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Attacks on the Press in 1997 - Turkey

Publisher Committee to Protect Journalists
Publication Date February 1998
Cite as Committee to Protect Journalists, Attacks on the Press in 1997 - Turkey, February 1998, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/47c56555c.html [accessed 14 July 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Despite positive steps taken since the new government took office in July, press freedom in Turkey remains severely constrained by repressive statutes which criminalize leftist and pro-Kurdish political commentary and effectively ban independent reporting from or about the southeast. There were at least 29 journalists in jail in Turkey at year end, still more than in any other country. This represents a dramatic improvement from 1996, when CPJ reported 78 journalists in jail at the end of the year (see "The Case of Turkey: Verifying Reports of Imprisoned Journalists"). The release of 37 jailed journalists and the virtual halt to new prosecutions – CPJ was able to confirm one new case of imprisonment this year, as compared to 30 or more yearly between 1994 and 1996 – was one of the most positive press freedom developments of the year.

Under the Islamist-oriented government of Necmettin Erbakan and his predecessor and coalition partner, Tansu Çiller, the prosecution of journalists had escalated to unprecedented levels. Repression of the news media was marked by the imprisonment of a record number of journalists, the brazen refusal of indicted policemen to appear for their murder trial in the death of reporter Metin Göktepe, and the temporary shutdowns ordered by the State Security Court of such newspapers as the now-defunct, pro-Kurdish Demokrasi.

The political transition in the summer presented a new opportunity for CPJ to press its long-standing concerns about imprisonment of Turkish reporters and editors. On June 18, Erbakan resigned under fierce pressure from the military, and Mesut Yilmaz of the staunchly secular, centrist Motherland Party was asked by the president to form a new government. On July 13 – just one day after Yilmaz's new minority coalition survived a parliamentary vote of confidence – a CPJ-led coalition of international press freedom organizations and Turkish journalist groups began a series of discussions with the president, prime minister, other senior cabinet officers, and influential minority party leaders. The CPJ delegation was headed by vice chairman Terry Anderson and included board members Peter Arnett of CNN and Josh Friedman of Newsday, executive director William A. Orme, Jr., and Middle East program coordinator Joel Campagna. Joined by the executive directors of Reporters sans Frontières and the International Press Institute, and the chairmen of the Press Council of Turkey and the Turkish Union of Newspaper Owners, the CPJ delegation urged the Yilmaz government to place press freedom at the top of its agenda and to take immediate action to secure the release of imprisoned journalists – including 1996 International Press Freedom Award recipient Ocak Isik Yurtçu. In private meetings with the CPJ group and in public statements afterwards to the Turkish press, Yilmaz and his cabinet ministers pledged to take immediate steps to release Yurtçu and several other jailed journalists, and to introduce legislation before year end revising or eliminating provisions of the Anti-Terror Law and Penal Code under which journalists have been prosecuted in the past.

On August 14, the government fulfilled its first pledge to the CPJ delegation, pushing through parliament a limited amnesty bill that resulted in the release of seven imprisoned newspaper editors. Among those freed was Yurtçu, who had received front-page and prime-time local media coverage when Anderson presented him with his CPJ press freedom award in Saray Prison in July. Yet Yilmaz's fragile coalition was unable or unwilling to introduce its promised reform of the Anti-Terror Law and Penal Code. Police and prosecutors continued to harass reporters for leftist and pro-Kurdish newspapers. In September, authorities banned distribution of the pro-Kurdish and leftist dailies Ükede Gündem and Emek in the Southeastern cities of Diyarbakir, Tunceli, Hakkari, Siirt, Sirnak, and Van. The military-dominated National Security Council (NSC) excoriated private Islamist television and radio stations and urged the government to "take legal action against media organizations operating in violation of the constitution's basic and indispensable principles." In November, CPJ asked Prime Minister Yilmaz to request the release from Aydin Prison of Hasan Özgün, the former Diyarbakir bureau chief for Özgür Gündem, who is said by his attorney to be suffering from internal bleeding and heart tremors and had reportedly been denied medical treatment by prison authorities. At year end, Özgün remained in prison, serving a 12-year term.

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