|Home||Events||Public Statements||World Press Freedom Review||Newsletter & Publications||About IPI||Link Terminal||Contact Us|
World Press Freedom Review
2001 World Press Freedom Review
Difficulties for journalists persist in Turkey where the recession and protests over prison reforms for political prisoners continue to dominate the media scene. In this year the government has been profoundly unwilling to allow the media to play its traditional democratic role. In addition, the government still displays sensitivity towards discussion on the military’s role within Turkish society and the Kurdish problem casts a shadow over the country’s future accession to the European Union.
When all of these difficulties are viewed together, it is hard to accept the Turkish government’s argument that it has made advances in the areas of human rights and freedom of expression. Indeed, the overriding impression is of a country which continues to suppress its own population in the misguided belief that silence and the adherence to outdated and repressive laws is preferable to a vibrant and confident media.
One of the most serious problems in Turkey has been the protest movement in a number of Turkish jails. The protests started shortly after the September decision of the authorities to transfer prisoners from jails with dormitories to new "Type-F" institutions which house two to three people in each cell. According to the authorities the decision was made to prevent hostages being taken during riots, however, the prisoners argue that it will lead to brutal treatment. Reacting to the protests, the authorities violently intervened in the prison system on 19 December and 30 prisoners, as well as two policemen, were killed.
As a consequence of these violent incidents, the authorities reacted to prevent the media from commenting on the situation. In a decision made on 14 December 2000, the Istanbul State Security Court No.4 ordered the media not to broadcast programmes or publish articles that could be an "incitement to crime" and act as "propaganda for illegal organisations." Some six days later, on 20 December, the authorities used the law to ban five publications. These pronouncements from the courts placed the media under great pressure and led to many journalists resorting to censorship as the best means of avoiding the close attentions of the Turkish authorities.
In January there were expressions of concern about the health of imprisoned journalist Serdal Gelir. Gelir a journalist with the left-wing weekly Mücadel, took part in a hunger strike to highlight the conditions in the prisons. The journalist is being held in the Sincan E-Block prison near Ankara.
Gelir was arrested in 1994 while covering a demonstration for Mücadele. He was detained for two weeks and tortured. While being detained he was accused of being a member of Dev Yol, a banned organisation affiliated to Dev Sol. The magistrate's court decided to release Gelir due to the lack of evidence against him.
The decision was appealed by the prosecutor and Gelir was arrested on 25 April. He was sentenced to fifteen years’ imprisonment by the Ankara State Security Court for being a member of a banned organisation. Gelir has consistently denied being a member of the organisation. Gelir almost died in 1996, when he took part in a hunger strike that lasted for several months. Since 1996, his health condition has worsened.
Another problem for the Turkish media is the authorities’ willingness to pursue journalists for alleged insults to the country’s judiciary. On 6 February, Metin Munir, a freelance journalist, appeared before the Bakirkoy Criminal Court accused of insulting the country’s judiciary. Munir was charged with violating article 159 of the Turkish Penal Code after an article for the now-defunct daily Yeni Binyil, which criticized the appointment of a state prosecutor who had been cited by officials for alleged impropriety.
Despite strong criticism from the international community, the Turkish government continues to ban media outlets. In March, the leftist daily Yeni Evrensel was banned for a week.
According to information obtained by RSF, the appeals court confirmed the seven-day ban (pronounced by the Istanbul State Security Court Number 3) against Yeni Erensel. In an article published on 8 January 2000, the fourth anniversary of the murder of reporter Metin Göktepe, the paper denounced the treatment of two Istanbul police civil servants, Orhan Tasanlar and Kemal Bayrak, who were charged in connection with the murder. The paper was accused of making the police a target for illegal organisations. The newspaper’s owner, Fevzi Saygili, and its editor-in-chief, Ali Karatas, were subsequently fined.
In addition to the authorities seeking to silence the newspaper, in the first part of the year, they also sought to suppress its owner and editor-in-chief. Fevzi Saygili, owner, and Bülent Falakaoglu, editor-in-chief. Both were accused of "incitement to hatred and hostility" and "violating anti-terrorist law N° 3713" for December 2000 articles denouncing the deaths in Turkish jails.
Other media outlets were also targeted for their coverage during this period. The privately-owned channel CNN Türk was banned by the government-controlled Turkish broadcasting authority (RTÜK) for 24 hours after broadcasting a report on a detainee injured during an assault by the police in December 2000. Another channel, Kanal 6, was similarly banned after interviewing the families of inmates of a Type-F prison. On 28 March, the radio station Anadolunun Sesi was banned by the broadcasting authority for 90 days for addressing the subject of prisons.
