Statements


Vienna, 28 July 2012

IPI Urges Turkey to Reject Proposed Changes to Constitutional Media Freedom Protections


The International Press Institute (IPI) and its affiliate, the South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO), today urged a commission responsible for writing a new Constitution for Turkey to reject proposed amendments that would severely weaken current language protecting media freedom.

Bianet reported that Turkey’s Constitutional Reconciliation Commission is set to vote Wednesday on a proposal advanced by the Justice and Development Party (AKP)-led government that would, among other effects, carve out numerous exceptions to an existing article on “The Freedom of Press and Publication.”

The news website, citing an article from the daily newspaper Milliyet, said the proposed changes would include a provision that “The freedom of press can be restricted to protect national security, public order, public morals, others’ rights, private and family life; to avert crimes; to ensure the independence and impartiality of the judiciary; to prevent warmongering and the propogation [sic] of every sort of discrimination, hostility or rancor and hatred.”
IPI’s Turkish National Committee, Basin Enstitüsü Dernegi, sharply criticised the proposal, saying the change would represent a step backward for press freedom in the country. “If the new Constitution is going to be issued with this anti-democratic mentality which may create worse conditions than the present Constitution, it is better that [the new Constitution] is not issued,” the group saidin a statement posted on its website.


According to Bianet, other changes proposed by the AKP-led government would include clauses mandating that “No publications intended to violate the presumption of innocence can be issued” and requiring the state to take “measures to protect minors from publications that involve child abuse, sexuality and violence.”

The proposed changes, which would place all provisions related to the press in a single article of the new Constitution, would also reportedly eliminate current language preventing seizures, confiscations and operations bans against printing houses that were lawfully established as press institutions. Bianet said that the proposal, if adopted, would give authorities power to seize all instruments of the press, including printing presses, as “tools of crime”.

The proposed changes would also remove a current guarantee that those who wish to establish a printing house do not need to seek permission or provide financial assurances in order to do so.

Atilla Kart, a member of the commission from the main opposition People’s Republican Party (CHP), labelled the proposed changes “unacceptable”, Bianet reported.

IPI Press Freedom Manager Barbara Trionfi echoed that assessment. “Turkey has rightfully received widespread international criticism over the course of the past year as a result of a disturbing deterioration of media freedom. With nearly 100 journalists currently in prison – apparently the most in any country on Earth – on what look to be spurious terrorism charges, the country needs to take strong steps to demonstrate its commitment to freedom of the press and to democratic principles. These proposals, if adopted, would do exactly the opposite.”

Turkey’s Constitutional Reconciliation Commission is working on a new Constitution to replace one adopted by a military government in 1982 following a coup two years earlier.

The South and East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO) supports this statement.

Vienna, 4 July 2012

Security Forces Raid Offices of Turkish News Agency IPI Condemns Use of Anti-Terror Laws to Target Media 


Turkish security forces on June 26 conducted a raid at the offices of the Istanbul-based Güneş News Agency as part of a large-scale operation against the underground Marxist-Leninist Communist Party (MLKP), according to news sources.  Police units carried out the search at the news agency, which oversees the technical affairs of Etkin News Agency and weekly newspaper Atılım, at the behest of an Istanbul Court, it was reported. 

Security forces allegedly seized notes, archived material and personal belongings while holding 15 or so employees in their offices for several hours, without having produced detention orders. So far, the police have not publicly provided a foundation for the suspected link between the news outlets and the MLKP: according to an IPI media source in Turkey. 

Condemning the use of anti-terror laws against journalists, IPI’s Turkish National Committee released a statement saying: “We are hoping for changes to those articles of the law that give way to free speech and press violations. Accusations made against media outlets suggesting links to illegal organisations are nothing but tactics to pressure news agencies, newspapers and journalists into self-restraint.”

In response to the raid, the chairman of the Turkish Journalists’ Union and the Freedom for Journalists Platform, Ercan İpekçi, criticised the increasing use of “anti-democratic measures” in the country. In a statement made on Wednesday he claimed there was no difference between the detention of journalists as terrorists, and the branding of press organisations as mouthpieces for illegal organisations, and he called for the amendment of existing laws.

Earlier this year, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) released a study indicating that the number of journalists imprisoned in Turkey has nearly doubled over the previous year, prompting the group to call for immediate reform of the country’s broadly interpreted anti-terror laws. OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Dunja Mijatović specifically denounced Articles 5 and 7 of the Anti-Terror Law, relating, in part, to propagandising on behalf of terrorist groups. The interpretative scope of those provisions is so wide, the report noted, that “media outlets reporting about sensitive issues (including terrorism or anti-government activities) are often regarded by the authorities as the publishing organs of illegal organizations”. It added: “Courts often consider reporting about such issues as equal to supporting them.”

Turkey has drawn widespread criticism for its failure to protect press freedom. Last November, a judge at the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) said Turkey had the worst press freedom record among all 47 member states of the Council of Europe.
The South and East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO) supports this statement.

Vienna, 20 June 2012

Turkey Releases Another Journalist
Proceedings in ‘Oda TV’ Case Resume, But Still No Report on Key Evidence 



The International Press Institute (IPI) today welcomed the release of another journalist from prison in Turkey and urged the country to free the rest of the nearly 100 journalists it currently holds behind bars, the vast majority of whom have been convicted of no crime.

A court in Istanbul late yesterday afternoon ordered the release of Muyesser Yildiz – who had been imprisoned for 16 months – following the resumption of proceedings in the “Oda TV trial” after a three-month pause.

The case is named for a news website that has been fiercely critical of the government. Prosecutors say the website was at the centre of a purported effort to use the media to advance the alleged “Ergenekon” plot to use terrorism to sow chaos that would lead elements of the military and security services to stage a coup against Turkey’s current Justice and Development Party (AKP)-led government.

