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Editor on trial for publishing article mentioning Ataturk, faces possible prison sentence

(BIANET/IFEX) - Yasin Yetisgen, managing editor of the local newspaper "Coban Atesi" ("Shepherd's Fire") in Gaziantep, faces up to seven and a half years in prison for publishing an article containing references to Ataturk. The article was written by a journalist, Berkant Coskun, who lives abroad, and was entitled "Mother, Don't Send Me to Military Service". Yetisgen is on trial under Article 318 of the Penal Code for "alienating the public from military service" and under Law 5816 "Concerning Crimes against Ataturk".

Although the court case was opened on 19 November 2007, the newspaper was only recently informed about it. The trial will begin on 9 May 2008.

Both laws under which Yetisgen is facing charges have been invoked in cases of publication offenses. The "Ataturk Law" was passed in 1951 and has not been reconsidered in the light of European Union (EU) reforms. Article 318, an incarnation of the former Article 155, was also adopted even though it limits the right to freedom of expression.

The prosecution is demanding that the newspaper be punished under these laws for the following sentences published in the 32nd issue: "Unfortunately, Turkey has been the arena for dirty wars throughout history. Starting with Mustafa Kemal's [Ataturk's] massacre order in Dersim [today's Tunceli], . . ." and "If today's Kurdish movement is called terrorist, that means that the movement which Mustafa Kemal started was no different. The only difference is that Mustafa Kemal was not arrested."

Copies of the 32nd issue were confiscated by court order on 9 November.

Article 318 has also been invoked against "Yeni Aktüel" magazine writer Perihan Magden, and against Serpil Köksal, Murat Dünsen and Ibrahim Kizartici for supporting conscientious objectors. They have all been acquitted, but conscientious objector Halil Savda, "Birgün" newspaper reporter Gökhan Gencay, and "Ülkede Özgür Gündem" reporter Birgül Özbaris are still on trial on charges under this law.

Law 5816 includes provisions for imprisonment of one to three years for anyone "insulting or cursing the memory of Ataturk", and one to five years for "destroying, breaking or defiling any statues, busts or monuments of Ataturk". It also includes another provision to increase the punishment by half if the crime was done in public or in the press.

Law 318 includes provisions for imprisonment of six months to two years for anyone "spreading propaganda, making suggestions or encouraging activities which alienate the people from military service." Again, under the law, if the activity is carried out in the press or media, the punishment is to be increased by a half.

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