REGIONS:

Two acquitted while free expression violations pile up

Critical journalists, writers and opposition voices in Turkey are being gagged by a barrage of threats. They are facing long prison sentences simply for reporting on any content linked to the Kurdish Workers' Party (PKK), say the IPS Communication Foundation (BIANET) and other IFEX members. Free expression and press freedom violations also include speaking the Kurdish language, carrying out investigative reports critical of private sector companies, and anti-terror laws used to imprison journalists. But amid all the violations, a prominent publisher and an author were acquitted in separate cases.

Prominent publisher Ragip Zarakolu (Belge) and writer N. Mehmet Güler were each facing a prison sentence of more than seven years for respectively publishing and writing the novel "More Difficult Decisions than Death", report the International Publishers Association (IPA) and International PEN. The novel was banned immediately after it was released. Another book by Güler, "KCK File/Global State and Kurds without State", published by Belge, was also banned.

On 10 June, Zarakolu was acquitted and Güler was convicted and sentenced to one year and three months in prison. Both men were accused of spreading propaganda for the PKK.

"Through convicting N. Mehmet Güler to a prison sentence of 15 months, Turkey is in breach of its international obligations," said IPA, including Article 11 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, "a block Turkey is aspiring to join."

International PEN added: "It is not only the big names attracting media attention like Elif Shafak or Orhan Pamuk, which need acquittal. The lesser known names need acquittal too in freedom of expression trials."

Journalists do not have the freedom to write about the Kurdish issue, reports the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

Reporter Mehmet Baransu is facing a 10-year prison term for publishing allegedly classified documents linked to PKK militants attacking a military outpost that resulted in the death of 17 soldiers in 2008. Also, two other newspaper journalists are each facing seven-and-a-half years in prison for publishing interviews with members of the PKK.

Turkey has repeatedly used its restrictive anti-terror law to muzzle the media, says the International Press Institute (IPI). BIANET and other IFEX members report that Turkish journalist Irfan Aktan was sentenced on 4 June to 15 months in prison for quoting a member of the PKK in one of his articles. Aktan's editor was fined US$10,393 for the same article, says CPJ. Both were accused of dispersing propaganda. According to BIANET, a total of 103 people, including 15 journalists, were arraigned in the first quarter of this year on charges linked to the anti-terror law.

Free expression is under threat on many levels in Turkey. On 9 June, a local court in the province of Mardin handed down a six-month prison sentence each to three former members of the dissolved Democratic Society Party (DTP) for speaking Kurdish during an election campaign.

According to Reporters Without Borders (RSF), a privately owned company is threatening to sue news website "EmekDunyasi.net" if it does not remove old reports about union action taken by 400 Yörsan employees in 2008. "This kind of judicial blackmail is a real problem," RSF said. "Few journalists dare to criticise private sector companies or financial groups for fear of reprisals."

Another press freedom violation that has emerged is wire-tapping the phones of journalists, politicians, members of the judiciary and officers, reports BIANET. Switchboards of "Milliyet", "Radikal", "Posta" and "Fanatik" newspapers were also illegally wiretapped.

In another rare moment of justice, journalist Nedim Şener was acquitted in the case related to his book "The Dink murder and the intelligence lies", report BIANET and IPI. Şener was sued by several senior police and security service officials and accused of "violation of secrecy" and "identifying officials on anti-terrorist duties as targets." Şener is among a group of 60 journalists chosen as a World Press Freedom Hero by IPI.

Elsewhere, on 8 June, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) unanimously imposed a 3,000 Euro fine on Turkey after it ruled that the seizure of the book "Tarkan: The Star Phenomenon" violated freedom of expression. Originally published in 2001, the book remained banned for close to three years.

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