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News website founder sentenced to 11 months in prison

(BIANET/IFEX) - 4 November 2010 - Cem Buyukcakir, the general publications director of the Haberin Yeri (News Site) website, received an eleven-month prison sentence for having published a reader comment that implied that President Abdullah Gul was a descendent of an Armenian family. Buyukcakir is currently preparing an appeal.

At the end of September 2010, the Istanbul Buyukcekmece 3rd Civil Court of First Instance convicted Buyukcakir of "insulting President Gul". The founder of the http://haberinyeri.net website removed the reader comment immediately after he was issued a warning. The journalist said the sentence was neither postponed nor converted into a monetary fine.

The trial was opened based on a complaint by the Presidential Office. Defence lawyer A. Fatma Bulbul claimed that the publisher is not responsible for reader comments and requested that the proceedings be dropped. She pointed to the possibility of disclosing the identity of the person who posted the comment and demanded that an expert be assigned to do so.

After the hearing, Buyukcakir said, "I received an eleven-month prison sentence for a comment that I removed as soon as the warning reached me. It is very strange that people still insist on controlling the Internet press in this country. In terms of the law it is upsetting that the author of the criminal comment is still publishing his columns on another website and nobody has initiated any legal proceedings against him. I am not asking for much. I just want the evidence presented to the court to be investigated. With today's possibilities it cannot be very difficult to understand that I am not the person who wrote that comment. I hope that the parties inside and outside the parliament will not remain impassive on this issue."

Another problem with this case is the Turkish Criminal Law (TCK), which stipulates the application of prison terms for a range of "insult" charges, including "insulting the President" and "insulting a public official by reason of his duty". Contrary to this, the Council of Europe's Committee of Ministers decreed that a compensatory fine should be the preferred legal solution for these sorts of cases.

The reader comment was posted towards the end of 2008, at a time when the parliament was discussing the Internet campaign "I apologize to the Armenians". The campaign referred to the events of 1915, when, according to many Armenians and an increasing number of Turks, millions of Armenian citizens of the Ottoman Empire were forcibly sent into exile. Many starved, died of exhaustion or were killed by gangs.

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