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BIANET awarded national press freedom prize

(BIANET/IFEX) - 26 July 2010 - The Journalists Association of Turkey (TGC) distributed this year's Prize for Press Freedom in a ceremony in the historic Dolmabahçe Palace on the European banks of Istanbul on 24 July. Individual awards went to "Hürriyet" newspaper writer Sedat Ergin. Journalists Irfan Aktan, Ismail Saymaz and Vedat Kursun also received awards on behalf of all journalists facing imprisonment or currently in detention. The institutional award was given to BIANET.

BIANET was honoured for "its work in the field of alternative and rights-based journalism and for its efforts in the fields of developing democracy, the right to be informed and establishing greater awareness among the public".

Freedom of Expression editor Erol Onderoglu accepted the award on behalf of BIANET from Vahap Munyar, vice president of the TGC. Onderoglu said, "I accept this award on behalf of my twelve colleagues working at BIANET. We would like to thank the members of the TGC jury. We have been issuing warnings about anti-democratic regulations for the last ten years, yet our voices did not reach politicians. With the current violations of press freedom, we have gone back to the 1990s."

Onderoglu emphasized that even if prison sentences were to be lifted from the Press Law, sentences handed down under the Criminal Law are subject to delays for various reasons and court cases drag on, and the number of people facing sanctions under the Anti-Terror Law is rising day by day. Onderoglu warned that these convictions show the hidden power that politicians wield. "Unfortunately, we are not far removed from the days when we had to leave our colleagues at the prison doors," he continued.

TGC President Orhan Erinc indicated that 45 journalists are detained under allegations of having committed crimes on behalf of an illegal organization in the scope of their journalistic work.

Erinc criticized the delays in the pronouncements of judgments, calling this "the beginning of a controlled freedom of expression". He continued, "Our colleagues are facing imprisonment and compensation claims in 700 cases launched against them under various articles of the Turkish Criminal Law. We cannot call this a free society. Despite the fact that the existence of free journalists is possible, we have to warn the authorities once more".

The same day, 24 July, is also the anniversary of the lifting of censorship in Turkey. To commemorate it, writer Sedat Ergin said, "Today we also celebrate the end of censorship. Press freedom is also an indicator of the state of the country's democracy. However, every day, a new trial against one of our colleagues is opened".

The award for imprisoned journalist Vedat Kursun, former chief editor of the Kurdish newspaper "Azadiya Welat", was accepted by his father, Sukru Kursun. His father greeted the guests at the ceremony in Kurdish and said, "My son Vedat Kursun did not kill anybody and did not violate anybody's rights. He was sentenced to 166 years and six months in prison because he wrote the truth. I call on the people in Turkey and all over the world to protect freedom of thought. Unfortunately, this award will go to prison".

The ceremony was also attended by journalists Fusun Ozbilgen, Oral Calislar, Altan Oymen, Ipek Calislar, Murat Utku, Sukran Soner, Yalcin Bayer, Emre Aygen, Ayda Ozlu Cevik, Levent Cevik, Cigdem Ozturk, Leyla Umar, Necmi Tanyolac and Nadire Mater; unionist Ali Er, publisher Ragip Zarakolu, human rights defenders Sanar Yurdatapan, Gamze Goker and Tayfun Mater, photographer Ali Oz, and BIANET writers Sue Marsh Akyel, Yahya Akyel and Aysel Sagir.

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