Austrian journalist Sandra Bakutz was arrested when she arrived in Istanbul on 10 February to cover the trial of 82 political activists, and has been held ever since in highly questionable circumstances. Reporters Without Borders calls for her immediate release.
Austrian journalist Sandra Bakutz was transferred on 1 March to Ankara’s Ulucanlar prison, long famous for torture and where most of the country’s political prisoners are held. Her trial date has not been set but she faces a 10 to 15-year prison sentence for "belonging to an illegal organization" under article 168 (2) of the criminal code. Her case is being handled by the special heavy penalties court and she has three Turkish lawyers, Selçuk Kozaçagli, Özgür Yilmaz and Betül Vangölü. Her lawyer in Istanbul, Taylan Tanay, said she would probably soon be freed because the charges against her were false.
1st March 2005
Austrian journalist detained on arrival in Istanbul, held for the past 18 days
Reporters Without Borders protested today against the imprisonment of Austrian journalist Sandra Bakutz of radio Orange 94.0 and the German newspaper Junge Welt, who was arrested on 10 February on her arrival at Atatürk international airport in Istanbul and has been held ever since on a charge of "belonging to an illegal organization."
Bakutz was taken to the Pasakapisi detention centre in Istanbul on 16 February, and was subsequently transferred to the prison in Gebze, a town about 50 km south of Istanbul, where she is now awaiting trial.
"We call on the Turkish justice minister to release this Austrian journalist at once," Reporters Without Borders said. "Her imprisonment, which has so far lasted 18 days, is based on vague suspicions and is not supported by an international arrest warrant."
The press freedom organization added: "The Turkish justice system does not respect articles 9 and 10 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights banning arbitrary detention and guaranteeing the right to a fair and transparent trial, or article 19 guaranteeing freedom of opinion."
Bakutz, who has been involved for several years in defending Turkish political prisoners, was to have attended the trial of 82 activists who were arrested in an international police operation on 1 April 2004 against the DHKP-C (Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party/Front), a far-left movement classified as a terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union.
She was detained as soon as she disembarked from her flight from Vienna. The next day she was brought before the 12th Court for Heavy Penalties to be told the reason for her arrest, namely a September 2001 arrest warrant issued by the 2nd State Security Court (which was responsible at that time for trying Turkish political prisoners and which no longer exists, having been replaced by the Court for Heavy Penalties). The illegal organization of which she is alleged to be member is the DHKP-C.
Although Bakutz went to Turkey as part of a delegation arranged by the International Platform against Isolation (IPAI), an international organization that defends Turkish political prisoners, she was to have covered the trial of the 82 activists as a journalist and was to have produced a report for Radio Orange 94.0. Her alleged membership of DHKP-C is in no way proven.
Bakutz’s Austrian lawyer, Gabriele Vana-Kowarzik, claims that the Turkish authorities used a "spurious pretext" - "membership of an illegal organization". It is just to prevent a journalist from investigating a controversial aspect of the human rights situation in Turkey at a time when it is trying to join the European Union.
Since her transfer on 16 February to Gebze prison, Bakutz has had her appearance before a judge postponed twice. An official explanation for this extended "police custody" is cruelly lacking.
The Austrian ambassador and Austrian consul general in Istanbul went to Gebze prison yesterday morning but only the consul general was allowed to see her. She shares her cell with 10 other political prisoners and is not allowed to make telephone calls or have any other contact with the outside world.