As of December 31, 1998

Although Turkey's mainstream press enjoys considerable freedom, authorities continue to punish independent reporting on sensitive political topics such as the government's 14-year-old conflict with Kurdish insurgents in the country's southeast region. Pro-Kurdish, far-left, and Islamist publications were the main targets of this state harassment that included censorship, the prosecution and imprisonment of journalists, and the suspension of newspapers. But mainstream journalists were also subjected to official reprisal for their independent views on sensitive political subjects. At year's end, 27 journalists were imprisoned because of their published work or their affiliation with far-left or pro-Kurdish publications.

In a year that saw the collapse of the government of Prime Minister Mesut Yilmaz, hopes of improved press conditions appeared decidedly remote. A year and a half after the Yilmaz government made a firm commitment to press freedom during meetings with a CPJ delegation in Ankara, meaningful reform has failed to materialize.

A proposed reform package, aiming to amend some of the laws used most often to criminalize journalism, appeared to be on indefinite hold. Although amendments to Articles 17, 159, and 312 of the Penal Code and Article 8 of the Anti-Terror Law were approved by the council of ministers, the parliament has taken no action on the measures. The proposed amendments fall far short of comprehensive reform, and would leave journalists as vulnerable as ever to the penalty of imprisonment for "separatist propaganda" or "inciting racial hatred." "It's not possible to change existing legislation on separatist propaganda, because this is a sensitive topic in Turkey," State Minister for Human Rights Hikmet Sami Turk told a CPJ delegation in Washington, D.C., in June. "There are many people who have lost lives in the war on terrorism."

New prosecutions and jailings of journalists continued while repressive laws such as the Anti-Terror Law and statutes of the Penal Code remained on the books, representing a threat to dissident or critical journalists. Ragip Duran, the Istanbul correspondent for the French-language daily Libération, began serving a 10-month prison sentence in June.

Hundreds of issues of publications – mainly far-left and pro-Kurdish paper – were confiscated or suspended by court order. Most notably, a State Security Court in October banned the pro-Kurdish daily Ülkede Gündem for 30 days for allegedly inciting hatred in a published column – demonstrating the pattern of harassment of the paper that has persisted for years, beginning with its predecessor publications including the now-defunct Özgür Gündem.

Censorship of the broadcast media has become common. Authorities issued closure orders against numerous radio and television stations throughout the year for broadcasting deemed separatist or morally offensive. The Supreme Radio and Television Board (RTUK), formed in April 1994 to regulate and monitor the broadcast media, wields broad powers to sanction stations that run afoul of the many sweeping provisions of Turkey's laws that punish expression. In May, for example, RTUK handed out one-day bans to prominent stations such as Channel D, ATV, and Interstar for morally offensive and violent programming. Pro-Kurdish stations appeared to suffer the most severe punishments. The Diyarbakir-based Metro FM was shut down in July for a year for "undermining the unity of the state" in apparent retaliation for broadcasting Kurdish-language music. Radyo Karacadag in Sanliurfa, which has been a repeated target of official harassment, was also closed for a year for allegedly inciting hatred through its political programming. By August, RTUK had imposed sanctions against television and radio stations that totaled 420 days over a four-year period.

Incidents of police violence against journalists occur with disturbing frequency. In March, the long-awaited court decision in the trial of police officers accused of the fatal beating of Evrensel journalist Metin Göktepe came to a discouraging end. Five of the 11 defendants were convicted and sentenced to a mere seven and a half years in prison, with the likelihood of an early release on parole. An appeals court later ruled that the case would be re-tried, and by December, a judge had ordered the release of the five convicted officers.

Self-censorship, editorial censorship, and partisanship in the mainstream press often compromised coverage of sensitive topics such as the Kurdish question or Islamist politics. And journalists' self-restraint was often reinforced by routine harassment and intimidation by military and government officials. Some journalists contend that the military keeps files on journalists and exerts pressure through routine harassment of editors when their reporting is viewed as unfavorable. Editors complained about harassment in the form of telephone calls from military figures. "It's unbelievable how many calls we get from the leaders," remarked the editor of a leading daily in August when describing pressure he experienced from military authorities over coverage.

In a flagrant display of the military's meddling with the press, liberal columnists Cengiz Candar and Mehmet Ali Birand were suspended and fired respectively from the daily Sabah, after the military had leaked that the two had allegedly been on the payroll of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK). The information was reportedly part of the confession of captured PKK military commander Semdin Sakik.

Journalists viewed the actions as reprisals because both columnists had been critical of state policies. Candar was soon able to resume his work with the paper, but was reportedly warned not to provoke authorities in his column. Birand, meanwhile, was dismissed for what the paper says were professional reasons.

Attacks on the Press in Turkey in 1998

11/18/98Hayrettin Demircioglu, Ülkede GündemImprisoned
11/18/98Yurdusev Özsökmenler, Ülkede GündemImprisoned
11/18/98Filiz Duman, Ülkede GündemImprisoned
11/18/98Yasemin Öztürk, Ülkede GündemImprisoned
11/18/98Tülay Kilinç, Ülkede Gündem Imprisoned
11/18/98Tülin Bozkurt, Ülkede Gündem Imprisoned
11/18/98Kahraman Yapicilar, Ülkede GündemImprisoned
11/18/98Salih Erol, Ülkede GündemImprisoned
11/18/98Narin Adsan, Ülkede GündemImprisoned
11/18/98Filiz Yürek, Ülkede GündemImprisoned
11/18/98Ersin Öngel, Ülkede GündemImprisoned
11/18/98Habip Çelik, Ülkede GündemImprisoned
11/18/98Seyda Basmaci, Ülkede GündemImprisoned
11/18/98Adil Harmanci, Ülkede GündemImprisoned
11/18/98Ali Kemal Sel, Ülkede GündemImprisoned
11/18/98Eylem Kaplan, Ülkede GündemImprisoned
11/18/98Ayse Onan, Ülkede GündemImprisoned
10/24/98Ülkede GündemCensored
07/31/98Dogan Guzel, Ülkede GündemImprisoned
07/21/98Oral Calislar, CumhurriyetLegal Action
06/21/98Ülkede GündemAttacked
06/16/98Ragip Duran, LiberationImprisoned
03/20/98Mehmet Ali Birand, SabahHarassed
03/20/98Yalcin Dogan, MilliyetHarassed
03/20/98Muharrem Sarikaya, HurriyetHarassed
03/07/98Yasar Kaplan, AkitImprisoned, Legal Action
03/05/98Aydin Koral, SelamLegal Action
03/02/98Koray Duzgoren, RadikalCensored
02/22/98Mert Ilkutlug, MilliyetAttacked
02/22/98Hakan Gulce, ATVAttacked
02/22/98Celal Baslangic, RadikalAttacked
02/22/98Selma Yildiz, RadikalAttacked
02/22/98Ahmet Sik, RadikalAttacked
01/26/98Haluk Gerger, Özgür GündemImprisoned

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