Saturday, June 27, 2009

Şener Trial Raises More Questions About Press Freedom

Nedim Şener, a columnist for Milliyet, faces a 28 year sentence for publishing a book documenting negligence of municipal police, the gendarmerie, and the Turkish secret service prior to the murder of rant Dink in January 2007. Şener's book, The Dink Murder and Intelligence Lies, was published in January, after which a police officer working in in the intelligence unit in Trabzon filed a complaint against Şener alleging the journalist had violated Turkish law by "targeting personnel in service of fighting terrorism, obtaining secret documents, disclosing secret documents, violating the secrecy of communication and attempting to influence fair trial." From Hürriyet:
After the investigation’s end, Prosecutor Selim Berna Altay charged Şener with "making targets of the personnel in service of fighting terrorism, and obtaining and declaring secret information that is forbidden to be declared," asking for a prison term of 20 years. Since they do not fall under his authority, Altay sent the dossier on "violation of the secrecy of communication" and "attempting to influence fair trial" to the Istanbul Second Court. In the meantime, it was also claimed the book contained the offense of "insulting governmental institutions," and that too was added to the second investigation. Prosecutor İsmail Onaran handled this investigation and filed a second case against Şener asking for his imprisonment for three to eight years.
Ogün Samast, the man charged with pulling the trigger in the Dink murder, faces a 20 year sentence by comparison. Some of the intelligence officers who have been made plaintiffs in the case against Şener are facing charges in relation to their negligence in the Dink murder in Trabzon.

The Council of Europe and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has condemned the trial as a violation of press freedom guaranteed in OSCE countries. In a letter to Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, Miklos Haraszti, the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, asked Turkish authorities to drop the charges.
Şener is prosecuted in defiance of freedoms that both OSCE commitments and Council of Europe standards grant to critical publications . . . . What he did was critically assess the events leading up to Hrant Dink's murder, and the deficiencies afterwards in the handling of the case and in the prosecution of the perpetrators.
Şener faces charges of violating state secrecy laws -- which he denies, claiming information he attained can be accessed via the Internet -- and for attempting to influence the judiciary, a charge under the Turkish Penal Code that has been levelled against numerous dissidents of state action. Milliyet editor Sedat Ergin has stood solidly beside Şener throughout the proceedings.

Yigal Schleifer writes
Although Şener may not be convicted, the fact that a prosecutor decided to press ahead with the case is very troubling, the message of the prosecution appearing to be that even publishing the truth can be a punishable offense. The case also serves as another indication that, despite training programs for prosecutors and judges and efforts at reform, Turkey's judiciary main concern remains protecting the state and its institutions, rather than safeguarding the rights of individuals.

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