|PRESS RELEASE||Paris, 18 April 2001|
Since the start of the protest movements in Turkish jails in December 2000, journalists have been prevented from doing their job. Articles on the hunger strikes of many far left-wing prisoners - 13 of whom had died by 16 April 2001 - have been relegated to the inside pages of the country's newspapers and replaced as headline news by the serious economic crisis. While many journalists have been forced to practise self-censorship to avoid disciplinary measures by the authorities and keep their jobs, others, dismissed for economic reasons, believe they have been victims of a "political purge" in the media.
But apart from recent obstacles to the freedom to inform, related to current events, RSF believes that the Turkish authorities are still using an arsenal of repressive laws to silence those who dare to address sensitive subjects, i.e. issues of minorities, human rights and the role of the police and army in Turkish society. After recent violations of freedom of expression and opinion on the Web in Turkey, the extension of this repression to the Internet is to be feared.
RSF has reviewed recent press violations in Turkey and addressed a list of recommendations to the Turkish and European authorities.
Five journalists are currently in jail in Turkey for their opinions or for practising their profession: Asiye Zeybek Güzel, Nureddin Sirin, Hasan Özgün, Kemal Evcimen and Mustafa Benli. Three of them have been sentenced to terms of between twelve and a half years and seventeen and a half years in jail for "belonging to an illegal organisation". The other two have still not been tried.
Among them, Mustapha Benli, jailed since February 1998, ended his hunger strike on 9 April 2001 due to pressure on his family. The editor-in-chief of the monthly Hedef (close to the Alevi community) and journalist with the periodicals Liseli Akadas and Alevi Halk Gerçegi was sentenced in November 1999 to twelve and a half years in jail for "belonging to an illegal organisation" (Article 168-2 of the Penal Code). Mustapha Benli has lost over 15 kg and is suffering from memory loss and serious hearing and sight problems. Gastritis and the start of an ulcer worsened the state of his health and led to his emergency hospitalisation at the Thrace University hospital in Edirne near the Bulgarian border. On 24 October 2000, Hasan Erdogan, his advocate, referred the case to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. Like Mustafa Benli, about 120 prisoners on hunger strike are currently in hospital. According to the Turkish human rights association (IHD), close to 300 detainees are on "total" hunger strikes.
The hunger strikers, all members of far left-wing groups, are protesting against being moved to new jails called "Type-F". Since September 2000, the Turkish authorities have decided to transfer many political prisoners from jails with vast collective dormitories to institutions with cells for two or three inmates. According to the authorities, this new system is designed to put a stop to the frequent mutinies with hostage-taking in Turkish jails. Several human rights organisations consider, however, that this isolation can facilitate bad treatment. The protest movement, started in late 2000, led to a brutal police intervention on 19 December in about 20 jails. The violent clashes which lasted for four days resulted in the death of 30 prisoners and two gendarmes, and dozens of injuries. Journalist Asiye Zeybek Güzel, editor-in-chief of the weekly Isçinin Yolu, was wounded in the left leg and back in Gebze jail in Izmit (70 km from Istanbul). According to her lawyer, she has difficulty moving and could be paralysed if she does not receive the required medical care.
This young journalist was arrested at her home on 22 February 1997 and taken to the anti-terrorist section of the security police in Istanbul where she was held for 13 days. During this period, Asiye Zeybek Güzel was raped. "Police harassed me sexually, me and other women. They watched pornographic films and drank alcohol after torturing us" she reported (cf. RSF Report, 1998). She was later transferred to the Kirklareli jail in Eastern Thrace (150 north of Istanbul), where she went on a 20-day hunger strike. After her fifth month in jail she was sent to Gebze jail. The journalist, also accused of "belonging to an illegal organisation", the Marxist-Leninist Communist Party (MLKP, an armed movement), has still not been sentenced. The next hearing in her trial is scheduled for 18 April 2001 in Istanbul. Her charges against the police who raped and tortured her were dismissed for lack of evidence. Her lawyer, Ercan Kanar, intends to refer the case to the European Court of Human Rights.
Since December 2000 many journalists have attested to the problems they have to freely cover events in jails. The conditions of detention of political prisoners, like all human rights-related topics, have become increasingly difficult to report on. Journalists fear reprisals by the authorities or bend to pressure by their employers.
