Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Repression, Dissent, and the Turkish Press

PHOTO: Hrant Dink's body lies on an İstanbul street. The journalist was among one of the 41 murdered in less than 20 years. It is alleged that the murder is connected to the Ergenekon gang, a paramilitary organization with links to the Turkish Armed Forces.

At a meeting commemorating its twentieth anniversary, the Turkish Press Council reviewed restrictions on press freedom over the past twenty years. A report prepared by the Council documented the murder of 41 journalists since 1989, the most recent being the assassination of Hrant Dink in January of last year. According to its annual report, the press is under continued threat of state repression. Documented practices of repression include the physical assault of journalists by police forces (the report says this has largely been replaced by taking journalists into custody for various amounts of time), the prosecution of journalists under various laws that restrict freedom of speech and expression, press closure (such was the case with Nokta last year), and the restriction of press outlets from generating advertising monies.

The Press Council also discussed AKP's proposal to amend Article 301 and echoed criticism from other quarters that the changes would likely not amount to much in terms of furthering freedom of the press. Some members of the Council commented that the new law might in practice prove more obstructive than the old law in that journalists since the article changes the terminology of "investigation" to one of "legal proceeding" and adds additional steps to the process of prosecuting journalists under the article. One reporter told the Turkish Daily News that this amounts to requiring procecutors' to start an investigation, calling upon the journalist to come and make a deposition, then the expert preparing his report, the prosecutor preparing his or her indictment, giving it to the court, the court declaring the acceptance of the case, and then the legal proceedings would be started and the court would write to the president to ask for his permission.

Introduced to the parliamentary Justice Commission, pressure continues to build around proposal's vesting the president with the power to approve prosecutions. An article in Sunday's Radikal reported that President Gül had expressed skepticism about the measure's potential to turn the president's office into an "additional judicial court." In recent years, the number of 301 cases prosecuted has been well over one hundred and the job of granting prosecutors the green light would no doubt be cumbersome and, most importantly, very political. Justice Minister Ali Mehmet Şahin denied that the president is in opposition to the measure and Prime Minister Erdoğan defended it by stating that giving the president such approval is the only way to assure that approval of prosecutions is not political. Erdoğan expressed the opinion that the president's office is better suited for granting approval because other offices are political (such as that of the justice minister).

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