdish new year, published in the March 7, 1998 issue. The requested prison sentences, for "separatist propaganda" and "distribution of terrorist organisations' declarations", were converted to fines, after the journalist was able to prove that she had not penned the articles.
On September 27, Sahin Bayar, a reporter with the daily Yeni Evrensel, was detained in front of the Umraniye prison in Istanbul as a "suspicious person", while gathering information on a revolt which was underway in the prison. He was released the next day. Two days later, Muzaffer Öztürk, a reporter with the same daily, Manolya Gültekin, a reporter with Alinterimiz (a far-left publication), Aynur Akkemik, a reporter with Dayanisma (far-left) and Sema Gul, who works for Partizan (far-left), were also detained while investigating the death of a political prisoner in Ankara's Ulucanlar prison. The journalists were released after a few hours in police custody.
On September 28, Hatice Yasar, a photojournalist with the daily Radikal, was hit by several police officers in Istanbul while covering a banned demonstration concerning the recent revolts in a number of the country's prisons in which eleven people have been killed. Just as the reporter was preparing to photograph the arrest of demonstrators, she was taken aside by police officers who brutally hit her. Other journalists intervened, stopping the police officers from placing her under arrest. Sibel Hurtas, another reporter with Yeni Evrensel who was at the same demonstration, was detained by the police and released a short time later.
Nadire Mater, who works for the IPS press agency and represents Reporters Sans Frontières (RSF) in Istanbul, appeared before an Istanbul court on September 29. She was charged because of her book titled "Mehmed's Book: Soldiers Who have Fought in the Southeast Speak Out ", which includes interviews with soldiers who did their military service in the emergency region (OHAL, in south-east Anatolia). The book quickly went into four editions and won high praise both within Turkey and abroad. In June it was banned by the Turkish government. The journalist, accused of "insulting the army", will face a six-year prison sentence if convicted.
On October 1, the editor-in-chief of the far-left periodical Alinterimiz (published every ten days) was released, after her hearing before Istanbul's State Security Court. She had been held since July 29. Makbule Türk is still charged with "assisting an armed organisation".
On October 6, Erhan Gungor, editor-in-chief of the Islamist weekly Selam, was briefly detained and placed in custody for "mockery and insults aimed at the armed forces" and "incitement to hatred and religious and racial discrimination". On October 13, Huseyin Cevirgen, director and editor-in-chief of the leftist weekly Hepileri, was released. He had been arrested the night before for "separatist propaganda".
Also on October 6, the pro-Kurdish monthly Deng was seized for "incitement to hatred and racial, regional and religious discrimination".
During its two meetings, the RTÜK suspended several media for periods ranging from one to 180 days. On October 6, five television stations and four radio stations were censored for a grand total of 225 days, and on October 13, four television stations and four radio stations were suspended for 311 days. In addition, from October 30, the Radyo Foreks radio station, which broadcasts from Istanbul, was suspended for 30 days for having rebroadcast a programme of the BBC's Turkish-language service on the PKK. Radyo Klass, another private radio station of Istanbul, was also suspended for one month for having broadcast a live programme "comprised of insults".
Ahmet Taner Kislali, a prominent journalist and former Turkish minister of culture, died on October 21, of injuries sustained in a bomb blast, which was triggered when he picked up a package – the bomb, wrapped in newspaper -- left on his car. Kislali was a columnist for the mainstream daily Cumhuriyet and served briefly as culture minister in 1978 and 1979. In a recent column, he had attacked the leaders of a Moslem sect for saying that the deadly earthquake which shook Turkey in August was divine retribution for the country's official clampdown on Islamic activism. Cumhuriyet's writers frequently receive death threats from radical Islamic groups for their staunch defence of the secularist principles on which Turkey was founded. In 1993, another Cumhuriyet columnist and critic of Islamic fundamentalism, Ugur Mumcu, was killed in a bomb attack. His assassins have never been found. In a press release condemning the murder, IPI expressed fear that Kislali was killed because of his work as a journalist. He had received several death threats, notably from the Great Eastern Islamic Raiders' Front, IBDA-C, a fundamentalist group. On October 28, a search was carried out in the offices of the Islamist daily Akit as part of the inquiry into the assassination. The newspaper had published a photograph of the journalist, accusing him of being a "traitor". The IBDA-C has previously targeted leading secularist intellectuals, including journalists.
In December, the RTÜK decided to halt broadcasts by the privately owned Antalya FM radio station for a year. RTÜK stated in its decision that Antalya FM had incited people to terrorism and ethnic hatred in its broadcasts.
IPI provides links to other Internet sites only for the convenience of its visitors. IPI is not responsible for the availability or content of these external sites, nor does IPI endorse, guarantee or warrant the information, services or products available at these sites.