Access to jails is strictly controlled. In an interview, a journalist working for a privately-owned television channel, who asked to remain anonymous, told RSF that all representatives of the media were prohibited from going closer than one kilometre from any prison.
On 14 December 2000, while conflict in the jails was raging, the Istanbul State Security Court N°4 ordered the media not to broadcast programmes or publish articles that could be an "incitement to crime" and act as "propaganda for illegal organisations". The court specified that such information could fall under Articles 6.2 ("publication of statements by terrorist organisations") and 7.2 ("propaganda of a terrorist organisation") of antiterrorist law N° 3713 and Article 1 paragraph 7 of law N° 4422. On 20 December, the authorities carried out these threats: five publications in the northern town of Corum, including Dost Haber Gazetesi, were seized for criticising the armed forces' intervention in jails. In the first quarter of 2001, several charges were laid against the far left-wing daily Yeni Evrensel for articles published on 22 and 25 December 2000 denouncing deaths in Turkish jails. Fevzi Saygili, owner of the newspaper, and Bülent Falakaoglu, editor-in-chief, were accused of "incitement to hatred and hostility" and "violating antiterrorist law N° 3713". The privately-owned channel CNN Türk was banned by the government-controlled Turkish broadcasting authority (RTÜK) for 24 hours after broadcasting a report on a detainee injured during an assault by the police in December 2000. Another channel, Kanal 6, was similarly banned after interviewing the families of inmates of a Type-F prison. On 28 March, the radio station Anadolunun Sesi was banned by the broadcasting authority for 90 days for addressing the subject of prisons.
During the year 2000, the RTÜK suspended dozens of radio stations and television channels for a total of over 4,500 days. In late April 2001, this authority has to renew the broadcasting licenses of national television channels. Eleven frequencies, as opposed to 16 at present, are to be allocated. Since each station has to submit a so-called "national security" document in which it mentions all sanctions against it, it is to be feared that the most critical media will be excluded.
As the subject of prisons is now given less coverage by the Turkish national dailies, another topic has taken over the headlines: the economic crisis of which journalists are both witnesses and victims.
The recession affecting Turkey since early February 2001 seems to be used by some media owners to put pressure on journalists. According to a senior member of the Association of Contemporary Journalists, "press owners see the crisis as a way of getting rid of the most unruly journalists and using their jobs and salaries to blackmail others". The Turkish journalists' association believes that 2,800 media professionals have been dismissed in the past two months, including the two most popular press editorialists, Nilgun Cerrahoglu and Umur Talu from the daily Milliyet. Several of those who have been fired regularly wrote about corruption in government circles. As a result, more and more journalists now tend to censor their own articles on sensitive news, so as to remain in line with the national dailies which tend to be close to the authorities. All privately-owned Turkish media are controlled by a few economic and financial groups. The group Dogan literally rules over the information world, controlling 70 percent of Turkish media.
On 27 March 2001, Caskun Ak, moderator of a forum on Superonline, one of the main Internet access providers in Turkey, was sentenced to 40 months in jail for "insulting and mocking institutions". An Istanbul court accused him of not censoring a 24-page document, published online on 26 May 1999 by a participant, which grouped together press articles and reports by non-governmental organisations on human rights violations in south-east Anatolia. The interior and justice ministries, parliament and the army chief of staff filed complaints against him after he was informed on by another participant in the forum. Caskun Ak has appealed.
This case suggests that the Turkish judiciary may be set to muzzle freedom of expression on the Web. In 1998 already, a young netsurfer, Emre Ersoz, was found guilty of "insulting the police" on a forum and sentenced to a ten months suspended jail sentence. The access provider Turknet was ordered by the judiciary to reveal the young man's identity and address.
More information about the Internet in Turkey, "Enemies of the Internet" is available on RSF's website : www.rsf.fr
For further information, contact Virginie Locussol at RSF, rue Geoffroy Marie, Paris 75009, France, tel: +33 1 44 83 84 84, fax: +33 1 45 23 11 51, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org, Internet: http://www.rsf.fr
The information contained in this press release is the sole responsibility of RSF. In citing this material for broadcast or publication, please credit RSF.
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