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World Press Freedom Review
2004 World Press Freedom Review
While Turkey has made some improvements with respect to press freedom and human rights, problems still remain. Journalists still suffer from restrictions, and new legislation still places limits on publishing and broadcasting. Turkish journalists also work in difficult conditions when compared to European Union standards.
Sabri Ejder Öziç, former director of Radyo Dünya in Adana, received a one-year prison sentence on 30 December 2003 for insulting and mocking the Parliament. According to reports, the journalist appealed the sentence and has not been imprisoned.
The charges stem from a 24 February 2003 radio programme "Captain's Log" during which Öziç, who is also an activist for the pro-Kurdish party Ozgur Toplum, criticised the Turkish government's decision to allow foreign troops on Turkish territory, and to send Turkish troops to Iraq. The government's decision was submitted to Parliament for approval the same day as the programme was broadcast.
He called the US led "war on terror" illegitimate, which made it a terrorist act, and said that anybody who participated in it was a terrorist entity. The prosecution declared that describing Parliament as "terrorist" was insulting a state institution rather than legitimate criticism.
The distribution of the March edition of the English version of the National Geographic magazine was prohibited in Turkey, and some articles were edited out of the Turkish language edition. According to Marmara, the newspaper of Turkish Armenians, the reason for the censorship was an article entitled "Rebirth of Armenia", which mentions the genocide of Armenians in 1915-1920 as the first experience of genocide in the twentieth century. Another disputed point was the reference to Mount Ararat, which is holy for Armenians.
According to the letter, a person, who declares that the genocide of Armenians during the First World War actually took place, or demands the withdrawal of Turkish soldiers from Cyprus, can be punished due to provisions in the code. Prison sentences range from "three to ten years."
The European Federation of Journalists reported that Turkish journalists suffer from press freedom restrictions and stated that the new Penal Code contains sanctions related to publishing and broadcasting. Turkish journalists are subject to monitoring over reports about the divided island of Cyprus, and other issues affecting Turkish society.
In December, IPA and International PEN issued a joint guide to the Criminal Code entitled, "New Turkish Penal Code: A Long Way to Freedom of Expression." The document presents several recommendations that would bring the code closer to EU standards.
On 29 October, the Coordinating Committee of Press Freedom Organisations meeting in Toronto, Canada, called on Turkey to remove all of its criminal defamation and insult laws.
In its 23 November press release, the Coordinating Committee stated that "while there have been considerable improvements to Turkey's media environment, including the removal of a particularly restrictive insult law and a reduction in the maximum sentence of another, the Turkish Criminal Code still contains provisions that breach international standards on press freedom and freedom of expression."
The Criminal Code will come into effect in 2005, and it contains clauses that " not only carries a sentence of between three months and three years, but actually increases the length of the sentence where the media are involved. Adding to the problem, the judiciary has tended to support individuals and institutions, especially the military, when criticised, rather than supporting the right of journalists to report on issues affecting Turkish society."
Therefore, the Coordinating Committee concluded that consequently, "there have been a number of cases in recent years that have undermined Turkey's claim that it is establishing a democracy free of the influence of powerful institutions and cartels."
On 28 March, police officers attacked nine journalists in Diyarbakir, southeastern Turkey. Elections were held in Diyarbakir that day, and Democratic People's Party (DEHAP, a pro-Kurd party) activists, who accused the security forces of rigging the elections, were protesting in front of the court house after polls closed. At first, police tried to violently disperse the protesters, and then they attacked the journalists, who were covering the clashes between police and demonstrators.
The journalists attacked were Hakim Cetiner, a cameraman for the national television networks SKY Turk and Show TV; Saban Boz, a journalist for Show TV; Besir Ariz, Faysal Karadeniz, Ahmet Bulut and Bayram Bulut, of the local daily Soz and the local television station Soz TV; Mehmet Sirin Hatman, a cameraman for the pro-Kurd news agency Dicle Haber Ajansi (DIHA); Bahire Karatas, a reporter for DIHA; and Firat Duzgun, from the local television station Gun TV. Saban Boz, Mehmet Sirin Hatman and Bahire Karatas were taken to a hospital for treatment. Hatman and Bayram Bulut had their arms broken in the clash. Police also damaged their cameras and tried to seize film from the journalists.
On 30 March, Günes TV, the local television station in Malatya, eastern Turkey, stopped broadcasting for a month. According to reports, the National Broadcasting Council (RTÜK) accused the station of "threatening the existence and independence of the state, the indivisible unity of the nation and its people and the reforming principles of Ataturk" under Article 4 of RTÜK's Law 3984.
The case was initiated because on 22 May 2003 a journalist with the station offered his sympathy to the family of Songul Akkurt, a far-left militant who died after accidentally detonating an explosive she was carrying. The journalist was immediately fired by the station.
Using the same article of the law, the RTÜK closed down ART, a local television station in the city of Diyarbakir, on 1 April, for broadcasting two love songs in Kurdish on 15 August 2003.
