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Turkey, Journalists Are Not Terrorists

                                                                        Courtesy IFJ

Turkey‘s dubious reputation as the world biggest jailor of journalists was reinforced on November 5 when four more journalists were imprisoned – three for life – for “trying to overthrow constitutional order by means of violence” and being members of a political body that Ankara considers a terrorist organisation. The incarceration comes just three months after an Istanbul court slapped politically-motivated prison sentences on 12 other journalists – one of them for life – allegedly for their part in the Ergenekon conspiracy. There are numerous other acts of media repression the Turkish government is accused of, including assaults on journalists during anti-regime protests and targeting media organisations of the Kurdish minority.

Füsun Erdogan, head of Ozgür Radyo and two journalists of the weekly Atlim – its editor Ibrahim Cicek and reporter Bayram Namaz– were given life, while Atilim’spublisher Sedat Senoglu, was sentenced to seven and a half years – all four charged for being members of the Marxist-Leninist Communist Party (MLKP) that Turkey has banned as a terrorist organisation. According to the indictment the four journalists were arrested while preparing for the party’s fourth congress at a place where the police claim firearms were also discovered.
The trials were marred by procedural anomalies including long pre-trial detention and the judge refusing the defence’s request to examine documents produced by the police.
“These extremely harsh sentences have ended a trial marked by violations of defence rights and unacceptably long pre-trial detention for the main defendants. Despite a grave decline in her state of health, Füsun Erdogan spent more than seven years in prison before being sentenced. So did Bayram Namaz. What happened to the presumption of innocence? Paris-based Reporters without Borders (RSF) asked.
RSF went on to say that Erdogan, Cicek and Namaz were given an additional 3000 years in prison for their responsibility for 150 acts of violence by MKLP as they held positions of leadership in the party.
Earlier, Erdogan who suffers from multiple health issues wrote in a letter to RSF that she had been held without trial for two years and although police accounts stated she and her husband Cicek were arrested at Ocakli where MLKP’s congress was to take place, in actuality they were detained while leaving a friend’s home in another town.
“We urge the judicial system to take account [breaches in due process] on appeal, and to re-examine the case with complete impartiality. But that could take some time, given the Turkish judicial system’s slowness. Meanwhile, the journalists should be released conditionally at once,” RSF said.
In a statement the Brussels-based International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) referred to the imprisonment of the journalists in relation to Turkey’s obligations to media freedom as the country reopened negotiations to be admitted to the European Union.
“As the European Federation of Journalists  (EFJ) reconfirmed  that  ‘journalists are not terrorists’ on the Stand Up For Journalism Day on 5 November, the verdict that is based on political influence have shocked the journalist community in Europe and seriously affect  media freedom and journalists’ rights,” IFJsaid.
IFJ also reminded the “European Commission that the EU accession of Turkey must comply with the European standards on freedom of expression and information.”
On November 6, PEN Norway asked a delegation of its members in Turkey to “react sharply and raise the issue with the host.”  
As of December 2012, Turkey had in jail 49 journalists, said CPJ. There were more detentions this year. In August, 12 journalists were convicted and jailed, allegedly for their involvement in the Ergenekon conspiracy. The conspiracy refers to a military coup hatched between 2004 and 2007 against the Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan’s government.
Refering to their arrests over the conspiracy Nina Ognianova, Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator of the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalist (CPJ) said, “These Turkish journalists, several of whom have already spent several years behind bars, have been swept up by an overly broad prosecution that equates journalistic coverage unfavorable to the government with actual anti-state activities.”
To read this blog’s posts on journalists and Ergenekon conspiracy, please click here.
Journalists are regularly arrested under Turkey’s counterterrorism laws. At a panel discussion on press freedom in Turkey on March 27, Susan Corke of the New York-based Freedom House referred to a report by Carnegie which said that 68% of journalists detained in Turkey in 2012 were held under counterterrorism laws.
To read this blog’s post on Turkey’s use of counterterrorism laws to restrain journalists please click here.
On September 16, Joel Simon, Executive Director of the New York-based Committee to  Protect Journalist in a letterTurkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan called for far reaching reform of the media.
 RSF places Turkey 154th of 179 countries in its Media Freedom Index