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Imprisoned Turkish journalists' health deteriorates while on hunger strike

(RSF/IFEX) - 7 November 2011 - Reporters Without Borders is very worried about at least nine imprisoned journalists and other employees of Kurdish news media whose physical condition is deteriorating because they have been on hunger strike for several weeks.

"The situation is serious," Reporters Without Borders said. "These people are gradually approaching their death. Before it is too late, we urge all parties to take a positive approach that allows a resolution of the differences that drove the detainees to go on hunger strike. The authorities must handle this situation in a humane and responsible manner.

"The search for a peaceful solution to the Kurdish issue and an improvement in the media freedom situation are closely linked. We reiterate our call for the immediate release of all journalists and media workers who are currently in prison because of their work."

According to the justice ministry, a total of 682 detainees in 67 prisons are currently on hunger strike. They are demanding the right to use the Kurdish language in Turkish courts and an end to the isolation of Abdullah Öcalan, the leader of the armed separatist Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), who has been imprisoned on Imrali Island for the past 13 years.

The hunger strikers include at least nine journalists and media workers. The condition of Tayip Temel, the former managing editor of the Kurdish-language daily Azadiya Welat, is particularly worrying. On hunger strike since 12 September in Diyarbakir, he is reportedly no longer able to drink or speak and is said to be suffering from internal bleeding and loss of sensory perception.

Fatma Koçak of the news agency DIHA and Ayse Oyman of the daily Özgür Gündem, who are both in Istanbul's Bakirköy prison for women, have been on hunger strike since 24 September. Two other women, Pelvin Yerlikaya Babir of DIHA, held in Bakirköy, and Faysal Tunç of DIHA, held in Kalkandere prison in the northeastern province of Rize, have been on hunger strike since 15 October.

Selahattin Aslan of Demokratik Modernite, held in Kandira, in the western Marmara region, and Sahabettin Demir of DIHA, detained in the northeastern province of Giresun, have also been on strike since 15 October, while Mehmet Emin Yildirim of Azadiya Welat and Ömer Faruk Caliskan of Özgür Halk, held in Kandira, have also taken up the protest. Intellectuals and journalists of various political views, including Vedat Türkali, Garo Paylan, Aydin Engin, Ahmet Sik and Ertugrul Mavioglu, have voiced deep concern about their colleagues on hunger strike.

Demonstration for imprisoned journalists

Around 500 people took part in a march along Istanbul's Istiklal Avenue on 5 November, under the slogan of "No free society without a free press", to demand the release of Turkey's imprisoned journalists and media workers.

They included recently released journalists such as Ahmet Sik, Nedim Sener, Baris Pehlivan, Baris Terkoglu and Vedat Kursun, who responded to a call from the Freedom for Journalists platform (GÖP), a coalition that includes most of the local journalists' organizations. Reporters Without Borders was also represented.

"Anyone criticizing the authorities is immediately detained under the anti-terrorism law, resulting in the prisons being filled with journalists," said Ahmet Abakay of the Contemporary Journalists Association (CGD), the current holder of the GÖP's rotating leadership. "The courts with special powers render injustice instead of justice, with the result that our entire profession is being brought before them."

New arrests and conditional releases in KCK investigation

Zeynep Kuris, a DIHA reporter in the southeastern city of Mersin, was placed in preventive detention in Karatas women's prison in the nearby province of Adana today, after four days in police custody. She is charged with membership in the outlawed Union of Communities in Kurdistan (KCK), regarded as the PKK's urban wing.

Two Azadiya Welat reporters who were arrested at the same time as her, Halime Parlak and Ergin Caglar, were released yesterday. According to DIHA, Kuris and Özlem Agus, a fellow DIHA reporter who was also detained, were investigating the alleged mistreatment of teenagers in Adana province's Pozanti prison.

Sinan Aygül, a DIHA reporter who had been imprisoned in the eastern city of Mus since 23 January 2011, was released yesterday pending trial. Ahmet Akyol, a journalist held since 9 May 2011 in Adana province's Kürkçüler prison on a charge of PKK membership and pro-PKK propaganda, was also released conditionally yesterday.

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