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WPFC concerned about journalist Arat Dink, who faces up to three years in prison; calls for reform to insult law

(WPFC/IFEX) - The following is a 25 June 2007 WPFC letter to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan:

His Excellency Recep Tayyip Erdogan
Prime Minister of Turkey

Your Excellency:

On behalf of the World Press Freedom Committee ( ) - an organization representing 45 press freedom groups from throughout the world - I wish to express my profound concern about the judicial status of journalist Arat Dink, editor of the weekly magazine Agos, who faces up to three years in prison for allegedly insulting Turkish identity.

The unjust charges stem from Arat Dink's decision to republish an interview in which his father, Hrant Dink, who was murdered on January 10, recognized the Armenian Genocide. Hrant Dink suffered repeated judicial harassment because of his mentioning this controversial subject as editor of Agos and eventually paid with his life for exercising his right to free speech and free press.

The key censorship tool to continue this judicial harassment on Arat Dink is Article 301 of the Criminal Code, which penalizes the "denigration of Turkishness or the government," and one of the 11 insult statues contained in Turkish legislation. Insult laws, a hallmark of autocratic societies, arbitrarily punish published opinions and other forms of speech by imposing outrageous penalties, including long prison sentences, on journalists covering controversial, yet legitimate, news items of interest to the public.

These laws have their origin in the Roman Empire, which instituted them to shield the emperor from public criticism. Today, they act as a Damocles sword dangling over the collective heads of the news media, forcing them to fulfil their duties to keep the public informed at the risk of being imprisoned and their publications shut down.

The chilling effect of these laws is further amplified through their inconsistent application. Persons commenting on an issue of public concern may be prosecuted at the whim of the government because one person's opinion may be another's (the government's) insult. Confusion over disparate meanings of a word can lead to prosecution even when the statement at issue was not meant to be insulting.

International judicial entities, such as the European Court of Human Rights, have ruled that insult laws are in direct violation of the fundamental right to free speech and to a free press, which are also consecrated in Turkey's Constitution.

These institutions also have abundant jurisprudence that supports the concept that public officials and institutions should expect more, and not less, scrutiny and criticism from the rest of society. This acceptance of being a willing target of the media's slings and arrows also implies public officials and institutions should refrain from using these insidious laws to silence criticism directed at them.

We were encouraged to learn in May that you were open to reforming Article 301. The arrest of Arat Dink weeks later, however, demonstrates to the world that Turkey needs to work much harder to bring its legislation into compliance with international human rights standards, such as those established by the European Court of Human Rights.

Therefore, Your Excellency, I urge you to introduce legislation to eliminate not only Article 301 but all insult laws in Turkey. In the meantime, I also urge you to use the full extent of your executive influence to stop the judicial harassment on Arat Dink and to provide the necessary protections for him against the same kind of death threats that ultimately cost his father's life.


E. Markham Bench
Executive Director
World Press Freedom Committee

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