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RSF travels to Istanbul, monitors trial of leading investigative journalists

(RSF/IFEX) - 22 November 2011 - The trial of investigative journalists Ahmet Sik and Nedim Sener on a charge of participating in an anti-government conspiracy opens today in Istanbul. Oda TV news website owner Soner Yalçin and eight of his journalists - news editor Baris Terkoglu, managing editor Baris Pehlivan, news coordinator Dogan Yurdakul and reporters Müyesser Yildiz, Coskun Musluk, Sait Cakir and Yalçin Küçük - are being tried along with them.

Reporters Without Borders has travelled to Istanbul to attend the first hearing as part of an international delegation that includes representatives of the European Parliament, the European Federation of Journalists, the International Press Institute, the European Journalists' Association and Turkey's "Freedom for Journalists" coalition (GÖP).

"We are here as a reminder of the attention we are paying to this trial," the head of the Reporters Without Borders Europe Desk, Johann Bihr, said shortly before it got under way in the Istanbul district of Caglayan. "We have already come to Istanbul twice this year to express our concern about the wave of arrests of journalists and our solidarity with them. But no positive step has been taken despite the unprecedented protests in Turkey and aboard. Instead the arrests have resumed and now we are angry.

"Ahmet Sik, Nedim Sener and their eight colleagues have been held for the past month although there is no evidence against them. Ragip Zarakolu, a leading publisher and independent journalists has been held for the past three and a half weeks despite his age and health. Other journalists such as Tuncay Özkan, Baris Açikel and Vedat Kursun have been held for years. Some of them are still awaiting trial. This is intolerable.

"As for the 10 journalists on trial today, the prosecutors had promised to produce hard evidence to justify their pre-trial detention. Where is it? Contrary to what was always claimed, the case against them is based on their work as journalists. They are being tried for criticizing the conduct of the trial of the alleged 'Ergenekon' conspirators, and for questioning the judicial system's impartiality. Some are being tried for their allegedly militant coverage. If the judicial authorities do not free them at once, they will be responsible for a grave threat to the country's democratic future."

Ahmet Sik's latest book, "The Imam's Army", was presented at the International PEN stand at the Istanbul book fair on 16 November although the book's manuscript was seized by the police during a search on 3 March and seems to have been the main reason for his arrest. The version presented by PEN was based on a draft that had been posted online.

Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Jean-François Julliard and Europe desk officer Johann Bihr were among the 125 people who signed the preface. Reporters Without Borders has meanwhile joined Turkey's "Freedom for Journalists" coalition in sending a letter of support to every imprisoned journalist on the occasion of a current Turkish festival.

It is time Turkey ended the serious abuses of which journalists are among the leading victims. Since 2007, arrests of journalists have been marring the democratic model that Turkey aspires to embody. Reporters Without Borders issued an investigative report in June about the Ergenekon case, which is at the heart of many of the current political and media controversies.

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