The head of IPI’s Turkish National Committee, Milliyet columnist Kadri Gursel, said: “The release of Muyesser Ugur Yildiz yesterday following the latest hearing in the Oda TV case is a positive, but small, step. Positive, because she was kept most of the time during her 16 months in custody in conditions of isolation, despite her poor health. It’s a small step, however, because there are other journalists who still remain in custody in the same case. This case, where the accused have effectively been questioned and put on trial for their journalistic activities, has put a dark stain on the reputation of the Turkish justice system, which has criminalized journalism.”

Yildiz was released from the Silivri prison outside Istanbul last night and joins five co-defendants in the case who are currently free pending trial. IPI World Press Freedom Hero Nedim Sener, along with journalists Ahmet Sik, Sait Cakir and Coskun Musluk, was released in March, while Dogan Yurdakul was freed in late February for health reasons. Four other journalists and authors in the case – Soner Yalcin, Yalcin Kucuk, Baris Pehlivan and Baris Terkoglu – remained behind bars yesterday. 

The defendants were all taken into custody in early March 2011. Although their trial began in November, it has been punctuated by numerous delays. Observers said yesterday that no end appeared in sight given that a government agency still has not given the court its report on a key piece of evidence – an assessment requested some five months ago.

The government contends that documents found on computers following a February 2011 raid of Oda TV’s offices provide evidence of the alleged plot, and they have centred their case on those documents, as well as on news reports and writings by the defendants and on snippets of wiretapped telephone conversations. The defendants allege that the documents were fabricated and placed on the computers by hackers. They have submitted experts’ conclusions supporting that argument, but the court asked the Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey (TUBITAK) to conduct an independent analysis. As of yesterday, the court still had not received that report.

Some of the defendants’ supporters, citing alleged weaknesses in the prosecution’s case, accused authorities of intentionally withholding the report in order to “punish” the defendants by delaying the trial’s conclusion. They claimed there was little, if any, evidence linking all of the defendants other than past criticism of the Fethullah Gulen religious movement.

The Gulen movement is named for its leader, a Turkish author, educator and Muslim scholar who fled the country in 1999 for Pennsylvania shortly before he was accused of attempting to overthrow the government. The group was at one time a base of support for current Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, but a rift has reportedly developed between the movement and the AKP. 

Critics say the movement’s members occupy high positions in Turkey’s judiciary and some accuse it of being the “new deep state”, a reference to the traditional label identifying an alleged group of influential anti-democratic forces within the government purportedly made up of high-level elements within security and intelligence services, the military and the judiciary.
The South and East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO) supports this statement.

Vienna, 20 March 2012

Journalists in Turkey Self-Censor, to Avoid Problems with the Authorities, Say Media Experts


Although many in the West present Turkey as a role-model for the ‘Arab Spring’ countries, Ankara’s freedom of the press record gets worse and worse each day,” writes Emre Kizilkaya, foreign news editor at the Turkish dailyHürriyet, in his recent analysis for a web portal specialised in monitoring media developments in Turkey,www.turkeypressfreedom.org,  run by the Vienna-based South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO), an affiliate of the International Press Institute (IPI), in cooperation with the Slovenia-based International Media Center (IMC).
“The Freedom for Journalists Platform, an umbrella group representing 94 national and local journalist associations in Turkey, emphasizes that Ankara presents one of the worst press freedom pictures in Europe,” writes Kizilkaya.
According to a recent report by news website Bianet.org, issued on 19 March 2012, 104 journalists remain detained in Turkish prisons after Istanbul’s 16th High Criminal Court released journalists Nedim Sener and Ahmet Sık, and Oda TV writers Coskun Musluk and Sait Cakır on 12 March 2012. Their trial is pending.
“I welcome the release of the four journalists,” said SEEMO Secretary General Oliver Vujovic, who also noted that many other journalists remained in prison.
SEEMO Board Member Radomir Licina, Senior Editor of the Belgrade-based Danas daily, writes: “Being a journalist is a rather insecure and challenging job in many parts of the world today, but Turkey undoubtedly leads the way in Europe in this respect, together with Russia and Belarus. Depressing figures prove that Turkey is one of the most unfriendly and most difficult environments for the work of local journalists.
“Our colleagues in Turkey are waging a very important battle for freedom of expression in this country which aspires to join the family of European democracies in the European Union. The response, and a show of solidarity of colleagues worldwide, have not been satisfactory so far.... It is necessary that all the media organisations rally to help our colleagues and their media by way of setting up a committee of reputable journalists and editors with a clear objective to pursue every possible legal avenue to amend the laws and practices in Turkey, and thus set free innocent journalists, make their persecution cease and enable normal online communication,” states Veran Matic, President of the Board of Directors, RTV B92, Belgrade, Serbia.
Book author, journalist and ombudsman for Hürriyet, Faruk Bildirici, reflects on Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan’s possible motives behind the pressure on journalists: “The media did not help him become the prime minister. On the contrary, he got political power despite the media of that time. He has never forgotten that and never hesitated to express that openly.”
Other contributors underline that Ankara aspires to join the European Union but fails to meet the expected democratic standards.
“The EU cannot accept this behaviour from Turkey. Imprisoned journalists have to be released or tried before court. Imprisoned journalists have a right to a fair trial. If Turkey wants to become a member of the European Union, the Turkish government has to respect press freedom and the EU has to be firm in regard to this issue,” according to Janne Virkkunen
Editor-in-Chief of Finland’s Helsingin Sanomat, and former Chairman of the International Press Institute (IPI).
On the other hand, Turkey fails as role model for the Arab world: “Young democratic Egyptians, Syrians and Iranians would like to admire Turkey for its achievements. But can they any longer? A country, a government that fiddles with press freedom can never truly and convincingly be a model, cannot be a respected negotiator, and cannot be a widely accepted go-between. And, of course, cannot be a member of the EU,” states Fredy Gsteiger, Diplomatic Correspondent of the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation, and a former IPI Board Member.
Just as concerned with Turkey’s failure to act as a role model is Agron Bajrami, editor-in-chief, of the Kosovo daily, Koha Ditore:“…negative trends in Hungary and Turkey give a very bad example to all other EU aspiring countries of South East Europe, by providing our local authorities, throughout our region, with justification for limiting and infringing on free speech and freedom of the media.”
It is important to keep supporting the efforts of Turkish journalists, according to SEEMO Board President Boris Bergant, former Deputy Director of Radio Television Slovenia (RTS), Ljubljana, Slovenia, and former Deputy President of the European Broadcasting Union: “We wish to support the process of democratisation in Turkey, as well as the European perspective, by closely monitoring the area of media freedom.”
Full texts written by these experts appear on the SEEMO-run website: www.turkeypressfreedom.org. In addition, this specialised webpage includes news updates and monthly reports on media developments, SEEMO and IPI statements on press freedom in Turkey, documents on media and human rights, links to specialised Turkish and international sources, various special reports, as well as exclusive statements by Dunja Mijatovic, OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media and Thomas Hammarberg, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights.

