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Journalist sentenced to over a month in prison for publishing statement by PKK leader

(BIANET/IFEX) - Imprisonment of one month and seven days was the verdict handed down to journalist Ercan Atay, editorial manager of the "Batman" newspaper, after he published a statement by Murat Karayilan, head of the Steering Committee of the Union of Kurdistan Communities (KCK). The court decision was reported on 8 June 2011.

The objective of the KCK is to organize the Kurdish people, and it includes the armed outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PPK). Atay said the decision was a "coup against press freedom".

"Batman" published a statement made by Karayilan after a mine explosion in the southeastern province of Batman that caused the death of four people. The Batman 1st Magistrate Criminal Court opened the trial on charges of "praising crime and a criminal" that resulted in Atay's conviction.

In a written statement in the local daily, Atay noted that Karayilan's statement was also published by other media outlets and that "Batman" had refrained from commenting on the statement in any way.

Atay expressed his lack of understanding of the fact that he was punished. "The prison sentences handed down by the courts are meant to intimidate journalists who are working in this region in particular. We lodged an appeal with the Court of Appeals. If this does not yield results, we will apply to the European Court of Human Rights," the journalist indicated.

Lawyer Zeki Ekmen noted that the court's decision went against the European Convention on Human Rights. He said that this issue will also be followed up by the management of the Batman Bar Association.

The Batman Mesopotamian Havza Association of Journalists and Publishers announced that the sentence stemmed from a desire to curb press freedom. Association president Kemal Celik emphasized in a press release that Karayilan's statement had been published by various institutions worldwide without hesitation.

Celik noted that officials said repeatedly that "journalists are not being tried for publicizing news but for being involved in political activities." However, the incident in Batman showed that the opposite was the case. Celik also said, "This sentence was excluded from a conversion into a monetary fine or from being suspended. As if the severe conditions of the press law were not enough, journalists are being put behind bars on the grounds of Article 215 of the Turkish Criminal Law on 'praising crime and a criminal'".

In a separate case, on 11 March a trial was opened against Ertugrul Mavioglu, the news coordinator for IMC television, based on an interview with Karayilan held on Qandil Mountain, the location of the PKK's base in northern Iraq. Mavioglu stands accused of "spreading propaganda for a terrorist organization". He is facing a prison term of up to five years because of the interview, which was published in "Radikal" newspaper between 28 and 30 October 2010.

Human rights defender Hakan Tahmaz and "Birgun" newspaper editorial manager Ibrahim Cesmecioglu were convicted on 24 March on the basis of their so-called "Qandil interview". Both defendants were sentenced for "publishing announcements of an illegal organization" after interviewing Karayilan. Tahmaz was sentenced for leading the interview, Cesmecioglu for publishing it. Prosecutor Kasim Ilimoglu claimed that the defendants were carrying out their journalistic activities and demanded their acquittal based on previous decisions of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). However, the Istanbul 10th High Criminal Court decided on a one-year prison sentence for Tahmaz, which was eventually reduced to 10 months. Cesmecioglu was fined TL 16,660 (approx. €7,300).

Both defendants stood accused of "publishing statements of the PKK/KONGRAGEL" according to Article 6/2 of the Anti-Terror Act (TMY). Initially, Tahmaz and Cesmecioglu were facing prison terms of up to three years.

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