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"Günlük" newspaper banned over alleged "terrorist propaganda"

IPI concerned at indications of government censorship

(IPI/IFEX) - Vienna, 26 August 2009 - An Istanbul criminal court has ordered the closure, for one month, of Günlük newspaper - which is known for raising issues related to Turkey's Kurdish minority - over an article considered by the court to constitute propaganda for a terrorist organisation. The article was published earlier this month.

The verdict, handed down on Friday 22 August, did not specify why the article was deemed to be of a terrorist nature. This is the second time the Turkish courts have closed Günlük since it began publishing earlier this year.

"We are concerned that the courts may have found the article to constitute 'terrorist propaganda' purely because the views expressed in it do not coincide with those of the government," said IPI Deputy Director Alison Bethel McKenzie. "If so, this would constitute government censorship and we would urge that the decision be annulled."

The article in question appeared in the newspaper on 8 August and was entitled "Linguistic Rights in the Linguistic Systems of the Developed World: State, Market and Communication Technologies," by a University of Toronto academic, Professor Amir Hassanpour.

In the article, which discusses the effects of broadcasting on language worldwide, Hassanpour addresses Turkey's "harsh policies of linguicide" against the Kurdish language, while analysing the impact of international Kurdish-language satellite broadcaster MED TV on the cultural significance of Kurdish.

The Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), branded a terrorist organisation by the Turkish government, was mentioned in the article, once in connection with the Turkish authorities' decision to temporarily ban MED TV for airing an interview with Kurdish militant leader Abdullah Ocalan.

The Public Prosecutor's Office, which scans the Turkish media, considered the Günlük report a breach of Article 7(2) of Turkey's Anti-Terror Law, which criminalises propaganda promoting terrorist organisations, and brought charges against the newspaper.

On 22 August, the Istanbul 13th Criminal Court suspended the newspaper's operation for a period of 30 days under Article 25(2) of the Press Law.

Local media and human rights organisations have criticised the court's decision.

"One of the real motives behind the closure of the Günlük newspaper is that authorities want to prevent individuals or groups from becoming active and influential in regard to the solution of the Kurdish question," said Ismail Boyraz, Vice President of Turkey's Human Rights Association (IHD), in a statement to IPI. "The closure of the Günlük is aimed at making opponent groups voiceless."

In a statement issued yesterday, IPI's National Committee in Turkey pointed out that the monthly periodical Vesta published the same article by Hassanpour in 2003, and "did not receive any criminal prosecution then."

"The closure of Günlük is not acceptable and violates freedom of expression, which is a reference point of democracy," said Ferai Tinc, IPI's Turkish National Committee Chairperson. "Such interpretations of news and commentary are just an excuse to prohibit the newspaper. We call on Turkish authorities to reconsider this decision, and to stop banning newspapers and media outlets purely for expressing their views."

Tinc also pointed to problems in the Turkish press code, which IPI Turkey would "like to see reviewed, as they're contrary to press freedom."

Günlük was also banned by a Turkish court for a month on 8 June, in response to articles published earlier that month discussing how the abbreviation of the Kurdish Worker's Party, PKK, should be read, and an opinion piece on the 'Kurdish Problem,' according to a statement by IPI's Turkish National Committee in June.

The newspaper has also reported that other "investigations and court cases" are currently underway against its correspondents and columnists.

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