Reporters Without Borders deplores Turkey’s abuse of its anti-terrorism law to censor and punish journalists who raise the issue of its Kurdish minority or quote certain Kurdish leaders. Use of the law to prosecute journalists has increased since it was amended in 2006. Under article 7/2 of the law, propaganda on behalf of a terrorist organization is punishable by imprisonment.
As neither “propaganda” nor “terrorist organization” is defined, the article can easily be interpreted in the broadest possible way to target almost any journalist or media. Reporters Without Borders reiterates its condemnation of the law, which has ushered in a regime of censorship and suppression of free speech.
In one of the latest examples, an Istanbul court ordered the suspension of the newspaper Demvrimci Demokrasi on 21 November for alleged propaganda on behalf of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).
On 10 November, reporter Nese Düzel of the liberal daily Taraf and her editor, Adnan Demir, went on trial in Istanbul on charges of making “propaganda on behalf of a terrorist organization” by interviewing two former PKK leaders, Zübeyir Aydar and Remzi Kartal.
The prosecutor argued that the interviews “gave the impression that the use of violence is necessary and continues to be legitimate” and threatened national security. Düzel responded in court that: “I did not make propaganda for a terrorist organization. On the contrary, I made propaganda for policies. Even the state is currently negotiating with this organization.”
Her lawyer argued that the reports were entirely in accordance with the criteria of article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, concerning freedom of expression, and Turkey’s 1982 constitution.
The trial, in which Düzel and Demir are facing the possibility of being sentenced to seven and a half years in prison under article 7/2 of the anti-terrorism law, has been adjourned until 2 March.
Sociologist Ismail Besikçi and Zeycan Balci Simsek, the editor of the legal monthly Cagimizda Hukuk ve Toplum, appeared before an Istanbul court on 12 November on the same charge of “propaganda on behalf of a terrorist organization” (the PKK) in an article about the Kurdish right to self-determination that Besikçi wrote for the journal.
The chief fault that the prosecutor seemed to find with the article was the fact that Besikçi wrote Qandil – the name of the mountain in northern Iraq where the PKK has its main base – with a Q (a letter that exists in the Kurdish alphabet but not in the Turkish one) instead of with a K. The trial is due to continue on 4 March.
Irfan Aktan, a reporter for the monthly Express, and Merve Erol, his editor, were both convicted under article 7 of the anti-terrorism law on 4 June. Aktan was sentenced to 15 months in prison while Erol was fined 16,000 Turkish pounds (8,000 euros). The case is now pending a decision by the country’s highest appeal court.
Reporters Without Borders calls for the acquittal of Düzel, Demir, Besikçi and Simsek and urges the appeal court to quash the convictions of Aktan and Erol.
The Turkish government is currently preparing to amend criminal code provisions concerning media freedom and has begun talks with journalists’ representatives. They fear the government will just modify a few problematic articles without addressing all of the other elements of the legal arsenal that limit media freedom and free speech.
Reporters Without Borders urges the Turkish authorities to carry out democratically-inspired legislative reforms that will provide real protection for freedom of expression.