Turkey often uses prison sentences to silence Kurds or those writing about Kurdish issues. At the beginning of this year, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) reported the astonishing 138-year sentence given to Emine Demir, former editorial manager of Turkey’s only Kurdish daily, Azadiya Welat. Demir was prosecuted on charges of spreading propaganda for the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). According to the CPJ, however, her stories mainly covered Kurdish rights. The court decided on an eighteen-month punishment per count. Additionally, it sentenced her to twelve years ‘for acting on behalf of a terrorist organisation’.
Last month, Pinar Selek, an exiled Turkish sociologist, was acquitted for the third time of involvement in a 1998 explosion that killed seven and injured more than 100 in Istanbul’s spice market. Selek, who now lives in Berlin, researched Kurdish issues in the mid-to-late 1990s. She founded the feminist journal Amargi, was a PEN member, and wrote about contentious subjects, including women’s rights, gay and lesbian rights, and the Kurdish question.
The explosion is believed to have been the result of a gas leak and no evidence of a bomb has ever been found. At the time, however, Selek was held for two-and-a-half years in police custody and was allegedly tortured. Turkey’s Supreme Court will review her case yet again on 22 June to determine if there should be a further trial. Human Rights Watch referred to the proceedings as ‘a perversion of the criminal justice system and [an] abuse of due process’. The organisation is calling for the charges to be dropped once and for all, noting that ‘the pursuit of this case for twelve years violates the most basic requirements for a fair trial’.
Other writers in Turkey are being punished for criticising the government. On 22 January 2011, 76-year-old author and human rights defender Hasan Basri Aydin was taken into custody in Istanbul after being sentenced, in two separate trials, to twenty-six months in jail. One of his sentences was for insulting Deputy Prime Minister Cemil Çiçek.
Adem Yavuz Arslan, an author and Ankara correspondent for the Bugün (‘Today’) newspaper, has received death threats following the publication in January of his book on the assassination of Turkish–Armenian journalist Hrant Dink. Dink was shot dead on 19 January 2007 (LR, March 2007), and Arslan’s book reportedly reveals new facts about the murder.
On 26 January 2011, a parcel was sent to Arslan’s office containing several Kalashnikov bullets and a white beret. Arslan claims to have also received threats by phone ever since the book’s publication and has subsequently requested protection from the police.
Another Turkish writer and a reporter for Radikal newspaper, Ismail Saymaz, faces fourteen trials and up to 107 years in prison. One of the latest charges against the writer–journalist is in response to his book The Postmodern Jihad. Charges relating to the book were initially filed by Osman Sanal, prosecutor of Erzurum (in eastern Anatolia), who was described in the book as a ‘supporter of postmodernism’ and engaging in jihad. Sanal’s lawyer has claimed that the book distorts the prosecutor’s activities and that this has harmed his professional reputation. Professor İclal Ergenç, head of the linguistics department at Ankara University, has publicly stated that the word ‘postmodern’ does not imply any kind of insult. ‘It means the period that follows modernism. It is not a humiliating term’, he said.
Saymaz is also charged with alleged ‘defamation, insult and influencing the judiciary’ in an article entitled ‘The Sultanbeyli Courthouse’. Saymaz had commented on the ‘ethics’ of Uğur Gökkoyun, the prosecutor in Sultanbeyli, and his cooperation with his wife, Judge Dilek Gokkoyun. Saymaz has told Turkey’s International Press Institute National Committee:
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.
The first hearing of the new case relating to Saymaz’s book will be held on 26 April 2011.
Readers might like to write appeals expressing concern about the numerous trials against Ismail Saymaz and urging that he be allowed to carry out his work as a writer and journalist without fear of reprisal; calling for the release of writer Hasan Basri Aydin; asking for a full and thorough investigation into all threats made against Adem Yavuz Arslan; and expressing the hope that the Turkish government will review all relevant laws regarding freedom of expression in accordance with international human rights standards. Appeals to be addressed to:
His Excellency Mehmet Yiğit Alpogan
43 Belgrave Square
Fax: +44 (0)20 7393 0066
Update: After international appeals, writer Vladimir Neklyaev and journalists Natalia Radzina and Irina Khalip (LR, February 2011) were released from detention in Belarus. However, their movements are still severely restricted and they continue to face prison sentences of between fifteen and twenty-three years on charges of ‘organising mass disorder’.