Vienna, 5 March 2012

One Year On, Prominent Turkish Reporter and IPI World Press Freedom Hero Languishes in Prison
Journalists Around the World Call for Nedim Şener’s Release 


Journalists around the world today joined the International Press Institute (IPI) in condemning Turkey’s continued imprisonment of investigative journalist and IPI World Press Freedom Hero Nedim Şener, one year after he was detained in connection with an alleged coup plot.

IPI Executive Director Alison Bethel McKenzie said: “The fact that Nedim Şener has been taken away from his family and locked up for a year on allegations that his journalism was a sham designed to protect those whose wrongdoing it exposed is both tragic and absurd. We call on Turkey’s authorities to immediately release Mr. Şener and his co-defendants in the Oda TV case pending trial, and to ensure that their trial is fair and fully in line with international standards of due process.”

Police detained Şener Mar. 3, 2011 in a raid targeting journalists and others connected with nationalist news website Oda TV. Authorities say the website acted as the media wing for the so-called “Ergenekon” plot, in which secularists and ultra-nationalists allegedly planned to use terrorism to overthrow the government of Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). Prosecutors accuse the defendants of seeking to advance the plot by using media to discredit the government’s probe into it.

Şener and his fellow defendants in the Oda TV case – including investigative journalist Ahmet Şik, writer Yalçin Küçük, Oda TV executive Soner Yalçin and six other journalists –were not informed about the specific charges against them until nearly seven months after they were detained. Şener was originally accused of membership in an armed terrorist organisation, but he was ultimately charged with aiding such an organisation. He faces seven-and-a-half to 15 years in prison if convicted.

According to a recent report by news website Bianet.org, the Oda TV defendants are among 104 journalists imprisoned in Turkey as of Jan. 1, 2012, all for alleged violations of Turkey’s Anti-Terror Law and the Turkish Penal Code. 

Dr. Carl-Eugen Eberle, chair of IPI’s Executive Board and the former director of legal affairs for German Broadcaster ZDF, and Ferai Tinç, also a member of IPI’s Executive Board and the chair of IPI’s Turkish National Committee, both expressed strong support for Şener and the other detained journalists. 

Fellow IPI Executive Board member and BBC Scotland Director Ken MacQuarrie noted that Şener has now been imprisoned for more than half of the time that has passed since he received his IPI World Press Freedom Hero award at a ceremony in Vienna in September 2010.

“Given the anniversary of Mr. Şener’s incarceration is upon us, it is essential that those of us who can, mark such a dark day by highlighting as widely as possible the appalling nature of his detention,” MacQuarrie said. “With more than 100 other journalists also imprisoned in Turkey and their human rights so completely denied, Mr Şener’s unedifying situation is sadly and shamefully not an isolated case.”

Tinç’s colleague on the board of IPI’s Turkish National Committee, Kadri Gürsel, a columnist for Turkish daily Milliyet, added: “Exactly one year ago, authorities took Nedim Şener into custody claiming that he is member of terrorist organization. This claim was dropped in the indictment and now he is accused of aiding and abetting. The judiciary is having great trouble defending and justifying his imprisonment, which has turned into extra-judicial punishment. To free Turkey from this shame, Nedim Şener has to be set free immediately.”

Şener and his co-defendants have argued that they are being targeted for the content of their writings and that purportedly incriminating files found on Oda TV computer hard drives were placed there by hackers. Turkey’s government maintains, however, that the journalists have not been targeted because of their work.

Oliver Vujovic, secretary general of the South and East Media Organisation (SEEMO), an IPI subsidiary that has also been active in Turkey, said his group was still waiting to see evidence of any wrongdoing.

“If it exists, it should be provided,” Vujovic said. “If it does not, Mr. Şener should be freed. I fully support Mr. Şener and I would like to remind the Turkish authorities that keeping Mr. Şener and dozens of journalists in jail is not the best way to consolidate democracy.”

Şener was an investigative journalist with Milliyet before his arrest and he has written extensively about government corruption in his 20-year career. Recently, he has been active in documenting the “deep state” in Turkey, an alleged group of influential anti-democratic forces within the government purportedly made up of high-level elements within security and intelligence services, the military and the judiciary.

He also has actively criticised the state’s failure to prevent the 2007 murder of his friend and fellow IPI World Press Freedom Hero, Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink, and he consistently points out the contradiction in the government’s suggestion that he worked on behalf of the shadowy group he blames for Dink’s death. In a letter to IPI last October from the Silivri Prison, Şener wrote that those investigating the Ergenekon plot were “the same police officers who I wrote were involved in the Dink murder with their neglect”.

He added: “Whatever the Turkish state alleges, I’d like to assure you that I didn’t conduct any activity outside the domain of journalism…At the end of the day, the indictment and its appendix show that the prosecution’s only charge against me is journalism. Therefore, it is journalism that will be tried in court.”

