Saturday, June 21, 2008

Bad News on the Freedom of Expression Front

PHOTO FROM Today's Zaman

Ragıp Zarakolu has become the first convicted under the revamped Article 301 for insulting "the institutions of the Turkish Republic." (Never mind that Zarakolu's offense was publishing a book about the killings of Armenians in 1915 when Anatolia was under Ottoman rule.) If there were any doubts that Article 301 prosecutions would not stop, the Zarakolu case has put them to rest.

From BIA-Net:
The organizations are especially alarmed that this is the first conviction since this article was slightly amended on 30 April 2008, after over 1,000 people, including hundreds of writers, publishers and journalists, have been brought to the courts in the three years since its inception in 2005.

IPA and PEN have been calling for the repeal of this law ever since it was presented in draft form, and are deeply disappointed that rather than remove this legislation, the amendments are simply cosmetic.

Around 29 writers and journalists are on trial today under Article 301. They are among a total of 79 charged under a range of laws that impinge on the right to free speech, including Article 318 that has led numerous commentators on conscientious objection to the courts, and a raft of articles under Anti Terror legislation and against "incitement" that have been used against writers on the Kurdish issues.

There is clearly much more to do to bring Turkey in line with its international requirements that safeguard free expression.

Ragıp Zarakolu, recipient of the 2008 IPA Freedom to Publish Prize and an Honorary Member of several PEN Centres worldwide has said that he will appeal the sentence and is determined to go as far as the European Court of Human Rights if need be. IPA and PEN support him in demanding that Publisher Zarakolu be acquitted in appeal and urge the Turkish Judiciary to complete this trial swiftly, efficiently, quickly and fairly.

The case leading to the conviction of Ragıp Zarakolu was initiated in December 2004 for the publication of London-based author George Jerjian's book entitled: The truth will set us free/Armenians and Turks reconciled. The first hearing of this case took place in Istanbul on 16 March 2005 and since then there have been more than ten hearings.

Ragıp Zarakolu was originally charged under Article 159 TPC, which criminalized acts that "insult or belittle" various state institutions . This article was abolished in 2005 and replaced with the now notorious Article 301. In some cases, defendants on trial under Article 159 benefited from the changes by having their cases closed, but this was not so for Zarakolu. Instead he found that his trial continued under the new law. When Article 301 was slightly amended on 30 April 2008, Zarakolu hoped that this time the case would be dropped, or at the very least referred to the Ministry of Justice for review as now provided under the amendments. However the judge ruled that as Zarakolu was tried under the old Penal Code Article 159, the new amendments do not pertain.

Observers believe that Zarakolu is being singled out by the more conservative elements of the judiciary because of his decades of struggle for freedom of expression, and particularly his promotion of minority rights. Throughout his life, Ragıp Zarakolu has been subjected to a series of long, time-consuming and expensive court hearings. The conduct of the trial in itself took the form of harassment and punishment against the defendant for daring to produce works, which touch on sensitive issues such as the Armenian question, Kurdish and minority rights.

The condemnation of Ragıp Zarakolu shows that the recent cosmetic change to Article 301 TPC was not enough to put an end to freedom of expression trials in Turkey. Turkish legislation (new Article 301, Law 5816 etc.) must be amended or repealed to meet international standards, including the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union.

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