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"Express" journalist sentenced to 15 months in jail, editor fined

(IFJ/IFEX) - 8 June 2010 - The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) today condemned as "punitive and intolerant" the ruling of a court in Turkey which sentenced journalist Irfan Aktan of "The Express" newspaper to one year and three months in jail.

His crime was to quote in his article a member of the Kurdistan workers' party, the PKK, and the "Özgür Halk" (Free People) magazine. "The Express" newspaper's editor was fined 16,000 Turkish Liras (approx. €8,321).

"This is an outrageous decision, which is punitive and intolerant and aims at striking fear in Turkish journalists," said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary. "This case has exposed further how anti-terror laws are being used to crack down on free expression."

According to media reports, Aktan was charged with "Propaganda on behalf of the terrorist organization" after the publication of his article entitled "Weather Forecast in the Region and in Kandil/ There Can Be No Solution Without a Struggle" in October 2009. The headline contained the words of a PKK member and a quote from the "Özgür Halk" magazine.

Lawyers for Aktan and the newspaper argued that the article was based on interviews with some members of the PKK who objected to surrendering their arms, reports say.

The court's ruling has been widely criticised within the Turkish media community, which is waging a campaign to reform the country's penal codes and anti-terror legislation.

"These provisions in the penal code and anti-terror law are like a sword of Demokles over journalists," said Ercan Ipekci, president of the Türkiye Gazeteciler Sendikasi (TGS), an IFJ affiliate. "We criticise the courts' decisions and the legislation because they are contrary to the general principles of the law and the decisions of the European Court of Human Rights."

The IFJ and its European group, the European Federation of Journalists, are supporting the TGS campaign over the country's failure to respect journalists' rights, which is casting a shadow over Turkey's ambition to membership in the European Union.

"Turkey must demonstrate its credentials of a democratic and pluralist society," added White. "But its persistent failure to enforce press freedom shows the country is not fit to join such a society."
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