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Media Watch 2005

18 March 2005
Source: Reporters Without Borders
Author:
Comment: The following is a report of Reporters Without Borders (Reporters San Frontières of Paris on 18 March 2005.
Press freedom threatened by new criminal law as journalists are mired in legal cases
" Another controversial article, 305, imposes a prison sentence of three to 10 years and a fine for any claim relating to the "Armenian genocide" or "withdrawal of Turkish forces from Cyprus," seen as being contrary to fundamental national interest. The sentence can be increased to 15 years if the claim is made in the press. Dozens of journalists have been imprisoned in the past for simply expressing an opinion on these questions."

Reporters Without Borders gave its backing to some 250 journalists protesting in Istanbul on 17 March against a new criminal law due to come into force that maintains prison sentences for press offences and exposes journalists to an increased risk of legal action.

Reporters Without Borders expressed its backing for Turkish journalists as some 250 of them demonstrated in the streets of Istanbul on 17 March calling for the shelving of a new criminal law threatening press freedom.

Turkish media have condemned restrictive measures in the new law that is due to come into force on 1st April 2005, at a time when the government appeared to have shaken off its former reflex of cracking down on journalists, the worldwide press freedom organisation said.

"Far from bringing Turkish law into line with European law over free expression, some articles look like making it easier to bring legal action against journalists, it said, adding, "We call for the law to be amended to abolish prison terms for press offences."

Elsewhere, the prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has brought defamation cases and is seeking heavy damages from two cartoonists. Musa Kart, working for the leftist daily Cumhuriyet (40,000 circulation) was on 21 December 2004, fined 3,000 euros by an Ankara court for drawing the president with a cat's head.

Judges ruled that the cartoon published on 9 May 2004 was "liable to humiliate the prime minister". Kart's lawyer lodged an appeal on 22 February.

The prime minister also laid a defamation complaint against Sefer Selvi who drew his adviser Cüneyt Zapsu perched on his back, in the left wing paper Günlük Evrensel. The trial is still going on.

Journalists take to the streets

Some 250 journalists demonstrated in the streets of Istanbul on 17 March to try to persuade the government to delay the new law due to come into force on 1st April. The press wants it to be shelved for at least six months, on the grounds that it contains many restrictions on press freedom and that some of the articles, drawn up in terms that are too vague, could mean an increase in legal action against journalists.

"Insulting a person, in a way liable to humiliate, dishonour and assail his dignity" (Article125 of new criminal law) is punishable by three months to two years in prison. The sentence can be increased by one third if the offence is committed in the press (Paragraph 4).

Another controversial article, 305, imposes a prison sentence of three to 10 years and a fine for any claim relating to the "Armenian genocide" or "withdrawal of Turkish forces from Cyprus," seen as being contrary to fundamental national interest.

The sentence can be increased to 15 years if the claim is made in the press. Dozens of journalists have been imprisoned in the past for simply expressing an opinion on these questions.

Elsewhere, before the new law comes into effect, the courts appear to have stepped up convictions for "insulting the army". The relevant article - 159/1 - is due to be abolished after 1st April.

Columnist Erol Özkoray of the pro-Kurdish daily Ozgur-Gundem heard from the high court in Sisli, Istanbul on 16 March that he had been sentenced to one year in prison or payment of 1,000 euros damages for articles posted on the website www.ideapolitika, on 26 November 2001, headlined, "What use is the Army" and "New barbarians and Taliban in epaulettes".

Reporters Without Borders defends imprisoned journalists and press freedom throughout the world, as well as the right to inform the public and to be informed, in accordance with Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Reporters Without borders has nine national sections (in Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom), representatives in Abidjan, Bangkok, Buenos Aires, Istanbul, Montreal, Moscow, New York, Tokyo and Washington and more than a hundred correspondents worldwide."