Many of Şener’s fellow IPI World Press Freedom Heroes expressed support for their colleague. 

Palestinian journalist Daoud Kuttab, who was honoured in 2000 and who has fought for media freedom in the Palestinian Territories, noted: “Arrest and restrictions on journalists for their work is a violation of the 19th article of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”

South African editor and publisher Raymond Louw – a 2011 honouree who battled apartheid and censorship in his country – labelled Şener’s detention “unjustified”. Louw urged Turkish authorities “to heed the denials of Mr. Şener and his colleagues of the allegations that have been brought against them and release them.”

Journalist Doan Viet Hoat, a 2000 honouree and one of Vietnam’s most prominent dissidents who was held as a prisoner of conscience for almost 20 years, commented: “I strongly condemn the Turkish government in detaining Mr. Şener and I demand his release immediately and unconditionally.”

Liberian journalist Kenneth Best, who was honoured in 2000 for his work toward media freedom in West Africa, said: “Oppressive governments all over the world would use every opportunity to persecute those, especially journalists, who have the courage to speak and write about injustice and oppression taking place around them…Many are those daring journalistic souls who dare to re-echo the thoughts and feelings of dissidents. Journalists usually become victims of the ‘blame the messenger’ syndrome. That seems to be the fate of our esteemed colleague in Turkey, Nedim Şener.”

Şener’s wife, Vecide, described to IPI the toll her husband’s plight has taken on their family.

“What we have passed through has been a very sad and hurting process,” she said. “I received from the prosecutor a formal letter saying that ‘your husband is detained, he is a member of a terrorist organisation’. But when we finally saw the indictment, it said ‘aiding a terrorist organization’. Now my husband has three identity cards at the prison, two of them are international identity cards for journalists and one identity card says ‘terrorist organization member’ on it. We believed in law, but nothing has changed during this whole year. It is now clear that my husband is a real journalist.”

Vienna, 26 February 2012

IPI's Turkish National Committee Welcomes Release of Journalist in Oda TV Case



The International Press Institute (IPI)’s Turkish National Committee today welcomed the release of one of the defendants in the Oda TV trial and called for the release of other journalists the group said had been jailed because of their work.

News website Bianet reported Wednesday that an Istanbul court ordered the release of journalist and author Doğan Yurdakul, 66, for health reasons.

The journalist is said to suffer from hypertension and problems with his heart and his renal system. He also reportedly developed diabetes and a cyst on one of his kidneys in the 11 months since his detention on Mar. 3, 2011.

Yurdakul’s lawyers reportedly told the court that Yurdakul's continued incarceration could cause a further deterioration in his condition that could possibly lead to his death.

IPI’s Turkish National Committee said in a statement:

We welcome the release of Doğan Yurdakul in consideration of his health problems. We look forward to the release, pending trial, of those other journalists who are detained and who are being prosecuted for having done their job.”

Yurdakul was formally arrested on March 6 and until his release this week shared a prison cell at the Silivri Prison west of Istanbul with IPI World Press Freedom Hero Nedim Şener and journalist Ahmet Şık.

The three are part of a group of 10 journalists and others charged with various crimes related to the government's claim that they and nationalist news website Oda TV served as the media wing of the alleged “Ergenekon” plot. They deny accusations that their role was to use their positions to discredit a probe into the alleged plot by secularists and ultra-nationalists to use terrorism to overthrow the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP)-led government.

IPI’s Turkish National Committee in its statement today also urged the government to reform “all articles [of Turkish law] blocking press freedom and the freedom of speech” and it called for full “implementation of the people’s right to obtain information.”

Over 100 journalists are currently imprisoned in Turkey, most in pre-trial detention. Most of those detained are alleged to have violated criminal or anti-terrorism laws banning membership or support in armed criminal organisations. Approximately one third of those imprisoned reportedly were taken into custody in connection with the Ergenekon probe, while the others were detained on charges stemming from alleged ties to banned Kurdish and leftist groups.

IPI and its subsidiary, the South and East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO), have criticised Turkey's treatment of journalists in the past year, including the conditions under which journalists are imprisoned. Suzan Zengin – a human rights activist, journalist and translator who spent two years in pre-trial detention for alleged ties to an illegal Marxist organisation died last October of an undisclosed ailment, four months after she was released. Critics attributed her death to the government's alleged failure to provide adequate medical care for chronic health problems during her incarceration.

Vienna, 17 February 2012

Turkish Newspaper’s Europe Offices Attacked
Zaman Blames Kurdish Militants for Violence in Paris, Cologne 


The International Press Institute (IPI) today condemned attacks yesterday on the offices of Turkish-language newspaper Zaman in Paris and in the German city of Cologne allegedly carried out by supporters of the banned Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).
Zaman reported that a group of nearly 15 PKK supporters wearing masks entered its Paris office and threatened employees, broke windows, and damaged furniture, televisions and computers.

AFP reported that arsonists torched Zaman’s Cologne headquarters and that police said they arrested two people, aged 17 and 22, in the attack. AFP said that a cafe frequented by Cologne's Turkish community was also attacked yesterday.

A Cologne police spokesperson told AFP that assailants shouted “typical PKK slogans” in both attacks in the city, and AFP reported that police had not ruled out a link to the PKK, which the European Union, the United States and Turkey consider a terrorist organization.
IPI Press Freedom Manager Anthony Mills said: “We condemn these attacks and we hope that German and French authorities conduct swift, transparent and complete investigations that hold all of the perpetrators accountable. We also reiterate that it is absolutely unacceptable to resort to violence against journalists to express political disagreement with them.”

Yesterday was the 13th anniversary of the arrest of PKK leader and founder Abdullah Öcalan, who remains incarcerated in Turkey.
A Zaman spokesperson said that the Paris attack was the third on its office there in the last six months. The newspaper also accused PKK supporters of carrying out prior attacks on its offices in London, Vienna and Zurich.

The South and East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO) supports this statement.

