Thursday, June 10, 2010

Dare Not Question . . .

Express journalist Irfan Aktan received a 15-month prison term this week for making propoganda for the PKK. The charges followed a piece Aktan ran that offered critical analysis of the government's "Kurdish initiative." In the piece, Aktan interviewed a numer of people from the predominantly Kurdish southeast, including two PKK members. In the piece, also quoted from a PKK brochure. From Hurriyet Daily News :

“It is not like this man said, ‘We will make war, we will destroy,’ and I said, ‘Bravo to you, you are doing a great job,’” the journalist said in response to the sentence handed down Friday, defending his coverage of what he called a newsworthy topic.

Aktan traveled to southeastern Turkey last year to look at how the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, government’s initiative for solving the Kurdish problem was being perceived among the region’s people.

For his news analysis story, published in monthly Express in October 2009, Aktan talked to a wide range of people, from local mayors to members of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, and including women and children. The criminal factors in his report, according to the court, were two paragraphs from an interview with two PKK members and a quote from a PKK official that Aktan took from one of the group’s publications: “There will be no solution without struggle.”

The charges brought against Aktan were “making propaganda for a terrorist organization through the press” and “announcing the opinions of a terrorist organization and helping to sustain these opinions in the public realm.” The PKK is listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States and the European Union.

Aktan said Express is not a radical publication and does not praise violence, adding that he is the first reporter in the magazine’s 16-year history to receive such a sentence.

When asked why he used the quote from the PKK publication, Aktan said, “I was looking into the stance of the organization toward the [government’s] initiative for my story and this sentence summarized its answer.”

The two paragraphs of interviews noted by the court included comments from PKK members saying they would neither “come down from the mountain,” nor leave the group, no matter what the government does. “This is news in a country where the initiative is being discussed,” Aktan said. “What I said was: ‘Look, there is this state of mind. If an initiative is going to occur, know that there is this perspective."

. . . .

Aktan said he was among the people who were reporting the actual facts during the process of implementing the Kurdish, or democratic, initiative and suggested he might have offended the government as a result. “We were saying via analyses that the atmosphere of optimism might be misleading,” he said.

All journalists in Turkey can be tried within the scope of the country’s anti-terror law, Aktan said: “The lottery can hit any journalist at any time."

And, the lottery has, though the majority of cases launched against journalists covering the Kurdish question are still against those working for publications with pro-PKK views.

Though Article 301 and other restrictions in the Turkish Penal Code (TCK) that remain a serious hindrance to freedoms of the press and expression, the Anti-Terrorism Law, passed in 2006 just one year after Turkey concluded an accession partnership with the European Union, remains the most onerously relevant to journalists, intellectuals, and activists working on Kurdish issues.

What is further troublesome is that the silencing effect of the law might well have a silencing effect on Turkish jurnalists who do dare to record voices in the region and present them to the Turkish public. Most Turkish citizens not living in the southeast or who did not immigrate from the region have little idea as to what the region is like, making dialogue and mutual understanding near impossibile. The dearth of press coverage only contributes to this divide, helping to create what are almost two different existences in once country and further abetting conflict dynamics at play between the region and the Turksh state.

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