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Journalists could face prison after judges file complaint against them

(BIANET/IFEX) - 24 September 2010 - The Istanbul 11th High Criminal Court started the prosecution of "Zaman" newspaper reporter Busra Erdal, Ankara correspondent Metin Arslan and editor Hayri Beser on 22 September 2010. The journalists are being tried based on news articles regarding decisions for the release of detained defendants in the Ergenekon and Sledgehammer Investigations.

The Media Association pointed out that more than 60 lawsuits have been opened against Erdal and said that this is worrisome in terms of press freedom and freedom of information.

"Countless journalists from different press institutions are negatively affected by this situation. These contents and their applications are a breach of international agreements signed by Turkey and of the case law of the European Court of Human Rights."

Judges Yilmaz Alp and Tuncay Aslan of the Istanbul 9th High Criminal Court filed a criminal complaint against the journalists based on their reporting about the release decisions. Erdal, Arslan and Beser have been indicted under Article 6/1 of the Anti-Terror Law (TMY) on charges of "identifying officials on anti-terror duties as targets for terrorist organizations." They are facing prison terms of between 1.5 and 4.5 years.

The current case is based on Erdal's article entitled "The ones appointed in the HSYK crisis intervened - the Sledgehammer investigation is covered up", published on 2 April 2010, and another article entitled "Mass releases were based on 'pirate' decree", dated 3 April.

A request regarding lack of jurisdiction submitted by Erdal's lawyer Hasan Günaydin was dismissed by the court. After the identities of the defendants were confirmed, the indictment was read out prior to the defence's speeches. Erdal put forward that she had not been able to prepare her defence since she recently graduated from the faculty of law and because of the high number of cases filed against her. She requested additional time for her defence.

The court accepted the demand of complainant Yilmaz Alp's lawyer to join the proceedings. It was furthermore decreed to send notification to the Ankara High Criminal Court in order to obtain the statement of defendant Metin Arslan. Erdal's request for additional time was accepted and the case was adjourned to 2 February 2011.

Erdal has many cases pending against her on charges of "violating the secrecy of an investigation" and "attempting to influence a fair trial". Erdal said, "We are being tried at the Special Authority High Criminal Court for identifying individuals as targets for terrorist organizations but it has not been clarified which terrorist organization the indictment refers to. The prosecutor in the hearing demanded that the prosecutor who prepared the indictment clearly state which terrorist organization is meant. We also want to know this."

The "Zaman" general publications editor, Ali Akkus, and news editor Fatih Ugur were in the audience during the hearing.

"Zaman" reported that the number of investigations launched by the Ministry of Justice increased from 4,139 in November 2009 to a current total of more than 5,000 in the past six months. More than 3,500 of these investigations were opened against the "Zaman", "Taraf", "Bugun", "Yeni Safak", "Star" and "Vakit" newspapers. According to "Zaman", about 2,000 investigations have resulted in trials.

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