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Two journalists receive prison sentences for writing about Kurdish Workers Party

(BIANET/IFEX) - The following is a 28 October 2008 BIANET press release:

Journalists Vatandas and Belek of the pro-Kurdish newspaper "Evrensel" receive prison sentences for publishing a declaration by the Kurdish Workers Party

"Evrensel" desk editor in-charge Mehmet Ugras Vatandas and license holder Ahmet Sami Belek have been sentenced to one year in prison for publishing a declaration by the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK).

The 14th High Criminal Court of Istanbul, which tried the case, did not even convert the sentence to a fine, let alone postpone it. According to Evresel's lawyer Devrim Avci, the paper already appealed the ruling, but the paper has not seen the legal background for the decision yet.

Protests
The employers of the newspaper protested the court ruling against them at the press conference they held at the Journalists Association of Turkey (TGC).

Speaking at the press conference, "Evrensel" desk editor Fatih Polat said Vatandas and Belek had been punished for Çetin Diyar's article titled "Son Pismanlik Neye Yarar?" ("What good is final regret?"), which was published on 10 December 2007 and included a declaration of seven articles by the PKK under the title "Democratic Solution."

The demands stated in the declaration were "the recognition of the Kurdish language", "the removal of the obstacles in front of the Kurdish language and culture", "recognition of the right to unhindered political activity and association based on freedom of thinking, belief and expression", "the release of all the political prisoners", "the abolishment of the system of Village Guards, a state-sponsored paramilitary organization, and the return of the villagers back to their villages", "the extension of the powers the local administrations have", and "the initiation of the process that will enable the guerillas to lay down their arms gradually, dates of which are to be determined by both sides, and enable them to join the political life."

"The attitudes of the President and the Chief of Staff affect the process negatively." Emphasizing how natural it is for a writer to discuss the arguments of the opposing sides, Polat argues that both the Prime Minister's attitude towards the media and the Chief of Staff's explanations make it difficult for the judiciary to make decisions that put freedom of expression before anything else.

Polat also said, "The decisions to close the newspapers 'Alternatif', 'Gelecek', 'Gerçek', 'Atilim' and 'Azadiye Welat' show that the judiciary is put in a sensitive situation in relation to the Kurdish Problem and that we are passing through a period during which freedoms are easily sacrificed to the issue of [national] safety." Polat called upon professional media organizations, labor forces, democracy and the papers' readers not to leave them alone.

Support from the unions
Speaking on behalf of the Confederation of Public Worker's Unions (KESK), Songül Beydilli said they protested the decision. President of Gida-Is (Union of Food Workers) Seyit Aslan said, "When we look at the developments in Turkey and the world, we see that those who are against this system and who are for uncovering the facts are under very serious pressure." Another unionist, Mehmet Demir, and broadcasting coordinator of Hayat TV, Iskender Bayhan, also showed their displeasure with the decision.

For further information on the "Alternatif" case: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/97331

For further information on the "Azadiye Welat" case: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/92333

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