Turkey: Continuous Assaults on the Freedom of Expression

Press release

The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and its member organisations in Turkey the Human Rights Association (IHD) and the Foundation for Human rights in turkey (TIHV) express their deepest concern regarding the new charge by Sisli Public Prosecutor’s office against Mr. Hrant Dink, editor in chief of Agos, an Armenian-Turkish language weekly magazine.

On 25 December 2005, a Lawyers Association announced that the Sisli second Instance Court in Istanbul has accepted their request and decided to charge Mr. Hrant Dink, Mr. Aydin Engin, journalist, Mr. Arat Dink, Hrant Dink’s assistant and Serkis Seropyan, owner of Agos. The charge concerns a column published in Agos magazine which criticized the sentence pronounced against Hrant Dink, on 7 October 2005. The four Agos executives are accused of « attempting to influence the judiciary ».

On 7 October, Dink was convicted by the Sisli Court of Second Instance in Istanbul to a six-month suspended prison sentence for « denigrating Turkish identity ». He had been charged for an article published in Agos in which he discussed the impact on the Armenian diaspora of the killings of hundreds of thousands Armenians by the Ottoman army in 1915-1917. Dink is appealing against the conviction. Since 28 April 2005, Dink faces another case for « insult to the Turkish State » for a statement he made, defining himself as an Armenian, during a conference held in the city of Sanliurfa in 2002. He faces up to three years’ imprisonment if convicted. The next trial hearing is due on 9 February 2006.

FIDH, IHD and TIHV are deeply worried about this most recent example of a continuing pattern of infringements to the freedom of expression which constitutes a flagrant violation of the international standards and, in particular of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which was ratified by Turkey in September 2003. Our organisations are particularly concerned about the frequent use of Article 301 of the newly revised (June 2005) Turkish Penal Code on the denigration of « Turkishness », the Republic, and the foundation and institutions of the State, to prosecute non-violent critical opinions. Majority of the cases recently brought against journalists, publishers and writers are justified under Art. 301.

On 3 December 2005, five journalists of Radikal and Milliyet newspapers were announced to be prosecuted for criticising the Istanbul administrative court’s ban of a university conference about the Armenian question. The complaint against these journalists was lodged by the Union of Jurists and the first hearing will take place before an Istanbul magistrates’ court, on 7 February 2006. Four of the charged journalists are being prosecuted under Art. 301 of the Turkish Penal Code.

The trial of the writer Orhan Pamuk charged of « insulting Turkish identity » by saying in a Swiss newspaper in February 2005 that a million Armenians were killed in massacres 90 years ago and 30,000 Kurds in recent decades, was postponed by the first instance court of Shishli region of Istanbul on 16 December. The next hearing will be held on 7 February 2006. Pamuk is also charged under Art. 301, but as the offending interview was published before the Turkey’s new penal code entered into force, the Justice Ministry still has the authority to decide whether such cases should go ahead.

On 22 December, the Turkish writer Zulkuf Kisanak was condemned to a five-month imprisonment sentence commuted in a 3000 TL fine for « insult to the Turkish State ». In this case too, Article 301 was used by the Court.

FIDH, IHD and TIHV urge the Turkish authorities:

- to ensure that Mr Hrant Dink, Mr Aydin Engin, Mr Arat Dink and Mr Serkis Seropyan will be granted a fair and impartial trial
- to take the necessary measures to ensure the respect of freedom of expression and in particular, to amend the domestic legislation in order to comply with Turkey international and regional legal obligations
- to put an end to all prosecutions against individuals under Article 301 of the Penal Code.

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