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International press freedom awardee Ocak Isik Yurtcu released from prison; move follows government amnesty for jailed editors



(CPJ/IFEX) - After serving nearly 32 months in prison for his
newspaper's critical coverage of Turkey's ongoing conflict
with Kurdish insurgents, editor Ocak Isik Yurtcu was freed
from Saray Prison on 15 August 1997, one day after Turkey's
parliament unanimously passed an amnesty law allowing for the
release of several jailed editors.





**Updates IFEX press releases of 15 August, 17, 15 and 11 July
1997 and alerts of 27 June and 23 January 1997, 16 December
1996 and 13 January 1995**

Yurtcu, the former editor of the pro-Kurdish daily "Ozgur
Gundem", was sentenced in December 1994 to over ten years in
prison for news articles that appeared during his tenure as
editor from 1991 to 1992. A State Security Court convicted him
under sweeping provisions of Turkey's Anti-Terror Law and
Penal Code, which included disseminating "separatist
propaganda." In November 1996, Yurtcu received the
International Press Freedom Award from the CPJ in recognition
of his courage and integrity in resisting Turkey's harsh
treatment of independent journalists covering the Kurdish
conflict (see IFEX alerts).

Yurtcu's release came one day after parliament passed a new
amnesty law granting three-year suspended sentences to editors
convicted for a wide-range of articles that appeared in their
newspapers, the majority of which concerned the Kurdish
conflict. Turkish law holds that editors are legally
responsible for what appears in their papers. The amnesty
provision requires that if a similar "offense" is committed
within the three-year period, those amnestied must serve their
full sentence in addition to any new sentence given by the
courts.

CPJ vice-chair Terry Anderson, who presented Yurtcu his award
last month in Saray Prison, said, "This is important to me
personally because Yurtcu is now free. But it is also
important because it is the first step that the Turkish
government has taken toward improving freedom of expression
and freedom of the press in Turkey."

In July, Anderson led an international delegation of press
freedom organizations to Turkey to urge government officials
to release the country's approximately 80 imprisoned
journalists. The new amnesty law should lead to the release of
several editors, in addition to Yurtcu. According to CPJ's
research, even with the anticipated release of these editors,
there will still be more journalists in prison in Turkey than
in any other country worldwide.

Yurtcu's release fulfils the 14 July promise made by Prime
Minister Mesut Yilmaz to Anderson and representatives from
CPJ, the Press Council (Turkey), the International Press
Institute, Reporters sans frontieres, and the Union of
Newspaper Editors (Turkey), that he would seek a limited
amnesty for a group of imprisoned editors before parliament
adjourned for a summer recess. The Prime Minister also pledged
that his government would pursue more comprehensive
legislation in the fall in order to secure the release of
other jailed journalists.



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