Vienna, 1 August 2011

Turkish Court Sentences Dink Killer to 23 Years in Prison


A Turkish court yesterday sentenced the trigger-man in the 2007 murder of International Press Institute (IPI) World Press Freedom Hero Hrant Dink to almost 23 years in prison.

A juvenile court in Istanbul imposed nearly the maximum sentence on ultranationalist Ogün Samast – who was 17 at the time of Dink’s killing – after convicting him of premeditated murder and carrying an unlicensed gun
Samast gunned down Dink, the editor-in-chief of Armenian-Turkish newspaper Agos, in broad daylight outside of Dink’s office in Istanbul.


Dink had received numerous death threats from Turkish nationalists who viewed his journalism as treacherous. He had also faced legal problems for denigrating "Turkishness" under Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code in his articles about the massacre of Armenians during the First World War.

IPI Director Alison Bethel McKenzie said: “We welcome the conviction and sentence of Mr. Dink’s murderer, and we hope it brings a measure of closure to his family. Nevertheless, we call on Turkish authorities to hold all those involved in this heinous crime accountable, from those who facilitated it to the masterminds who ordered it.”

A hearing is currently scheduled this Friday in the trial of 18 other defendants charged with involvement in the murder. Their cases were separated from the case against Samast due to his age at the time of the slaying.

The European Court of Human Rights ruled in September that Turkish authorities failed to protect Dink despite having information about plots targeting him.

In other news, 39 detained journalists in Turkey marked the 103rd anniversary of the Day of Journalists and Resistance to Censorship on 24 July by publishing the first issue of the Prisoner Gazette. Printed in black and white, it was distributed together with the dailies Evrensel, Özgür Gündem, Azadiya Welat, Birgün, Aydınlık and Cumhuriyet newspaper.

Contributors to the publication included IPI World Press Freedom Hero Nedim Şener – who was recognized last year for his investigative journalism, and who wrote a book linking authorities to Dink’s murder – and journalist Ahmet Şik. As of next Aug. 3, both Şener and Şik will have spent 150 in prison since being detained in March.

Last week Şener applied to the European Court of Human Rights claiming violations of the European Convention on Human Rights regarding “the prohibition of torture”, “the right to liberty and security” and “the right to freedom of expression”. He requested that the court suspend his detention as an interim measure.

The South and East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO), an IPI affiliate, supports this statement.

Vienna, 8 April 2011

OSCE Report Finds Turkey Is Holding 57 Journalists in Prison

 
The International Press Institute (IPI) obtained on 4 April a report from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) indicating that Turkey is currently holding at least 57 journalists in prison - apparently more than any other country.

The report followed an analysis of more than 70 journalists the OSCE conducted in conjunction with Erol Önderoglu, editor-in-chief of the BIANET Independent Communications Network in Istanbul.

While Iran and China topped lists last December by reportedly jailing some 34 journalists each, Turkey, a candidate for membership in the European Union, has nearly doubled that number five months later, raising questions about the country's commitment to freedom of the press and the legitimacy of its democratic image.

The numbers in the report correspond with those given by the Freedom for Journalists Platform - an umbrella group representing local and national media organizations in Turkey, including IPI's Turkish National Committee. One of the journalists jailed is IPI World Press Freedom Hero Nedim Sener, who reportedly stands accused of belonging to an armed terrorist organisation seeking to overthrow the government.

OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Dunja Mijatovic, who commissioned the study, called on Turkish authorities to bring the country's media legislation in line with OSCE commitments on media freedom. She wrote in a letter to Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu that the survey was intended to show the need for media legislation reform, which she offered her office's support in developing.

Estimating that there are between 700 and 1,000 ongoing proceedings that could result in imprisonment of journalists, Mijatovic said: "The sheer number of cases poses fundamental questions about the legal provisions governing journalism in Turkey, and it raises concerns that the number of journalists in prison can further increase."

Mijatovic acknowledged that governments have a legitimate need to fight terrorism, but she said that national security should not be used as a ground to curb media freedom. She also commented that criminalization of speech should be restricted to clear instances of intentional incitement to terrorism or other forms of violence.

"It is very important that authorities protect objective reporting even on sensitive topics such as terrorism or national security," she said. "The public's right to know includes such issues."

According to the report, another 10 journalists in Turkey are awaiting trial. An additional journalist, whose location is unknown, is subject to a search warrant, and two other journalists have been convicted but subsequently released.

The report found that most of the jailed journalists are imprisoned under articles of Turkey's anti-terror law relating to criminal code provisions on terrorist offences and organizations, or assisting members of or making propaganda in connection with such organizations; or under criminal code prohibitions on establishing, commanding or becoming member of an armed organization with the aim of committing certain offences.

It also found that prosecutors have sought and courts have imposed extremely long sentences. Vedat Kurºun and Emine Demir of the Azadiya Welat newspaper were sentenced to 166 years and 138 years in prison, respectively, while Bayram Namaz and Ibrahim Cicek of the Atilim newspaper each face up to 3,000 years in prison. Mustafa Balbay of Cumhuriyet newspaper, Mehmet Haberal of Kanal B Television and Tuncay Özkan of Kanal Biz Television all face dual life sentences, plus further time.

Journalists also face several trials, the report noted, such as Halit Güdenoglu of Halit Yürüyüs magazine, who currently faces 150 court cases.

The OSCE said in a release accompanying the study that both laws and their implementation need to be reformed, insofar as court practices vary widely throughout the country. The group also noted that writing about sensitive issues, including issues of terrorism or anti-government activities, is often viewed as support for those activities, and that imprisoned journalists are often placed in high security prisons with the most dangerous criminals.

IPI Board Member Ferai Tinc, who is also chairperson of IPI's Turkey National Committee, said: "These journalists are in jail because of Turkey's anti terrorism law, which has become a law that threatens press freedom in Turkey. Every investigative journalist is threatened by this law. We find this unacceptable. We have asked the government to change this law, but, unfortunately, the government does not listen to the voices of professional journalism organizations."

