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Court acquits writer of "insult" after ECHR rules in her favour

(BIANET/IFEX) - 27 July 2010 - Taking into consideration a decision issued by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in 2007, the Bakirkoy (Istanbul) 15th Criminal Court of First Instance has decided to acquit Meral Tamer, a writer for the nationally-distributed "Milliyet" newspaper. Tamer had been sued by former President Suleyman Demirel and convicted on the grounds of her articles entitled, "Who is responsible for the rubble?" and "The 7.4 magnitude earthquake did not shake Demirel".

On 18 May, the court decided that Tamer's articles remained within the limits of press freedom and freedom of thought.

Tamer's struggle for her rights had stretched out over ten years. Charges of "insult" were pressed against the writer after the articles were published on 20 and 24 August 1999 subsequent to a devastating earthquake in the northeastern Marmara region on 17 August of that year.

The case was opened on 16 November 1999. Eleven months later, Tamer was handed a prison sentence of 16 months. The court decided to suspend the application of the penalty and drop it if Tamer did not commit any further crimes within the following five years. On 12 November 2007, the ECHR announced its decision on the case and decreed that Tamer's conviction had been unlawful. The international court called on Turkey to pay a monetary fine of €6,000 (approx. US$4,000) in compensation.

Tamer rejected a reconciliation request worth €10,000 (approx. US$6,700) offered by the state. With the help of her lawyer, Kosal Bayraktar, she applied for a new trial in Turkey based on the ECHR's ruling.

Bayraktar said that it was the first time in Turkey that a case was re-tried in a domestic court after having been decided upon at the ECHR. "In order to go this way, a person has to apply to the domestic Turkish court where she or he was convicted. Tamer showed an utterly firm stance on this matter. This stance was also groundbreaking for us. We saw the great importance of a firm legal conscience."

The case was re-tried by the Bakirkoy 15th Criminal Court of First Instance, which decided for Tamer's acquittal. Tamer commented, "I am glad I did not accept the state's request for reconciliation. Thanks to this, my articles have been proven to be criticism and not 'insult', even though it took ten years."

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