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Turkey May 26, 2005
H.E. Recep Tayyip Erdogan
Office of the Prime Minister
Republic of Turkey
Fax: (011.90.312) 417-0476 or 468-5026
We write to join our many colleagues in the Turkish press, as well as Amnesty International, Reporters Without Borders (RSF), the Society of Turkish Journalists and the Press Council in your country, in urging the repeal of Turkey’s new Penal Code. We understand the law is to take effect on June 1, 2005 — despite the fact that many of its provisions will be detrimental to freedom of the press in Turkey.
In particular, we protest the criminalization of “Insulting a person, in a way liable to humiliate, dishonour and assail his dignity,” with prison terms of as much as two years; of sentences up to ten years for referring to “Armenian genocide” or “withdrawal of Turkish forces from Cyprus”; and the criminalization of “acts against the fundamental national interest.” All of these can be used to suppress legitimate dissent and criticism, which are guaranteed to all citizens under Article 19 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Your Excellency, we are also concerned that your own actions regarding journalists may tend in the same direction. Despite your promise to increase freedom in Turkey to support its application for membership in the European Union, you have brought suit against at least four journalists for satirizing you. In the latest case, Fikret Otyam, a renowned painter, wrote a sarcastic article in the weekly, Aydinlik, that poked fun at your stance on adultery. The offending sentence read: “Recep has successfully lowered the debate (on Turkish entry to the European Union) to the level of the crotch.” Otyam was ordered to pay damages of 2,835 euros. You have also sued the satirical weekly, Penguen, and two cartoonists, Musa Kart and Sefer Selvi, for less than flattering drawings of you.
Like the disputed clauses of the Penal Code, such lawsuits undermine a vital bulwark of democracy. By punishing criticism and dissent, they discourage the free exchange of views that is essential to self-government. We hope you will work to repeal the new penal code and reconsider your own reaction to criticism.
Thank you for your attention. We hope for your reply.
Very truly yours,
Norman A. Schorr
Co-chairmen, Freedom of the Press Committee
H.E. Ahmet Necdet Sezer
Office of the President
Republic of Turkey
Fax: (011.90.312) 468-5026
Ambassador Umit Pamir
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
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