IPI Director Alison Bethel McKenzie added: "Turkey, at the crossroads between east and west, is a major regional power with an ancient cultural heritage. The country is also often held up as an example of a healthy Muslim democracy, and IPI held its high-profile annual World Congress in Istanbul in 2007 in recognition of the pivotal bridge-building role the country plays."

"For Turkey to step away from this history and to jail more journalists than any other country in the world is damaging. We call on the Turkish government to respect the right of freedom of the press and to release all journalists detained because of their work."

The OSCE noted in its report that in many cases it could not access full information, meaning details could not be stated with precision. The organisation also pointed out that in many cases classified as secret defence lawyers were not even given access to trial documents.

This press release is supported by the South and East Europe Media Organization (SEEMO), an IPI affiliate.

Vienna, 11 March 2011

Turkish Court Orders Arrest of IPI World Press Freedom Hero

 
Journalist Nedim Sener, one of the International Press Institute (IPI)'s World Press Freedom Heroes, has been ordered arrested by an Istanbul court as part of a controversial probe into an alleged plot to overthrow the government, IPI has learned from its Turkish National Committee.

Sener and journalist Ahmet Sik, who were detained along with other journalists following police raids on their homes and businesses Thursday, were questioned for hours by the lead prosecutor investigating the alleged Ergenekon plot before being sent to court early Sunday morning, where a judge granted a request for their arrest.

Prosecutors had demanded that the journalists face charges of "being a member of the Ergenekon organization" and "inciting hatred and animosity among the public".

The court also ordered the arrest of five other journalists this morning in connection with the plot: Dogan Yurkardul, Coskun Musluk, Sait Cakir, Yalcin Kücük and Müyesser Yildiz.

IPI's Turkish National Committee said prosecutors asked Sener and Sik wide-ranging questions about books they have written, their personal documents and phone calls the two had made. The prosecutor also asked Sener questions about statements he made during television programs in which he has participated.

The pair was taken to the Metris Prison in Istanbul, and Sener has since been transferred to the Silivri prison, where Sik is also expected to be taken. Journalists outside the Besiktas courthouse in central Istanbul staged an all-night protest against the detention starting Saturday when Sener and Sik were brought there for interrogation.

Protestors later blocked a road outside the courthouse with a sit-down strike upon learning of the arrests. That protest followed larger demonstrations on Friday in Ankara and Istanbul by thousands of protestors opposing the government's detention of Sener, Sik and the other journalists detained in Thursday's raids.

The Freedom for Journalists Platform, an umbrella group representing local and national media organizations in Turkey, including IPI's Turkish National Committee, organized the demonstrations. The group rejected Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's calls for the media "to act responsibly" in their response to the recent raids, responding that Erdogan's ruling party bore responsibility for creating a climate of pressure and fear in the country.

The group also said the arrests bring the number of journalists being held in connection with the Ergenekon plot to more than 60.

Turkish President Abdullah Gül said over the weekend in an interview with the newspaper Milliyet:

"I expect prosecutors and courts to be more diligent in pursuing their responsibilities and act in a way not to hurt the honor and rights of the people as well as institutions."

Turkish authorities have accused hundreds of politicians, retired military officers, academics and journalists of participating in the alleged plot, which came to light in 2007. The government says plotters called for assassinations and attacks that would create chaos and lead to calls for the military to take power from the current government.

Sener is an author and investigative reporter for daily Milliyet. IPI named him a World Press Freedom Hero last year for his work following the release of his book linking security forces to the 2007 murder of Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink.
 
IPI Board Member Ferai Tinc, who is also chairperson of IPI's Turkey National Committee, said:

"The prosecutors say that Nedim Sener and Ahmet Sik have not been arrested because of their journalistic works. But both Sener and Sik have been questioned about the books they have written, about the people they have contacted and about their phone calls that have illegally been taped".

"These questions are directly related with the work of a journalist.Therefore IPI's Turkey National Committee considers this a direct violation of press freedom and part of a trend of intimidation targeting journalists, especially those who have critical views."

This press release is supported by the South and East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO), an IPI affiliate.

Vienna, 17 February 2011

Police in Istanbul Raid Dissident Website's Offices, Journalists' Homes

 
Turkish police have raided the offices and homes of four journalists associated with dissident news website OdaTV amid accusations that they were part of a plot to overthrow the government, the International Press Institute (IPI) / South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO) has learned from its Turkish National Committee.

Police in Istanbul seized documents as well as computers in the raid on Monday, which was ordered by prosecutors investigating the alleged secularist "Ergenekon" conspiracy. 

Police later detained the website's owner, investigative journalist Soner Yalcin, along with OdaTV news editor Baris Terkoglu and writers Ayhan Bozkurt and Baris Pehlivan.

Turkish authorities have accused hundreds of politicians, retired military officers, academics and journalists of participating in the Ergenekon plot, which allegedly called for assassinations and attacks that would create chaos and lead to calls for the military to take power from the current government headed by Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Leaders of Turkey's armed forces have denied the plot's existence.

Ferai Tinc, the head of IPI's Turkish National Committee, condemned the raid and the detentions, commenting:
 
"The actions of police in raiding OdaTV, searching the homes of journalists and seizing documents is a situation which cannot be accepted in terms of press freedom. We believe this operation, which is said to be related to an ongoing court case, is intended to silence opposition voices. While the termination of press organizations can be realised through legal means, we consider this operation a restriction on freedom of the press."

Anthony Mills, IPI's Press & Communications Manager, added:
 
 "We are concerned at suggestions that these raids may be in response to critical journalism, rather than any concrete criminal acts. A diverse media environment, characterised by differing viewpoints, and criticism, is a cornerstone of any democracy."