Later in the year, another radio station went off the air for 30 days, in a ban ordered by RTÜK. The Istanbul based Özgür Radyo shut down on 18 August, after it was charged with incitement to hatred and violence under the same article. The radio station referred to an article entitled "Katliam Gibi Saldiri" ("Attack like a Massacre"), which appeared in the Günlük Evrensel, during its programme "Konusan Sayfalar" (Talking Pages) broadcasted on 27 August 2003. The article stated that plainclothes police had massacred members of the Democratic People's Party (DEHAP) at a wedding in Adana, RSF reported.
Initially, the RTUK announced the suspension of Özgür Radyo on 24 February. Özgür Radyo appealed the decision in an administrative court in Ankara, but the ruling was upheld on 9 June.
Hakan Albayrak, a former editor with the Milli Gazete, was sentenced to 15 months in prison without bail for "insulting the memory of Ataturk" on 20 May, and imprisoned in Ankara's Kalecik prison. Ataturk is the founder of the Turkish Republic. Albayrak wrote an article published by the newspaper in 2000, which criticised the reciting of prayers at the funeral of atheist writer Mina Urgan. The article compared it to the burial of Ataturk, and concluded, "Was Pasha Mustapha Kemal not buried without prayers? Neither the state not society seemed concerned about it at the time."
Also on 20 May, the Islamist daily Vakit, its owner Nuri Aykon, the editor-in-chief Harum Aksoy, and journalist Mehmet Dogan, were ordered to pay approximately US$ 600,000 in damages for defaming 312 generals of the Turkish army. The generals filed a lawsuit on 31 October 2003.
Among them were the chiefs of the land and air forces, and the navy and paramilitary forces. They had demanded approximately US$ 422,000 in damages for an article in the daily entitled "The country where a soldier who should not be a sergeant becomes a general" published on 25 August. In the article, the generals were described as pretentious and incompetent. The paper plans to appeal the sentence.
Turkey was lobbying the EU this year to give it a date to begin entry talks, during an EU summit in Brussels in December. TRT, the state broadcaster, announced on 26 May that it would begin airing Kurdish-language broadcasts in order to meet an important EU human rights measure.
The first-ever Kurdish language broadcasts were aired in Turkey on 9 June. Legislation to allow broadcasting in Kurdish was passed almost two years ago, but TRT only started transmitting this year. Fears that Kurdish in the public sphere could undermine national unity after a separatist conflict in the 1980s and 1990s claimed more than 30,000 lives have kept it from the national media. The EU announced in December that it will begin membership negotiations on 3 October 2005.
On 8 June, police detained twenty-five journalists from pro-Kurdish media outlets. According to reports, anti-terrorist police, acting on the orders of the State Security Court of Istanbul, raided the offices of the pro-Kurdish Dicle News Agency (DIHA), and arrested 16 staff.
Reportedly, documents, news, various data and mobile phones of some correspondents were confiscated. The work of the agency was stopped. Reportedly, police suspect the journalists of having links with the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), and were looking for "banned material." Allegedly, this raid took place due to increased security in the run-up to the NATO summit in Istanbul on 28 and 29 June.
Some journalists were released the same day, while others remained in custody. DIHA Executive Director Ugur Balik, who was among those taken into custody on 8 June, spent ten days in detention, according to a DIHA report.
Two reporters from the Evrensel daily who came to the DIHA office to work were also kept in detention for some time, they were not allowed to take photos or perform any other type of journalistic activity. They were let out after their IDs were checked, but other members of the press, who wanted to enter, were not allowed in.
Three journalists with the pro-Kurdish daily Ülkede Özgür Gündem, Hüsniye Tekin, Deniz Boyraz and Baki Gül, who arrived to cover the police raid, were also detained. Anti-terrorist police also searched the offices of the pro-Kurdish monthlies Özgür Halk and Genc Bakis and arrested six members of the staff. Police seized journalists' files, books and computer disks in each of the searches.
On 15 October, Sebati Karakurt of the daily Hurriyet was detained at the headquarters of the anti-terrorist police in Istanbul for 12 hours. Karakurt was released after being interrogated by the police and a prosecutor. About 10 policemen searched his home as a consequence of a report published several days prior to that. The report, which led to much criticism in the country, included an interview with Murat Karayilan, the military chief of the former Kurdish Workers' Party (PKK), now renamed Kongra-Gel.
Senol Gurkan, a journalist for the left wing magazine Atilim was detained by the police in 2001, and tortured while in custody. In a positive development in October, a Turkish court sentenced four policemen responsible for the torture to 13 months in prison.
In December, EU leaders met in Brussels to decide whether to start talks with the Turkish government about Turkey's application to the European Union. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan came to Brussels for the talks. It was decided that Turkey will start talks in October 2005, but many journalists and press freedom organisations maintain that Turkey needs to make many more changes and improvements to the legal documents and the media climate.
RTUK regularly sanctions media outlets that are either pro-Kurdish or highly critical of the government. The new criminal code contains clauses that restrict the freedom of the media. According to senior Turkish journalists, young journalists also lack the necessary education and professional infrastructure and training.
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