Turkey - Media freedom is essential for peace process

by Reporters Without Borders | Reporters Without Borders
Tuesday, 23 April 2013 21:11 GMT

* Any views expressed in this article are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Reporters Without Borders representatives yesterday attended hearings in two trials in Silivri, 60 km northwest of Istanbul, that have major implications for freedom of information in Turkey.

One is the trial of Kurdish journalists who are accused of being members of an alleged "media committee" created by the outlawed Union of Communities in Kurdistan (KCK). The other is a trial of alleged members of the Ergenekon ultranationalist conspiracy.

"We are here to yet again demonstrate our support for those who have been jailed because of their work as journalists and to point out that Turkey currently holds the world record in this category," Reporters Without Borders said.

"The Kurdish journalists on trial have been in preventive detention for more than 15 months. In the Ergenekon trial, the journalists Mustafa Balbay and Tuncay Özkan have been in preventive detention for five years. It is unacceptable that the authorities continue to extend their detention.

"At a time of historic peace talks between the government and PKK armed separatists, freedom of information is part of the solution. The reforms begun by the authorities must be carried through to the end, until all repressive provisions have been purged from Turkey's legislation and journalists no longer fear being jailed for doing their work."

Johann Bihr, the head of RWB's Europe and Central Asia desk, and Erol Önderoglu, RWB's representative in Turkey, held a joint news conference yesterday outside the law courts in Silivri together with representatives of the Freedom for Journalists Platform (GÖP) - Ercan Ipekçi, president of the Journalists' Syndicate (TGS), Recep Yasar, a member of the board of the Turkish Journalists' Association (TGC) and Kaan Karlioglu, secretary general of the Press Council.

A delegation of Belgian parliamentarians, consisting of Jean-Claude Defossé (ECOLO), André du Bus de Warnaffe (CDH) and Fatoumata Sibidé (FDF), and the German trade unionist Joachim Legatis (DJU) condemned the defendants' continuing detention and called on the international community to put pressure on the Turkish authorities.

Sebahat Tuncel, a Kurdish member of the Turkish parliament who is member of the BDP party, the painter Bedri Baykam and the well-known lawyer Turgut Kazan also attended yesterday's hearings.

At the hearing in the "KCK media committee" trial, the 12th hearing, the summary of a new indictment was read out. It concerned media assistants Ismet Kayhan and Mikail Barutçu, who are accused of being KCK leaders, and brought the number of defendants to 46, of whom 26 are currently in preventive detention.

For the first time, the defendants were allowed to speak Kurdish in court, to confirm their identity or to defend themselves. "We do not regard ourselves as being on trial," Ertus Bozkurt said on behalf of all the defendants. "This case has been concocted by the government, media and prosecutors."

The justice ministry rejected a request by the lawyer Sinan Zincir for the journalists being held in Kandira prison in Izmit (100 km southeast of Istanbul) to be transferred to the prison in Silivri, where the trial is being held.

A university representative told the court that the defendant Ismail Yildiz was sitting an exam in Malatya in 2001 at the moment when he was supposed to have been visiting a PKK camp in Qandil (in northern Iraq). The hearing is to continue until 26 April, when the court will rule on release requests.

The observers hope that the detained journalists will be released, as such a gesture would be consistent with the negotiations currently taking place between the government and PKK. More than 30,000 Turkish army soldiers, PKK members and civilian have died in the course of the conflict, which began in 1984.

In the other hearing attended by RWB, journalists Mustafa Balbay and Tuncay Özkan are among a large group of defendants accused of being members of Ergenekon, a secularist and ultra-nationalist network that allegedly conspired against the Justice and Development Party government.

The trial is now at the stage of speeches for the defence. Defence lawyers recently staged a walkout in protest against the limit imposed by the court on the length of their addresses. The court reacted by filing a complaint against the defence lawyers.

Photo : Ozan Koze / AFP