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Imprisonment Of Well-Known Turkish Journalist Underscores Arbitrary Nature Of Restrictive Press Laws

Human Rights Watch condemns the June 17 imprisonment of the respected journalist Ragip Duran for a 1994 article he wrote based on an interview with Abdullah Öcalan, the leader of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).

Mr. Duran's imprisonment provides further evidence of the arbitrary nature of laws in Turkey that restrict free expression and constitutes a clear violation of Turkey's international human rights obligations.

On December 19, 1994 the Istanbul State Security Court No. 5 found Mr. Duran, who has worked as a journalist for the BBC and Agence France Press, guilty of violating Article 7 of the 1991 Anti-Terror Law, which prohibits conducting "propaganda for outlawed organizations." The conviction was based on an article in which Mr. Duran called Abdullah Öcalan a "Kurdish Garibaldi." The article appeared in the now closed pro-Kurdish daily Özgür Gündem. Ironically, Mr. Duran had interviewed the PKK leader in 1991 and had written similar stories in March 1991 for the Istanbul-daily Cumhuriyet. In those articles, which were published without prosecution, he referred to M.calan as a
"Kurdish Zapatista."

On October 23, 1997, the High Court of Appeal (Yarg tay) confirmed the ten-month sentence and fine of TL333,333,333 (around $1,300) handed down by the lower court. Laws that restrict peaceful free expression are usually applied by prosecutors according to the political climate in Turkey. In 1991, a period of liberalization in Turkey, Mr. Duran could call the PKK leader a "Zapatista" without incident. Three years later, during a period of escalating violence, Mr. Duran was prosecuted for a similar article about Mr. Ocalan. The very arbitrariness of the enforcement of such laws serves to keep journalists uncertain about the legal limits they face in their work and may cause them to self-censor their writing. "Ragip Duran should have been free to publish both articles without facing legal sanctions. These articles fall squarely within the limits of protected speech that is guaranteed by international human rights law," commented Holly Cartner, the executive director of the Europe and Central Asia division.

The minority coalition government of Prime Minister Y lmaz has presented a bill before parliament that would amend several articles of the Turkish Penal Code restricting free expression as well as Article 8 of the Anti-Terror Law prohibiting separatist propaganda. The bill is part of a larger draft amending the Penal Code. "We welcome the effort of the Y lmaz government to change laws that restrict peaceful free expression and hope the bill passes, even though it would not aid those like Mr. Duran who are sentenced under Article 7 of the Anti-Terror Law. However, the government must make further efforts to abolish laws that penalize peaceful free expression to allow the release of all those presently imprisoned under such charges. All of Turkey's citizens, especially its lawmakers, need to ask themselves what purpose is served and how Turkey is strengthened by prosecuting writers, intellectuals and journalists such as Ragip Duran, E ber Ya murdereli, Ya ar Kemal, and Ahmet Altan," Ms. Cartner added.

Those sentenced under the Anti-Terror Law must serve 3/4 of their sentence. Mr. Duran is confined in the prison in the Saray district of Tekirda province in western Turkey. In 1997, Mr. Duran was a recipient of a Hellman/Hammett award, which is given to journalists and writers who face state repression. The award, granted by Human Rights Watch, is made possible through the estate of the writers Lillian Hellman and Dashell Hammett.

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