Local media continue to be hounded under laws that need to be changed

Local media continue to be hounded under laws that need to be changed

Constant harassment of the media shows that serious efforts are
needed by the authorities to bring Turkey’s laws and judicial practices
into line with democratic standards, Reporters Without Borders said
today. “Laws under which any comment straying from the standard
nationalist discourse can be prosecuted must be abolished as they
perpetuate an outmoded and archaic concept of Turkey, and are
responsible for great injustice,” the organisation said.


Two journalists in southeastern Anatolia are currently facing the
possibility of imprisonment. Yasin Yetisgen, the editor of the regional
weekly Coban Atesi, has been charged under article 318 of the criminal
code and Law 5816 of 1951 (concerning crimes against the republic’s
founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk) for publishing a column by Berkant
Coskun headlined: “Don’t send me to the army, Mum.”

The column,
published in the 8 November issue, resulted in copies of the issue
being seized the next day. Yetisgen is due to appear before a criminal
court in Gaziantep on 9 May.

Haci Bogatekin, the owner of the
newspaper Gerger Firat, was arrested on 8 January on the orders
Sadullah Ovacikli, the prosecutor of the sub-district of Gerger in the
southeastern province of Adiyaman, because of a 4 January editorial
entitled “Feto and Apo.” He is accused of “propaganda” and “praise” of
the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which carry maximum
penalties of three and seven and half years in prison, respectively.

“Feto”
is the nickname of Fethullah Gülen, an influential Muslim community
leader who now lives in the United States. “Apo” is the nickname of PKK
leader Abdullah Öcalan, who is serving a life sentence in Imrali prison
in northwest Turkey.

Ovacikli shouted at Bogatekin: “How dare
you use the name ‘Feto’ to refer to our master Fethullah Gülen, someone
who is loved by millions of people?” The prosecutor added: “Either you
apologise in your next issue or thing will go badly for you.” Bogatekin
refused to give a statement to Ovacikli and used his right to remain
silent. He subsequently explained why he wrote the article to the
Gerger court.

In his view, radical Islam is the biggest danger
facing Turkey. At the same time, the forces of religious fundamentalism
and Kurdish terrorism are clashing and “this battle is spreading,
especially in the Kurdish regions of Turkey, and abroad.” He says the
ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) won last July’s elections
thanks to Gülen, and their plan is to steer “the struggle for the
liberation of the Kurds” toward Islamic radicalism.

Accusing the
Turkish army, seen as the guardian of secularism, of abandoning the
towns to the religious sects in order to pursue the PKK militants in
the mountains, he calls for an end to the fighting between the army and
PKK.

When the court released Bogatekin, the prosecutor
immediately appealed. The case has been transferred to a court in the
city of Adiyaman, which must now decide what happens to Bogatekin. The
editor has filed a complaint against Ovacikli with the High Council for
Judges (HSYK).

Several Kurdish media have meanwhile been
targeted by the authorities. The staff of the Kurdish daily Gündem
(Agenda) have decided to stop publishing in protect against political
and judicial harassment in recent months. They staged a demonstration
on 16 December in Galatasaray Square, in the district of Beyoglu in the
European part of Istanbul, in protest against “constant pressure
against press freedom.” Nonetheless, the police did not allow the staff
to distribute the last issue.

According to Gündem, since August
2006, eight Kurdish newspapers have been suspended by the authorities
18 times for periods of up to a month.

Gündem, which was
launched in January 2007, has been suspended six times. Güncel
(Agenda), launched in March 2007, has been suspended three times.
Ülkede Özgür Gündem (The Country’s Free Agenda), launched in March
2004, has been suspended twice. Gerçek Demokrasi and Yedinci Gün have
been suspended twice. Haftaya Bakis (Overview of the Week) and Azadiya
Welat, the only newspaper published in Kurdish, have been suspended
once.

Article 318 of the criminal code has not been modified as
part of the reforms carried out since 2002 with a view to rapprochement
with the European Union. It provides for jail terms of six months to
two years for distributing propaganda or encouraging activities that
could divert the population from military service. The sentence is
increased by a half for journalists and news media.

Similarly,
the government has not touched Law 5816, under which insulting Ataturk
is punishable by one to three years in prison. In this case against,
the sentence is increased by a half for journalists and news media.

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