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Journalist sentenced to 11 months in prison for criticising mayor

(BIANET/IFEX) - 1 March 2011 - Journalist Ahmet Topcu was sentenced to eleven months in prison in connection with his criticism of a mayor.

In June 2010, Halil Bakirci, mayor of Rize (eastern Black Sea coast) and a member of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), had proposed that "Kurds should have co-wives" in order to solve the Kurdish question. The mayor was broadly criticised for his suggestion and later had to apologise. The AKP temporarily suspended Bakirci because of his comments.

While Bakirci's proposal was regarded as within the "bounds of freedom of expression" by the Rize Public Chief Prosecution, Topcu, owner of the "Vira Karadeniz" (Incessantly Black Sea) newspaper, received an eleven-month prison sentence for criticising the mayor.

According to the 28 February 2011 edition of the "Karadeniz Gundem" (Black Sea Agenda) newspaper, the local daily "Vira Karadeniz" published an article critical of Mayor Bakirci on 23 August 2010. Subsequently the mayor sued Topcu.

The article subject to the trial was entitled "The Kurds are left without spouses, the people of Rize without water". The criminal complaint was filed by the mayor's lawyer, Yunus Coruh, and was based on allegations of an "attack on his client's personal rights".

The Rize 2nd Criminal Court of First Instance handed down an eleven-month prison sentence to the journalist and postponed the pronouncement of the judgement. After the hearing, Topcu said that this was a decision "concerning freedom of thought and expression" in general.

Topcu had written in the article, "Bakirci is suggesting absurd solutions to the Kurdish question but he is not able to find a solution to the water problem in Rize, which is in a region with the highest precipitation".

In a separate incident, the Black Sea Journalists Associations condemned a recent case of police violence against journalists. The police stopped a "military farewell convoy" and treated one of the young people who were present violently. Freelance journalist Necati Dilli and Ali Bakoglu, co-owner of the "Zumrut Rize" (Emerald Rize) newspaper, were attacked by the police when they recorded footage of the police violence.

The Head of the Rize Journalists Association, Faik Bakoglu, condemned the incident in a written statement published in "Zumrut Rize" and called for sanctions against the responsible people.

Bakoglu put the attacks against journalists on par with "blows that bring down press freedom at the same time".

The statement was also supported by the Rize Journalists and Reporters Associations and the Rize Branch of the Contemporary Journalists Association (CGD). The Black Sea Media Members Association also issued an announcement condemning the attack.

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