PRESS FREEDOM IN TURKEY

EuropeNews, Denmark
http://europenews.dk/en/node/9741
April 30 2008

With heightened polarization regarding issues of secularism,
nationalism, and separatism, reform efforts toward enhanced freedom of
expression stalled in 2007. The restrictive measures of the new Turkish
penal code, which came into force in June 2005, continued to overshadow
and undermine positive reforms achieved in the country's effort to meet
European Union (EU) membership requirements, including a new Press Law
in 2004 that replaced prison sentences with fines. The EU accession
process and perceptions that the ruling Justice and Development Party
intends to undermine the country's secular traditions have prompted
a nationalist movement that is driving a legalistic crackdown on free
expression by journalists and writers.

Status: Partly Free

Legal Environment: 20

Political Environment: 20

Economic Environment: 11

Total Score: 51

Constitutional provisions for freedom of the press and of expression
exist but are matched with provisions that restrict it and, in
practice, are only partially upheld. According to Bianet, a Turkish
press freedom organization, the number of prosecuted journalists,
publishers, and activists dropped to 254 in 2007 from 293 in 2006
(after a dramatic jump from 157 in 2005).

Yet the same organization reports that 55 individuals were tried over
the year under the penal code's especially controversial Article 301
alone. This provision allows for prison terms of six months to three
years for "the denigration of Turkishness" and has been used to charge
journalists for crimes such as stating that genocide was committed
against the Armenians in 1915, discussing the division of Cyprus,
or writing critically on the security forces.

Book publishers, translators, and intellectuals have also faced
prosecution for "insulting Turkish identity." In January, Hrant
Dink--editor-in-chief of the Armenian weekly Agos, who was prosecuted
for a second time under Article 301 in July 2006 for confirming his
recognition of Armenian genocide allegations--was the victim of a
carefully plotted assassination carried out by a 17 year old. Charges
against Dink under Article 301 were subsequently dropped, but both
his son and the owner of Agos were convicted on the same charges for
the same case in October.

In November, two policemen were charged with knowing about plans
to kill Dink and failing to report it; the trials of all 19 people
charged in connection with the murder were ongoing at year's end.

Article 277 of the penal code was invoked in 2007 to charge 14 people
with "attempting to influence court decisions." Article 216 penalizes
"inflaming hatred and hostility among peoples" and is most frequently
used against journalists who write about the Kurdish population or
are perceived to degrade the armed forces.

23 people were charged on this count in 2007 and, in May 2007, a court
of appeal overturned the prior acquittal of two professors charged
under this article in 2005 for a report in which they discussed the
term "citizenship of Turkey" as it relates to minorities, a concept
being debated in preparation for a new "civil" constitution. The
court ruled that the discussion constituted a "social danger" and more
specifically, "... a danger to the unitary state and the indivisibility
of the nation." Nationalist lawyers groups, such as the Great Lawyers'
Union, credited by many human rights groups for leading the push for
prosecutions, continued to bring insult suits over the year.

Despite a September 2006 declaration of commitment by Prime Minister
Recep Tayyip Erdogan to revise Article 301 and heightened pressure
from international press freedom watchdog groups to abolish it
following Dink's murder, no progress was made by year's end; many
believe the government dropped the issue in the context of election
concerns. Erdogan himself continued to launch a number of defamation
suits against members of the media; in October, newly elected President
Abdullah Gul promised changes in the period ahead.

Convictions against journalists are made much less frequently than
are prosecutions, but trials are time-consuming and expensive. A
total of six convictions were made for charges under Article 301 in
2007 (nine were acquitted). In a positive development, the Supreme
Court of Appeals confirmed a lower court's prior decision to drop
the Article 301 case against Turkish writer Orhan Pamuk in August.

While Bianet also reports that the number of threats and attacks on the
press increased in 2007, threats and harassment remain significantly
more prevalent than acts of violence. The Dink assassination marked
the culmination of a deliberate plot believed to be developed by
nationalist forces, or the "deep state"--a vague network involving
members of the state bureaucracy, military and intelligence apparatus.

It was not a popular or commonplace crime, and journalists' work is
not regularly compromised by fears of violence. Instability in the
southeastern part of the country does infringe upon journalists'
freedom to work, however.

In April, three employees of a Christian publishing house in the
Malatya province of southeastern Turkey were brutally murdered and
a newspaper owner was killed in the southeastern province of Van
in September, though no evidence proved the murder to be related to
freedom of the press. The issue of police violence against journalists
was raised by the abduction, assault, and death threats against
journalist Sinan Tekpetek by police in Istanbul in late July.

June 2006 amendments to the Antiterror Law allow for imprisoning
journalists for up to three years for the dissemination of statements
and propaganda by terrorist organizations. The new legislation raises
concerns that the broad definition of terrorism could allow for
arbitrary prosecutions, particularly for members of the pro-Kurdish
press who are sometimes charged with collaborating with the Kurdish
Workers Party (PKK). According to Bianet, 83 people were charged in
cases of "terrorism" over the year.

The Supreme Council of Radio and Television, whose members are elected
by the Parliament, has the authority to sanction broadcasters if they
are not in compliance with the law or its expansive broadcasting
principles. It is frequently subject to political pressure. Some
editors and journalists practice self-censorship out of fear of
violating legal restrictions, and Turkish press freedom advocates
contend that self-censorship has become more prevalent as a result
of the onslaught of prosecutions under the new penal code.

Owner of the weekly Nokta magazine stopped its publication in April
after the magazine's investigative articles on the military prompted
a police raid on its offices. Charged with spreading PKK propaganda
under the Anti-Terrorism Law, the Gundem newspaper was suspended for
15-30 day periods four times over the year. Broadcasting bans were
reportedly issued against a few stations during the pre-election
period, and the government censored coverage of PKK attacks in
southeastern Turkey in October.

Media are highly concentrated in four major conglomerates, which
subtly pressure their editors and journalists to refrain from reporting
that will harm their business interests. This could include avoiding
criticism of the government or potential advertisers, both of which
could have contracts with other arms of the companies.

Turkey's broadcast media are well developed, with hundreds of
private television channels, including cable and satellite as well
as commercial radio stations.

State television and radio provide limited broadcasting in minority
languages, now including four local radio and television stations in
Kurdish. This marks a major step forward for freedom of expression,
although critics say that the broadcasts are too restricted and quality
is poor. The quality of Turkish media is low with a greater prevalence
of columns and opinion articles than pure news, but independent
domestic and foreign print media are able to provide diverse views,
including criticism of the government and its policies. An estimated
22.5 percent of the Turkish population accessed the internet in 2007.

The video-sharing web site, YouTube was blocked in March and again in
September for airing videos perceived to insult government leaders and
founder of the Turkish republic, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. [Editors note:
Turkey also blocked Wordpress.]