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Journalist to be tried for "degrading state"

(BIANET/IFEX) - A case in the district town of Gerger, in the province of Adiyaman, southeast of Turkey, illustrates how the Turkish government has been indecisive and contradictory in dealing with freedom of expression.

Public Prosecutor Sadullah Ovacikli dismissed a case against journalist Haci Bogatekin, who wrote an article about a flea epidemic, in which he criticised the government. The article, entitled "Flea, Pig and Agha", was published in a local newspaper on 7 December 2006.

Ovacikli had cited the "Observer-Guardian" versus United Kingdom and the "Prager-Oberschlick" versus Austria cases, which had been taken to the European Court of Human Rights, as precedents for his decision.

However, three months after the dismissal, the same prosecutor's office started a trial against the same journalist over a similar case, citing Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code.

In an unsigned article published on 10 March 2007, entitled "Turkey Has Made a Mistake", Bogatekin said: "The government has made a mistake. Where and when? Yesterday, in the East and Southeast. And then in Istanbul. In Maras, in Sivas. Today, in Trabzohn, Istanbul, Mersin and the Southeast . . . "

The journalist is now on trial for "degrading the state". The court case will begin on 25 July at a penal court in Gerger.

Bogatekin said in a 3 April statement to the prosecution: "I did not write the article with criminal intent. As a journalist, I tried to criticise some of the mistakes the government made in the past and recently." However, his statement did not prevent him from being prosecuted.

Bogatekin argued that he had presented his thoughts in order to show that the repetition of mistakes would blight the future of the country. In his article, he held the government responsible for "the death of millions of Armenians and Syriac Christians in the East and Southeast, after that the death of the Alevi in Dersim, then the Greek Orthodox in Istanbul with the September movement, and more recently the death of hundreds of people in Maras, Malatya, Corum and Sivas".

In the previous case against Bogatekin, related to the article in which he had also criticised the government's hygiene standards, the prosecution dismissed proceedings, arguing that "although freedom of expression was exaggerated to a certain extent, the article even containing some provocations, and some of the expressions used were polemical in nature, the expressions were used to support an objective statement, and they are not considered an unfounded personal attack".

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