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COUNTRY USING COURTS TO CURB FREE EXPRESSION

Three journalists working at slain editor Hrant Dink's newspaper are back in court this week for "insulting Turkishness," a high-profile example of Turkey continuing to use the judicial system to curb free expression, report IPS Communication Foundation (BIANET) and other press freedom groups.

Dink, editor of Armenian-Turkish newspaper "Agos", was prosecuted under Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code, which makes "insulting Turkishness" a crime punishable by prison terms, for comments on mass killings of Armenians a century ago. Dink was later assassinated, and 18 murder suspects are currently on trial.

Just last week, the Turkey Journalists' Society Press Freedom Prize announced it was posthumously awarding one of its press freedom prizes this year to Dink in the name of the 100 academics, journalist and writers "who have suffered under Article 301."

Although Dink's case was dropped, two other "Agos" employees, including director Arat Dink, Hrant's son, are in court for republishing an interview that Hrant gave Reuters news agency last year in which he recognised the Armenian genocide. Another "Agos" reporter, Aydin Engin, who criticised the incompetence of the judicial system in handling the "Agos" trials, is charged with insulting the court. All three face between six months and three years in prison.

Twelve other cases are currently underway under Article 301. "It has become obvious that neither the government nor the opposition are interested in changing controversial Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code, which obstructs freedom of expression and has arguably also lead to the targeting and later murder of journalist Hrant Dink," BIANET says.

According to BIANET's latest quarterly media report, 132 people and seven media groups have been tried in court in free expression related cases from April to June, and it appears there is no sign of the government letting up on such cases.

Eren Keskin, former president of the Istanbul Branch of the Human Rights Association (IHD), received a one-year prison sentence last week for saying "Turkey has a dirty history" and using the term "Kurdistan" at a human rights panel in 2005. She was accused of "insulting and degrading the republic." Keskin, a lawyer, faces 12 other trials and two investigations for her various speeches, articles and interviews.

The Associated Press reports that a music group called Deli ("Crazy") is facing 18 months in jail for a song they wrote lashing out against a state exam high school students must take to get into college. They are being charged with "insulting the state" and will appear in court on 19 July. "Life should not be a prison because of an exam," go the lyrics of "OSYM", named after the exam of the same name.

According to BIANET, Taner Akcam, a professor of history at Minnesota University in the U.S., who had been investigated for his claims of an Armenian genocide, is taking Article 301 to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) to protest against the law's threat to academic research.

Visit these links:
- BIANET's quarterly report (Turkish): http://www.bianet.org/2007/07/06/98870.htm
- BIANET's quarterly report (English): http://www.bianet.org/2006/11/01_eng/news99259.htm
- IFEX alerts on Turkey: http://tinyurl.com/3b4jj2
- RSF on Arat Dink: http://tinyurl.com/2nqgbc
- Associated Press on "OSYM": http://tinyurl.com/yvw2pv
(17 July 2007)

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