Reporters Without Borders is appalled to learn of the surreal 138-year prison sentence passed against Emin Demir, former editor of Turkey’s sole Kurdish-language daily Azadiya Welat, for “propaganda in support of Kurdish rebels” and “belonging to a terrorist organisation”.
Demir, aged 24, was charged with supporting the cause of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), seen as a terrorist organisation by a number of countries, including Turkey, the European Union and the United States. The court issued a warrant for her arrest since she did not attend the hearing.
The journalist has the right to appeal against her sentence. Her lawyer, Servet Osen, has called for his client’s acquittal in the name of freedom of expression. He stressed that Demir was not under orders from the (PKK) and that her articles should be viewed as reporting and not as acts of propaganda.
She was sentenced on 30 December 2010, under Article 314 of the Turkish criminal code and Article 7 paragraph 2 of the anti-terror law (LAT), to 18 months in jail for each one of 84 articles written between 2008 and 2009. Reporters Without Borders repeats its condemnation of Turkey’s abusive and insane use of the anti-terrorist law.
The newspaper Azadyia Welat has already been suspended eight times by the Turkish justice system. At least nine of its journalists are currently in prison, including two other former editors, sentenced on similar charges to those against Demir, to unbelievable sentences. Vedat Kursun was sentenced on 13 May 2010 to 166 years in prison. Ozan Kilinç was sentenced in his absence on 9 February to 2010 to 21 years in prison. He was also stripped of his civic rights. The three ex editors have now been sentenced to a total of 325 years in prison between them.
This judicial harassment of the country’s sole Kurdish-language newspaper contrasts with political statements in support of openness towards the Kurdish minority that have been made since 2009. The Kurdish question remains taboo and is used as a pretext for legal proceedings against too many media and journalists in Turkey.
Editor of the newspaper Hawar and Aram Publishing owner, Bedri Adanir, faces 50 years in jail for publishing articles about the PKK and publication of books collecting defence arguments at the ruling on the trial of PKK leader, Abdullah Öcalan, before the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). The trial of Adanir, in custody since 5 January 2010, is to resume on 3 March 2011.
Journalist Berivan Eker, former editor of Renge Heviya Jine, is also at risk of a 21-year jail sentence. She was arrested on 5 December 2010 and charged with “membership of the PKK” and making “propaganda for the organisation”. Her trial is due to open on 25 January 2011. The prosecutor argues that she committed an offence in the name of the organisation even if she is not actually a member of it. This shows yet again the misuse of the anti-terror law, the content of which is already reprehensible.
This unfairness has moreover been at least half admitted through the release of journalist Erdal Güler, former editor of the daily Devrimci Demokrasi. The Istanbul appeal court on 26 October ruled that he had not been informed of the sentence against him in 2007 in conformity with the law. Even though this release should be widely welcomed, it illustrates the dissensions within Turkey’s judicial apparatus when the law is hijacked for political reasons.
Reporters Without Borders calls on the appeal court in Diyarbakir to cancel the arrest warrant against Emin Demir and on the appeal court to reject the iniquitous and disproportionate sentence against the journalist. The organisation repeats its call for amendments to the anti-terror law and for the release of Berivan Eker, Bedri Adanir, Vedat Kursun, Ozan Kilinç and all the other journalists imprisoned under this law for their work as journalists.