Vienna, 15 November 2010

On 'Stand Up for Journalism' Day, European Federation of Journalists Throws Weight behind Turkish Media Rights Campaign

 
The Steering Committee of the Brussels-based European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) on 5 November 2010, lent its full support to a campaign by the Turkish Freedom for Journalists Platform, which seeks the release of all journalists currently imprisoned in Turkey. 

EFJ representatives, along with their colleagues from the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) from the UK and Ireland and Belgium's General Association for Professional Journalists (AGJPB), demonstrated in front of the Turkish embassy in Brussels, to mark the organisation's fifth annual "Stand Up for Journalism Day". 

An EFJ letter to Turkey's Permanent Representative to the EU, at the Turkish embassy in Brussels, Selim Kuneralp, noted that in Turkey journalists' "fundamental rights to freedom of expression are violated on a daily basis."

Meanwhile, in the Turkish capital Ankara, members of the Freedom for Journalists Platform which includes the International Press Institute's Turkish National Committee - gathered opposite the offices of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and read out a press release.

The press release entitled "We Stand Up for Freedom for the Journalists" noted that as of 30 September 2010, there were 50 press workers in Turkish prisons; six of them have been sentenced. 

It added that the rising number of imprisoned journalists and the thousands of cases brought against reporters were made possible by existing articles in the Turkish Penal Code and under Anti-Terror Laws - which restrict press freedom

In addition to the 50 journalists in prison, 25 media workers have been released after being detained, but the cases against them continue, and the authorities are demanding further imprisonment.

In the case of another 29 journalists, the exact terms of 'punishment' have not yet been set because their cases are under appeal, or have been postponed for as long as five years.

This means that more than 100 Turkish journalists face threat of imprisonment in the near future.

Most of the cases against the journalists, the press release noted, are grounded on Article 285 of the Turkish Penal Code relating to the alleged "Breach of Secrecy," on Article 288 relating to the alleged "Influencing of a Fair Trial", and on Anti Terror Law Article 7 relating to the "Propanda of a Terrorist Organization."

The press release added that in this context, and combined with a gradual increase in the number of investigations, court cases, physical assaults, and threats against journalists, as well as concerns over the ongoing cases related to the murder of journalists Hrant Dink and Cihan Hayirsever, and the banning and confiscating of publications, there are fears that the crackdown on the media could intensify further.

It is not possible to speak of press freedom or freedom of expression in Turkey, according to the Turkish Freedom for Journalists Platform. 

"Journalists, who are the eyes and ears of the public should be protected within the framework of professional principles and should have the right to report and communicate freely, and to inform the public," their press release said. "Articles instructing journalists 'not to write, speak, critize or comment' constitute a Damocles Sword ... ."

In the press release, the Freedom for Journalists Platform unequivocally demanded that the Turkish government release all journalists in Turkish prisons and that the government and parliament make radical amendments to Turkey's current legislation, to steer Turkey away from a dangerous course and to prevent it from "breaking off" from the world.

All of Turkey's press organizations issued press releases on 5 November 2010, to show solidarity with their Turkish colleagues.

Meanwhile, press organizations in Europe are submitting a letter to the Turkish embassies in their countries expressing their concerns over the current press freedom conditions in Turkey.

The Freedom for Journalists Platform thanked its European colleagues, notably EFJ, for their solidarity.

IPI Board Member Ferai Tinc, who is also the president of IPI's Turkish National Committee, said: "This is the first time in our country that 23 journalists' associations have come together for freedom of the press in Turkey. We stated our demands and asked for for the clearing out of all articles threatening press freedom, notably from the Constitution, and also from the Turkish Penal Code, and Anti-Terror Law. We believe that this international solidarity will contribute to freedom of the press in Turkey. The Freedom for Journalists Platform of which IPI Turkey is a member - will continue its struggle until our demands are fulfilled."

IPI Press Freedom Manager Anthony Mills said: "It is great to see the European Federation of Journalists throw its weight behind Turkey's Freedom for Journalists Platform in its efforts to seek the release of the 50 journalists currently imprisoned in Turkey. It is unacceptable that journalists be tried and imprisoned because of their work. As we have noted before, it is essential that Turkey bring its treatment of journalists into line with universal human rights standards."

Oliver Vujovic, Secretary General of SEEMO, said, "It is encouraging to note the solidarity in the media community in Turkey and as a whole, for the cause of these imprisoned journalists. We call on the Turkish government to heed the demands of the journalists associations, and to ensure that all undue restrictions on journalists are removed."

The Freedom for Journalists Platform includes:

The Turkish Journalists' Association, The Turkish Journalists' Trade Union, The Turkish Journalists' Federation, the Press Council, the Press Institute (IPI Turkey), the Contemporary Journalists' Organisation, the Diplomacy Reporters' Ass., the Economy Reporters' Ass., the Ankara Journalists' Ass., the Newspaper Owners' Ass., Haber-Sen, the Izmir Journalists' Ass., the Culture, Tourism and Environment Journalists' Ass., the Media Ethics Ass., the Professional Reporters' and Cameramens' Ass., the Parliament Reporters' Ass., the Turkish Photo Reporters Ass., Turkish Sports Reporters' Ass., the AEJ Turkish representative, the Economy Newspapers Ass., the Environment and Training Reporters' Ass., the Press Foundation of Journalists' Ass., and the Ugur Mumcu Investigative Journalism Foundation.


The South and East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO) supports the statements made.

Vienna, 5 October 2010

Ninth Case Filed against Turkish Journalist Ismail Saymaz -Radikal Newspaper Reporter Faces Prison Sentences Totalling 79 Years

 
Turkish reporter Ismail Saymaz faces 79 years in prison due to the publication of critical articles for the Turkish daily newspaper Radikal, IPI's National Committee in Turkey reports.

Saymaz, accused of "violating the secrecy of an investigation" in relation to the Ergenekon trials and events in the city of Erzincan, has previously been charged with no less than eight other criminal cases. The eighth trial opened up against him on account of his article titled, "Love games in Ergenekon - The Ergenekon prosecutor also took the judge's statement," published on 8 June 2010.

