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Defendant's allegations of wiretapping spark concern that a number of newspapers are being monitored

(BIANET/IFEX) - 1 June 2010 - The Press Institute Association criticized the wiretapping of the "Milliyet" newspaper switchboard, saying "This is a new example demonstrating a severe violation of press freedom and freedom of expression in Turkey". The Turkish Journalists Union (TGS) and the Contemporary Journalists Association (ÇGD) also condemned the incident.

"We cannot expect to freely establish relations to sources of the press in a country where telephone tapping is becoming more widespread in a carefree manner. A threat to press freedom means a threat to democracy," said the Press Institute Association.

The former Deputy Chief of the Police Directorate, Emin Arslan, stated in a hearing at the Istanbul 9th High Criminal Court on 28 May 2010 that the switchboards of "Milliyet", "Radikal", "Posta" and "Fanatik" newspapers were illegally wiretapped. While officials remained silent on the issue, professional press organizations expressed their concern.

TGS President Ergan İpekçi argued, "It was us who revealed Ergenekon, it was us who reached the forces behind the 'deep' state." İpekçi indicated that neither the state nor the Prime Minister could ignore their responsibility for the telephone tapping. "Tapping of newspapers' switchboards and journalists' phones cannot be accepted in any aspect related to freedom of expression in the media," he added.

The head of the ÇGD, Ahmet Abakay, noted, "There is a common guilt if the political power does not take measures. Somebody has to be responsible for the state's bugging devices. Was that TİB (Telecommunication Communication Presidency) or was it the Minister of Justice? Whoever, they should be called to account at court."

The latest announcement came from the Press Institute Association. The association emphasized that the telephone tapping of the "Milliyet" newspaper switchboard, after a similar violation at "Cumhuriyet" newspaper, constituted a severe violation of press freedom and freedom of expression in Turkey. "Officials should declare which newspaper switchboards have been wiretapped as soon as possible," the association demanded. "Procedures and reasons for telephone tapping are clearly defined by law. Nevertheless, the bugging of the switchboards was carried out beyond any legal framework and thus became absolutely carefree and illegal," the association added.

Former Deputy Chief Arslan is being tried on drug trafficking charges and was released pending trial in his first hearing. If his claims are true, the right to obtain was violated in hundreds of cases, since up to 850 employees of four different newspapers were allegedly wiretapped.

In the same hearing, Arslan stated that some IMEI (International Mobile Equipment Identity) telephone numbers at "Milliyet" were bugged due to concerns over the murder of Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink.

Arslan claimed that the phones of journalists, politicians, members of the judiciary and officers were wiretapped. He said that all the information would be revealed if the court demanded the acquisition of the referring data from TİB.

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