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REGIONS:

GOOD DAY FOR PRESS FREEDOM AS TURKISH JOURNALIST ACQUITTED

Journalist Nadire Mater and her publisher Semih Sokmen were acquitted by a court in Istanbul on 29 September of "insulting" Turkey's military, according to reports from the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Human Rights Watch (HRW), and the Writers in Prison Committee (WiPC) of International PEN. The charges, under Article159 of Turkey?s Penal Code, stemmed from Mater?s authorship of ?Mehmed?s Book?, which tells the stories of veterans of the war between government forces and Kurdish rebels in southeast Turkey. The prosecutor had asked for a twelve-year prison sentence for both Mater and Sokmen. Mater is a free-lance journalist for the news agency Inter Press Service (IPS), correspondent for Reporters sans frontières (RSF), and winner of a Hellman/Hammett grant for the year 2000.

The verdict was hailed as a ?good day for press freedom in Turkey and a good day for Turkey" by CPJ board member Kati Marton. "We welcome the court's verdict that the book contained no insult to the armed forces. However, many other prosecutions for insulting state institutions still go forward," said Jonathan Sugden of HRW. "So long as Article 159 of the penal code remains on the statute book, all those who criticise the activities of ministries, parliament, or the security forces risk prosecution and imprisonment."

The prosecutor was given one week to appeal the verdict, but CPJ reports that it is not expected to do so. If it fails to file an appeal within a week, then the case will be considered closed and the ban on Mater's book will be lifted immediately. The ban dates back to 23 June 1999. Police subsequently confiscated unsold copies from the book's publisher, Metis Publishers. Before the ban took effect, however, ?Mehmed's Book? went through four editions and sold around 9,000 copies. Following the verdict, Mater thanked the international journalistic and rights organisations that supported her. "Once more we saw the importance of solidarity,? said Mater. ?I hope this case will be a model and an inspiration for journalists and writers in Turkey and elsewhere." Extracts from ?Mehmed?s book? are available on RSF?s website
http://www.rsf.fr. For more information on press conditions in Turkey, see the websites of HRW
http://www.hrw.org/hrw/wr2k/Eca-20.htm and CPJ
http://www.cpj.org/attacks99/mideast99/Turkey.html.

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