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Turkey July 19, 2006
H.E. Recep Tayyip Erdogan
Office of the Prime Minister
Republic of Turkey
Fax: (011.90.312) 417-0476
I write as a past visitor to your country, fascinated by all I saw and experienced there, and as a member of the Freedom of the Press Committee of the Overseas Press Club of America (OPC), which is most concerned about the state of press freedom in Turkey. We believe that maintaining standards of press freedom is key to the well-being of the Turkish people, as well as to Turkey’s desired acceptance by the European Union.
In particular, we write to support the call of Reporters Without Borders (Reporters Sans Frontiers, www.rsf.org), the international press freedom monitoring group, for Turkey’s Interior Ministry to find and prosecute those responsible for terrorist assaults against the opposition daily newspaper, Cumhuriyet, which suffered three grenade attacks in less than one week in May, 2006.
Although there were no injuries in the May 11, 2006 attack, an account by Reporters Without Borders said that the explosion caused major damage to the building and three automobiles. Only mechanical difficulties prevented additional damage or injury in earlier grenade attacks on the newspaper on May 5 and May 10, RWB/RSF has reported.
We understand that a special unit of the police anti-terror section was set up to investigate the case, but we have seen no reports of its progress. Failure to render justice in this case might, unfortunately, make it seem that the government did not take seriously these obvious efforts at press intimidation, or – worse – that it was condoning them.
The OPC also joins Reporters Without Borders in hailing an Istanbul court’s decisions in April and July to drop charges against all five journalists who had been accused of criticizing the judicial ban on a conference about the Armenian genocide. But we must deplore the appeals court decision of July 12 to uphold a six-month (suspended) prison sentence against Hrant Dink, managing editor of the weekly, Agos, for referring to the 1915 genocide itself.
And we stand with RWB/RSF in calling for release of Rusta Demirkaya, a reporter with the Kurdish news agency, Diha, who was jailed in eastern Turkey on June 15 on a charge of collaborating with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). Covering the actions of a group like the PKK must be considered legitimate journalism unless illegal collaboration can be proved in court. And we agree with RWB/RSF that there is little danger of Demirkaya fleeing or destroying evidence in the case before his trial.
More generally, we must agree with RWB/RSF that amendments to your nation’s new anti-terrorism law, passed by Parliament this month, undermine the practice and purpose of free journalism in a democratic society by providing prison sentences for the dissemination of statements of “terrorist organizations.” This could well lead to arbitrary prosecution of journalists for doing their proper job in covering issues related to these organizations. Such measures would weaken what we see as a vital bulwark of democracy, chilling criticism and dissent and discouraging the free exchange of views that is essential to true self-government.
Thank you for your attention. We hope you will reply.
Freedom of the Press Committee
President Ahmet Necdet Sezer
Office of the President
Republic of Turkey
Fax: (011.90.312) 468-5026
Ambassador of Turkey to the U.S.A.
Embassy of the Republic of Turkey
2525 Massachusetts Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20008
Fax: (202) 612-6744
Ambassador Baki Ilkin
Permanent Mission of the Republic of Turkey to the United Nations
821 United Nations Plaza, 10th Floor
New York, NY 10017
Fax: (212) 949-0086
U.S. Ambassador to Turkey
Embassy of the United States of America
Ataturk Bulvari 110
Fax: (011.90.312) 467-2532
(OR: U.S. Embassy – Turkey
PSC 93 Box 5000
APO, AE 09823-5000)