Area: 774,820
Population: 71,190,000.
Language: Turkish.
Head of government: Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Press freedom is still restricted by article 301 of the criminal code, which is frequently used against journalists, writers and intellectuals mentioning sensitive topics such as the Armenian massacres and the Kurdish question. Negotiations for Turkish membership of the European Union have focused on the need to change this situation and prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said publicly he wants dialogue about it.

At least 65 people, including many journalists and writers, have been prosecuted under article 301 of the new criminal code introduced on 1 June 2005. The article, headed "Denigration of Turkishness, the republic and state organs and institutions," provides for between six months and three years in prison for "anyone who openly denigrates the government, judicial institutions or military or police structures."

Scenes of violence accompanied the trials in 2006 of novelists Orhan Pamuk (who won the 2006 Nobel Prize for literature) and Elif Shafak, Armenian-origin journalist Hrant Dink and five columnists with the major dailies Milliyet and Radikal (Erol Katircioglu, Murat Belge, Haluk Sahin, Hasan Cemal and Smet Berkan). All were acquitted.

Turks are divided on the issue. The EU enlargement commission's report on 8 November said press freedom must improve and that "freedom of expression in line with European standards is not yet guaranteed by the present legal framework (...) Article 301 and other provisions of the Turkish penal code that restrict freedom of expression need to be brought in line with the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR)."

The strong campaign for and against about Turkish EU membership and the award of the Nobel Prize for literature to a writer being prosecuted for his work forced the prime minister to publicly declare support for amending article 301. Several journalists prosecuted under it said they would take their cases to the European Human Rights Court.

Among them was Dink, editor of the Armenian weekly Agos, who was given a six-month suspended prison sentence on 7 October 2005 for writing a series of articles about "Armenian identity." He was prosecuted again on 18 July 2006 four days after an interview with Reuters news agency about his prison sentence for "insulting Turkishness" in which he used the word "genocide" about the Turkish massacres of Armenians in 1915. He faces a new prison sentence of three years.

Worrying developments

Amendments to the country's anti-terrorist law that were approved by parliament on 29 June also threatened freedom of expression by allowing imprisonment for printing news about "terrorist organisations" and raised fears of unjustified prosecution of journalists who dared to mention the subject. Rüstu Demirkaya, of the pro-Kurdish news agency Diha, was jailed on 14 June in the eastern town of Tunceli for "collaborating with the PKK/Kongra-Gel" after a former militant reportedly accused him of giving the PKK a laptop and 10 blank CDs and telling the party about an ongoing military operation. He faces up to 12 years in prison.

Three bomb attacks on the far-left daily paper Cumhuriyet on 5, 10 and 11 May caused much damage but no injuries and its journalists immediately resumed work. Ilyas Aktas, of the far-left fortnightly Devrimci Demokrasi, was shot and seriously wounded in the southeastern town of Diyarbakir on 30 March during a demonstration to honour 14 Kurdish rebels killed by the army a few days earlier. He died on 14 April.

Police were criticised for failing to help an injured journalist from the daily Sabah, Aliye Cetinkaya, during a protest in the town of Konya on 10 February against publication in Europe of cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed. Demonstrators attacked her because she was not wearing a headscarf, wore jeans and was chewing gum. She was insulted and stoned and shoes were thrown at her. Police stood by and colleagues had to take her from the scene.

But 2006 ended with the good news of the release of two journalists of the pro-Kurdish news agency Diha, Evrim Dengiz and Nesrin Yazar, after nine months in prison for "undermining the unity of the state and territorial integrity." They had been arrested while reporting on a demonstration in support of PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan, who has been in prison since 1999.


This 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.