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Military bans print, broadcast coverage of trial of soldiers previously taken hostage by separatist group

(BIANET/IFEX) - The Gendarmerie Public Order Corps Command Military Court in Van, in southeast Turkey, has put in place a broadcast and print ban concerning the investigation of the eight soldiers taken hostage by the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) on 21 October 2007 and released two weeks later.

The decision was also announced on the website of the Radio and Television Supreme Commission (RTÜK).

The ban was decided upon unanimously in order to "avoid a distortion of the aim of the investigation and the misinforming of the public, to avoid giving rise to misunderstandings and in order to safeguard the authority and objectivity of the judiciary".

The decision cited Articles 13 and 28 of the Constitution as well as Article 3 of Press Law No. 5187 and includes "activities to obtain, spread, criticise and interpret information concerning the investigation". The ban is to stay in place until the investigation is completed.

The government had demanded a broadcasting ban on the PKK attack in Daglica/Hakkari two days after the attack, on 23 October, in which 12 soldiers were killed, 17 injured and eight taken hostage. However, the State Council had rejected the demand for such a ban, arguing that the extent of the ban was not clear.

This new ban includes all print and broadcast media institutions. Following the demand of the Gendarmerie Public Order Corps Command Military Prosecution on 12 November, the military court decided on the ban the following day.

Parts of the decision read as follows: "Because the event under investigation happened when the unity of the state was threatened and activities were aimed at separating state territory from state administration, most information and documents of this investigation need to stay secret for state security reasons." The ban is aimed at "preventing the publication of information which needs to stay secret in order to protect public order, public security and territorial integrity".

The broadcasting and print ban was criticised by Ümit Kardas, retired military judge and prosecutor. He said that such a general decision was akin to "sweeping away press freedom". Kardas argued that court hearings could be closed to the public, but that a general ban was unnecessary.

Ercan Ipekci, president of the Turkish Journalists' Trade Union (TGS) also protested against the ban: "It is not possible to understand why the need for such a ban has been felt." Like Kardas, he argued that closed court hearings and similar measures would have been sufficient. Referring to the State Council's rejection of the earlier broadcasting ban, Ipekci predicted a similar decision concerning this one.

Ahmet Abakay, president of the Modern Journalists' Association (CGD), said: "We don't know what kind of information the court has, but there is no point in these kinds of bans anymore. We are faced with a communication reality which overcomes limits. In Turkey, forbidden information can be found out through other channels."

Abakay argued that rumours about secret information would perhaps reach an even wider audience and would misinform the public to a much greater extent.

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