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CAPSULE REPORT: More violations of free expression in 2007, says BIANET report

(BIANET/IFEX) - The following is an 18 January 2008 BIANET report:

BIA 2007 Media Monitoring Report: A Sad Year For Free Speech

The "BIA Annual Media Monitoring Report" for the year 2007 has been published in Turkish and will soon also appear in English. The 60-page report is divided into "attacks and threats", "detentions and arrests", "trials of press freedom and freedom of expression", "corrections and legal redress", "European Court of Human Rights", "Reactions to censorship", and "implementations of RTÜK (the Radio and Television Supreme Council)". The report highlights the ongoing violations of freedom of expression and press freedom in Turkey, and is published at a time when the government seems to be losing momentum in reform efforts regarding Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code.

The year 2007 started with the murder of "Agos" editor-in-chief Hrant Dink, whose death was commemorated on 19 January 2008 at the site of the murder. The charges under Article 301 against Dink were dropped posthumously, but his son was convicted in the same case. Article 301, which was passed in June 2005, and its predecessor Article 159 have seen at least 99 people on trial in the last two and a half years.

In 2007, 55 people were tried under Article 301; nine were acquitted, but Emin Karaca, Arat Dink, Serkis Seropyan, Umur Hozatli, Eren Keskin and Mahmut Alinak were convicted. Of 199 people on trial, 37 were tried for "insult" or "slander", 23 for "inciting to hatred and hostility", 14 for "influencing the judiciary", eight for "alienating the public from military service", and one for "membership in an illegal organisation". Eighty-three were charged with "terrorism".

Thirty-four journalists and 12 media institutions were attacked in 2007, compared with 26 journalists in 2006. Twenty-two people, most of them journalists, and six media institutions were threatened over the year, a rise from seven journalists and two media institutions in 2006.

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) sentenced Turkey to a total fine of 123,912 euro in compensation. In 2006, Turkey had to pay 221,128 euros over 45 cases. Since 2005, the amount of compensation paid each year has been decreasing.

The annual report notes that although trials involving the press have decreased slightly, threats and attacks have increased. In addition, newspapers have been forced to reveal their sources, and journalists were practising self-censorship; these are indications that freedom of expression is still obstructed.

The judiciary has been under pressure from the military and politics. People who express their opinions still face the threat of imprisonment. The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) has not shown any effort to improve regulations on freedom of expression. An intolerance of alternative opinions, which is fuelled among the public, has led to the attack on Greek journalist Andreas Rombopulos, the Turkey correspondent for the Greek Mega TV channel and editor-in-chief of the "Iho" newspaper. "Agos" journalists, employers of Özgür Radio and academics have all faced threats.

BIA demands that the Turkish Penal Code, the Law on Terrorism, the Law on Crimes against Atatürk and the Press Law be changed in order to conform to universal legal standards. BIA also calls for the courts to refrain from giving prison sentences.

BIA points out that an independent and discerning judiciary is important. In 2007, there were 159 cases involving 525 people; 269 of them journalists, writers, publishers, human rights activists and politicians.

The renewed armed conflict over the Kurdish issue has made difficult reporting in the southeast of the country. "Le Monde" reporter Guillaume Perrier and Capa Agency employees Estelle Vigoureux and Marc de Banville from France were stopped at the Habur border gate and detained for 30 hours; their materials were confiscated.

The government asked RTÜK to introduce a broadcasting ban on the battle in Daglica, in the southeastern province of Hakkari, where 12 soldiers were killed and eight taken hostage. The state council overturned the ban later. There were further broadcasting and publishing bans on the hostage soldier case, and two other cases.

For the full report in English, see:

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