The journalist stands trial under allegations of "insult," "violation of the secrecy of an investigation," and the "attempt to influence a fair trial," according to articles 125, 285, and 288 of the Turkish Criminal Law (TCK). His first hearing is scheduled for 28 January 2011.

Addressing the current state of free media in Turkey, IPI Board Member Ferai Tinc, who is also chairperson of the IPI Turkey National Committee, stated, "The Press Law, Anti Terror Law, and several articles of the Penal Code have reached a stage that hinders journalists from performing their job. At present, 48 journalists are in prison and more than 700 journalists face imprisonment. This situation abolishes people's freedom of information."

She added, "I ask Prime Minister Erdogan and the government to revise the laws threatening press freedom, while they have the support from the constitutional referendum. Press freedom is the guarantee of a democratic Turkey."

In an interview with The IPI National Committee, Saymaz stated: "I only do my job as a reporter, inform the public on the events that the public is interested in, and supply them with objective information. I do not try to influence in any way. They sue me with imprisonment of tens of years on every word my newspaper reports."

"Freedom for the Journalists' Platform," an organization that consists of 17 media outlets, was created on 24 September 2010 to discuss the current situation of journalism. The Platform expressed their concern over the influence of Turkish authorities in the media and quoted Prime Minister Erdogan as having said on 26 February 2010, "Columnists cannot write whatever they want. You pay them, control your writers and do not let them write, dismiss them."

IPI Press Freedom Manager, Anthony Mills said: "IPI reiterates that it is unacceptable that journalists be criminally charged simply because the content of what they write is not liked by the authorities. Journalists have a professional duty to transmit information that is in the public interest. The authorities have an obligation to allow them to do so." 

IPI's affiliate organisation, the South and East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO), supports this statement.

Vienna, 1 September 2010

Over 700 Turkish Journalists Currently Facing Laws Suits, with Threat of Prison

 
IPI's Turkey National Committee on 25 August 2010 joined other Turkish media organisations in the launch of a campaign targeting the use of prison sentences against journalists, and calling for those journalists currently imprisoned to be released. The organisations have all come together under the newly-created Turkish Journalists' Association, in a united bid to improve press freedom in Turkey.

According to statistics from the IPI Turkish National Committee, more than 40 Turkish journalists are currently in prison, awaiting trial, because of their reports or columns in Turkey. Some journalists have been held without conviction for several years. Over 700 more journalists are currently facing law suits, with the threat of imprisonment, under specific articles in the Penal Code, press laws and anti-terror laws.

The Turkish Journalists' Association, which held its first meeting on 18 August 2010, is the first organisation of its kind with such wide participation from the Turkish media. It draws membership from the Turkish Journalists' Union, the Press Council, the Media Ethics Association, the Turkish Journalists' Federation, the Newspaper Owners' Association, the Sports Writers' Association, the Economy Reporters' Association, the Culture, Tourism and Environment Journalists' Association, the Professional Reporters' Association, the Reporters' Union and the IPI Turkish National Committee.

Following the meeting on Wednesday the association established the Freedom for Journalists Platform to monitor issues concerning the freedom of journalists and to keep transgressions against press freedom in the public eye; a council of law will follow up judicial cases concerning press freedom.

IPI Turkey's Chairwoman Ferai Tinc said, "This is the first time in Turkish press history that so many media organisations come together to raise their voices for press freedom. Sending journalists to prison because of their reports and opinions is a real threat to press freedom."

"Press freedom is one of the main pillars of democracy. We want a democratic Turkey and a free press. Today we decided to bring together our forces to free our colleagues who are in prison and to demand from the Turkish government to make adequate adjustments to change this situation." 

In an illustration of its commitment to defending press freedom, the IPI Turkish National Committee on 19 August 2010 attended the 77th hearing of the 'Ergenekon' court case, in solidarity with two Turkish tabloid journalists who stand accused of membership of the alleged clandestine, ultra-nationalist organization.

Tuncay Ozkan and Mustafa Balbay, alongside a number of other prominent Turkish persons in politics, the security forces and academia, are accused of being members of the covert 'Ergenekon' network which allegedly planned terrorist attacks in an attempt to provoke a military coup to overthrow the mildly Islamist government. The organisation has been dubbed 'Ergenekon' after a mythical place located in the inaccessible valleys of the Altay Mountains, in central Asia, where Russia, China, Mongolia and Kazakhstan come together, which holds historical importance for Turkish nationalists.

Speaking to IPI Headquarters in Vienna, Secretary of the IPI Turkish National Committee Yurdanur Atadan said that Balbay and Ozkan, along with two other journalists faced unclear charges for their alleged part in the coup, with the indictment running to more than 5,000 pages. Balbay and Ozkan have been held in prison without conviction for three years and have been refused bail on seven occasions. Atadan told IPI Headquarters that she did not know when it was likely the journalists would finally face a full trial or be released.

Speaking on behalf of the journalist organisations present at the hearing, Oktay Eksi, chairman of the Turkish Press Council and a chief columnist at national daily newspaper Hurriyet, said: "We came here because we think that our colleagues here are lacking their right to a fair trial. We came here to show that we are together with them, to express that we stand for their benefits of the laws as anybody else."

"They are our colleagues, brothers and we decided to come here because we think that supporting their rights is a prime task for us. Our decision includes all the journalists whose freedom is restricted."

IPI Interim Director Alison Bethel McKenzie said: "We urge the authorities in Turkey to take note of this unprecedented united push to defend press freedom. Its initiation underscores the gravity of our press freedom concerns in the country. Journalists, like all other citizens in a democracy, should have the right to a fair trial. They should certainly not be locked up for years without being convicted of any crime. And they should never be sent to prison, or silenced in other ways, because of their critical reporting."

The South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO), a network of editors, media executives and leading journalists in South East and Central Europe and an affiliate of the International Press Institute (IPI), supports this statement.