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Journalists prevented from reporting on court case against mayor

(BIANET/IFEX) - Journalists in Zonguldak (Black Sea coast) were stopped from attending the first hearing in the case against Seckin Ozdemir, mayor of the Kilimli Municipality of Zonguldak. Ozdemir stands accused of illegally selling 114 tonnes of scrap iron and embezzling TL 50,000 (€ 25,000) obtained in the sale.

The first hearing in the case was held on 16 July 2010. Representatives of the Zonguldak mainstream media were not allowed into the court room. When they insisted on entering, they were forced to leave by rough means of physical force.

Some of the journalists called 155 for help from the police but no team was sent to the court. The journalists claimed that some police officers remained in the court room, as part of the audience. In response, the prosecutor commented, "This is not my business, the police should take care of it."

The following day, 17 July, the front page of the local newspaper "Halkin Sesi" (The People's Voice) read, "The embezzlement trial against Kilimli Mayor Seckin Ozdemir started yesterday but. . . " The subheading read, "This news has been censored".

Upon the publication of the news, the Zonguldak Branch of the Contemporary Journalists Association (CGD) and the Karaelmas Journalists Association issued statements criticising the authorities on duty.

The statement of the CGD Zonguldak Branch was issued by Branch President Ali Ayaroglu. He stated that previous concerns about the trial against Ozdemir had been confirmed. He indicated that a different dimension was added to the case when physical violence was imposed on the journalists who tried to enter the court house and when the police did not come to the scene to address the situation.

"The freedom of the press to obtain information is sacred. The Governorship of Zonguldak has to fulfil its responsibility in this aspect. They must not give way to any forces that restrict the press's freedom to obtain information," Ayaroglu said.

The Board of Directors of the Karaelmas Journalists Association announced that the entire community of journalists criticized the incident. The association stated that the Governor of Zonguldak, Erdal Ata, and related institutions must not remain silent and demanded that similar incidents not be allowed to occur.

The journalists were also supported by the Zonguldak Democracy Platform, a union of non-governmental organizations in Zonguldak. Members of the platform paid visits to "Halkin Sesi" newspaper and the Karaelmas Journalists Association and condemned the oppression of the press.

"It is extremely worrying when people are kept out of the court house of a city by a blockade that lasts for hours and the State Governor, the Chief Prosecutor and the Chief of Police are just watching. We will not allow Zonguldak to be transformed into an uncivilized place. We would like to remind the people concerned that we are living in a democratic state of law and not in a feudalist system," members of the Zonguldak Democracy Platform said.

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