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Courts continue to hound journalists who cover Kurdish minority issues

Journalists Nedim Sener (C) and Ahmet Sik (facing camera, 3rd L) wave upon arrival at a courthouse in Istanbul March 5, 2011. A Turkish court has charged four journalists and a writer with involvement in an alleged plot to overthrow the government, but prosecutors said the detentions were not due to their journalism.

Despite the government’s denials, the demands of Turkey’s Kurdish minority continue to be off-limits for the country’s media. Six people have been charged or convicted this month under Anti-Terrorist Law No. 3713 for writing about the subject.

The Anti-Terrorist Law will be 20 years old on April 12. It quickly became a weapon that could be used relentlessly against journalists who dare to broach the problem of minorities. This month’s trials have offered further examples of the appalling and insane way it is used to impose severe sentences on both writers and editors.

Ibrahim Cesmecioglu, the editor of the newspaper Birgün, and Hakan Tahmaz, one of its columnists, were convicted of “reproducing a statement or communiqué by a terrorist organisation” under article 6 of the Anti-Terrorist Law for an August 2008 article headlined “A unilateral ceasefire would increase the problem.” It quoted Murat Karayilan, a representative of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), who was interviewed in Qandil, in Iraqi Kurdistan.

Citing article 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights, the prosecutor ended up urging their acquittal on the grounds that they had exercised their right to cover a newsworthy subject. But the Istanbul court’s presiding judge nonetheless sentenced Tahmaz to 10 months in prison for writing the article and Cesmecioglu to a fine of 16,600 Turkish lira (1,600 euros) for publishing it.

The same court convicted Mehmet Güler, the author of a book titled The global state and the stateless Kurds that was published in May 2010, and his publisher, Ragip Zarakolu, on March 10 on a charge of “PKK propaganda,” sentencing Güler to 18 months in prison and Zarakolu to a fine of 16,600 Turkish lira (1,600 euros).

In this case again, the prosecutor had described a prison sentence as “disproportionate and contrary to the requirements of a democratic society.” Their conviction was an example of judicial persecution inasmuch as both men were already convicted on the same charge in connection with another book in June 2010.

Journalist Ertugrul Mavioglu has, meanwhile, been charged with “PKK propaganda” for an interview with Karayilan published in three instalments in the newspaper Radikal from October 28 to 30, 2010. The case is due to be tried soon and its similarity with the Tahmaz and Cesmecioglu case suggests he will also be convicted. The charge carries a maximum sentence of seven years in prison.

After expressing a readiness to make concessions to the Kurds in 2009, the authorities seem to be reverting to a hard line in the Kurdish issue. The modest political opening seems to have had no impact on the way the courts treat journalists.

There was another example of indiscriminate repression at Newroz, the Kurdish New Year that is celebrated in the east of the country with demonstrations. On the night of March 21, Necip Capraz of the local newspaper Yüksekova Haber was detained along with 10 other people in the southeastern city of Hakkari on suspicion of membership of the Turkish Assembly of the Union of Kurdistan Communities (KCK/TM), which is allegedly linked to PKK.

Capraz underwent heart surgery a year ago and is in poor health. He was arrested exactly three years earlier after being the victim of violence while covering a pro-Kurdish demonstration. A well-known journalist in Turkey’s Kurdish southeast, he was awarded the Press Solidarity Prize in 2005 by the Association of Contemporary Journalists (CGD).

The authorities also went after foreign reporters. The German photo-journalist Benjamin Hiller was arrested while covering a demonstration by the Kurdish Democratic Party (BDP) in the southeastern city of Diyarbakir. Verbally assailed and accused of taking illegal photos, he was taken into police custody before finally being released an hour and a half later.

The problem of Turkey’s minorities is such a sensitive topic that even mentioning it is often perceived as an attack on the country’s unity. Turkey’s Nobel literature laureate, Orhan Pamuk, was sentenced on appeal on March 28 to a fine of 6,000 Turkish lira (730 euros) for saying in an interview published in Switzerland in 2005 that “30,000 Kurds and a million Armenians have been killed in this country.” The sheer fact of his conviction is very significant.

Paris-based press freedom group Reporters sans Frontières (RSF) reiterated its appeal to the judicial authorities to stop criminalizing the expression of views about issues of great interest to Turkish society. The press freedom organisation plans to visit Turkey in early April for the 20th anniversary of the Anti-Terrorist Law and to investigate the persecution of journalists in recent weeks.

Date posted: April 5, 2011 Last modified: May 23, 2018 Total views: 100