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Media Watch 2004

16 December 2004
Source: Reporters Sans Frontieres
Author:
Comment: The following is a press release of media watchdog Reporters Sans Frontieres of Paris of 16 December 2004.
Turkey's press freedom far from EU standards
"...the new criminal code that becomes law on 1st April 2005... [Article 305]... punishes alleged "threats against fundamental national interests". It specifically targets freedom of expression, particularly on issues involving Cyprus or Armenia. The European parliament voted on 15 December for a resolution calling, among other things, for the immediate repeal of this article, viewed as incompatible with the 1950 Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms"

Text of report in English by press release by Paris-based organization
Reporters Sans Frontieres (RSF) on 16 December

Reporters Without Borders has said that Turkey is still far from
meeting European press freedom standards as the European Council
prepares to decide on 17 December whether or not to open negotiations
on Turkish EU membership.

European deputies voted on 15 December for the discussions to start
without "needless delay" but on the basis of Ankara complying with
certain conditions.

In particular they are seeking the repeal of Article 305 of Turkey's
new criminal code, that comes into effect on 1st April 2005 and which
they consider runs contrary to freedom of expression.


"The legislative progress that has undeniably been made should not
conceal the fact that the climate remains as harsh as ever for the most
outspoken journalists," the worldwide press freedom organization said.

"The press is exposed to misuse of authority by the courts, which in
practice continue to impose prison sentences and exorbitant fines
that push journalists to censor themselves extensively on the most
sensitive subjects such as the army and the Kurdish question,"
Reporters Without Borders said.

The TV and radio stations are still subject to "brazen censorship"
by the High Council for Broadcasting (RTUK), while pro-Kurdish
journalists continue to be the target of many kinds of pressure,
the organization continued.

"Despite progress towards European standards, the gap between the
declarations of good intentions and the reality is still considerable,
with the result that Turkey still does not fulfil all the necessary
conditions for real press freedom," it added.

Genuine progress made

The legislative amendments undertaken by Turkey with a view to joining
the European Union have been positive for journalists. Heavy fines have
replaced prison sentences in the new press law, adopted in June. The
most repressive sanctions, such as the closure of news organizations
or bans on printing and distribution, have been eliminated, while
the protection of sources has even been reinforced.

Article 159, which has led to many journalists being prosecuted
for "affront to the state and state institutions and threats to
the indivisible unity of the Turkish Republic", was amended in
2002 and 2003, with the prison sentence being cut from one year to
six months. At the same time, criticism not intentionally aimed at
"ridiculing" or "insulting" state institutions is no longer punishable
by imprisonment.

Journalists still under pressure

Even though the new criminal code that becomes law on 1st April 2005
removes the offence of "mocking and insulting government ministers",
there remains a problem with Article 305.

This punishes alleged "threats against fundamental national
interests". It specifically targets freedom of expression, particularly
on issues involving Cyprus or Armenia. The European parliament voted
on 15 December for a resolution calling, among other things, for the
immediate repeal of this article, viewed as incompatible with the 1950
Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.

Contrary to European standards, the new criminal code stipulates
that insult is punishable by three months to three years in prison,
with the sentence increasing if the offence is committed by means of
the press (Article 127).

In practice, judges still interpret the concept of "criticism" very
subjectively and abusive prosecutions continue.

Four journalists with the pro-Kurdish daily Yeniden Ozgur Gundem who
criticized government policy on the Iraq war were brought before the
courts in 2003 while on-line journalist Erol Oskoray was detained for
"mocking" and "insulting" the army. Sabri Ejder Ozic, the manager
of Radyo Dunya, a local radio station in the southern city of Adana,
was sentenced to a year in prison for offending parliament.

Hakan Albayrak, a former editorialist for the daily Milli Gazete,
was imprisoned on 20 May and is serving a 15-month prison sentence
for "attacking the memory of Ataturk" in violation of the 1951 law
governing crimes against Kemal Ataturk. Article 1 of this law punishes
any offence against the Republic of Turkey's founder by one to three
years in prison. Article 2 doubles the sentence if it is committed
by means of the press.

On 15 October, Sebati Karakurt of the daily Hurriyet was held for 12
hours at the headquarters of the anti-terrorist police in Istanbul and
some 10 policemen searched his home. It stemmed from a report published
a few days earlier that included an interview with Murat Karayilan,
the military chief of the former Kurdish Workers' Party (PKK), now
renamed Kongra-Gel. The report included photos showing female rebels
in combat fatigues in a favourable light, relaxed and smiling. Karakurt
was released after being interrogated by the police and a prosecutor.

Memik Horuz, the managing editor of the far-left newspaper Isci Koylu,
has spent years in prison for the views he expressed in the course
of their journalistic work.

Pro-Kurdish media targeted

While the national radio and TV stations are now allowed to use
the Kurdish language, the RTUK continues to impose disproportionate
sanctions - ranging from warnings to withdrawal of licence - against
pro-Kurdish media or media that are very critical of the government.

Ozgur Radyo, a local radio station in Istanbul, was sentenced
by the RTUK to a month's closure for "inciting violence, terror,
discrimination on the basis of race, region, language, religion or sect
or the broadcasting of programmes that arouse feelings of hatred in
society." The station stopped broadcasting on 18 August. In the event
of a further offence, the RTUK could withdraw its licence altogether.

Gunes TV, a local television station in the eastern city of Malatya,
was also forced to stop broadcasting for a month from 30 March. This
was because the RTUK accused it of "attacking the state's existence
and independence, and the country's indivisible unity with the people
and Ataturk's principles and reforms" under article 4 of RTUK law
3984. Using the same article, the RTUK closed down local TV station
ART in the south-eastern city of Diyarbakir on 15 August 2003 for
broadcasting two love songs in Kurdish.

Mass detentions of pro-Kurdish journalists by the anti-terrorist police
on the eve of the NATO summit in Istanbul on 28-29 June 2004 were
also indicative of the treatment reserved for the pro-Kurdish press.

Finally, nine journalists covering the dispersal of protesters against
electoral fraud were badly beaten by police in Diyarbakir during the 28
March local elections and three of them had to be hospitalized. Those
responsible have still not been punished."