Aside from the protests in the country’s prisons, there were also accusations that the recession in Turkey was being used to intimidate journalists. A hard-hitting report by RSF, which closely examined the media scene in the country, quoted a senior member of the the Association of Contemporary Journalists as saying, "press owners see the
crisis as a way of getting rid of the most unruly journalists and using their jobs and salaries to blackmail others."
According to the RSF report which provides statistics from the Turkish journalists' association, 2,800 media professionals have been dismissed in the early part of the year, including the two most popular press editorialists, Nilgun Cerrahoglu and Umur Talu from the daily Milliyet. The report goes on to say that several of the journalists dismissed had written about corruption in government circles.
In the Internet sector the RSF report argues that the story is similar. On 27 March, Caskun Ak, moderator of a forum on Superonline, one of the main Internet access providers in Turkey, was sentenced to 40 months in jail for "insulting and mocking institutions." An Istanbul court accused him of not censoring a 24-page document, published online on 26 May 1999 by a participant, which grouped together press articles and reports by non-governmental organisations on human rights violations in south-east Anatolia.
In a 5 June 2001 letter to Turkish Prime Minister Bülent Ecevit, IPI expressed deep concern over a draft media law requiring Internet websites to submit their pages to the authorities prior to publication. On the basis of IPI’s information, website operators would be forced to hand over copies of pages to a prosecutor and a governor's office before they post them on the Internet. All electronic broadcasts carrying text or pictures would be affected by the proposed legislation. In addition, the draft law would oblige new Internet service providers to obtain permission from the authorities before starting operations.
Commenting on the proposed legislation, IPI said, "judging by recent actions taken against websites in Turkey, it would appear that the draft law could provide the authorities with further power to censor information before it is published, which is in contradiction with internationally accepted standards."
In a second letter on 19 June, IPI criticised the charges against Fehmi Koru, journalist and columnist of the daily Yeni Safak, and the imprisonment of Mehmet Kutlular, owner of the Yeni Asya media group. According to IPI's information, the charges against Koru stem from a public speech by Kutlular in which he described the devastating 17 August 1999 earthquake as divine retribution. As a result of these comments, Kutlular was recently sentenced to two years in prison.
On 23 October 1999, in a televised interview on Kanal 7, Koru defended Kutlular by arguing, "Everybody is entitled to their own beliefs...You have your religion and I have mine." Koru criticised Prime Minister Ecevit's appraisal of Kutlular's opinion as "primitive thinking." He was subsequently charged with "inciting hatred and animosity among the public." He will be tried under Article 312 of the TCK on 21 June and faces a possible prison sentence.
Foreign media were also banned by the Turkish authorities this year. On 8 August, the RTÜK, decided to ban the BBC's and Deutsche Welle's Turkish language news programmes. Although the RTÜK's president expressed his misgivings over the measure, he insisted that he was powerless to overturn the executive committee's decision.
On 19 October, the former minister of the interior Mehmet Agar made threats against Adnan Keskin, a journalist from the daily Radikal. During the conversation, Keskin was allegedly told to "stop" discussing the Susurluk affair, "otherwise", Agar’s friends [the accused in the affair] "might behave badly." The article denounced the fact that several senior police officials who had been accused in a possible gun smuggling incident might be treated very leniently by the Court of Cassation.
Towards the end of October, RSF protested the publication ban imposed on Idea Politika magazine and legal proceedings instituted against Erol Özkoray, the magazine's founder and editor-in-chief, for "insults against and contempt for the army and the Republic." In several articles, Özkoray analysed the Turkish army's role within institutions, its omnipresence in politics and its economic weight, which are obstructing the democratisation. If convicted he faces a possible twelve-year prison term.
On 14 September, the Ministry of Justice seized and banned the publication of Idea Politika’s autumn issue, titled "What is the army’s purpose?," further to a request by the army’s chief of staff. On 4 October, Istanbul's Second Criminal Tribunal lifted the publication ban.
According to Özkoray, "we are facing the relentlessness of the army, which is frightened by the European Union, and, as such, democracy itself. Idea Politika has but one objective: defending the European Union's values. The army wants to prevent Turkey’s entry into the European Union because it knows that it will lose all of its power and its right to oversee the political process."
RSF was a primary source for the above article.
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.