2012 Nobel Peace Prize Nominee publisher Ragıp Zarakolu spent close to 6 months in a F-type high security prison between 1 Nov. 2011 and 10 April 2012. The prosecutor has demanded between 7.5 and 15 years in prison for Ragıp. This IPA Freedom to Publish Committee blog aims at shedding light on his case and urges the Turkish authorities to drop all charges against him.
The EU Commission’s 2011 Turkey Progress report stressed that legal amendments to the Turkish anti-terror legislation are needed to comply with various rulings of the European Court of Human Rights. Domestic and international freedom of expression groups have also witnessed an increasing use of the anti-terror legislation to stifle freedom to publish in Turkey in the last couple of years. The Anti-Terror Law (ATL) has long been criticised as being too vague in its definition of terrorism and terrorist organisations, and there are concerns that numerous writers and journalists are held and on trial in violation of their right to peaceful freedom of expression and association. This coupled with the lengthy trial processes, sometimes years long, makes the application of the ATL particularly problematic. In the last year, Turkey slid in Reporters without Borders International Press Freedom Index from 110th to 148th rank. Turkey has become the world’s largest prison for journalists, ahead of China, a country 20 times the size of Turkey. By the end of 2011 there were 30 writers in prison in Turkey, 70 on trial, and a further 25 journalists were arrested in December, according to figures released by PEN International. See the latest annual Turkish Publishers Association (TYB) freedom to publish report.
On 25 October 2011, three days before Ragıp’s arrest in Istanbul, the European Court of Human Rights ruled in Altuğ Taner Akçam v. Turkey that Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code, as amended in 2008, still violated Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Several Turkish and international freedom of expression groups have demanded that Article 301 be repealed. In an interview, the first female Turkish justice at the European Court of Human Rights also urged Turkey to repeal Article 301 on 20 February 2012. Judge Karakas also stressed the need for Turkish authorities to maintain a balance between freedom of expression and anti-terror measures. One third of world convictions for terrorism have taken place in Turkey, more even than in China, in the last ten years (approximately 12,000 convictions out of 35,000). On average, this means 3 convictions a day, every day, for 10 years. At the same rate, the US would have had around 50,000 convictions for terrorism in the last ten year. At the same rate, Norway, a country with a population of 4 million, would have convicted 700 times for terrorism in the last ten years.
Domestic and international freedom of expression groups have also witnessed a surge in obscenity cases under Article 226 of the Turkish Penal Code. The Prime Ministerial Board for the Protection of Children from Harmful Publications, which had been inactive for decades, recently started to insist on banning literature for adults, which the European Court of Human Rights has described as “belonging to the European literary heritage”.
A ruling made by Istanbul’s 14th High Criminal Court in August 2011 that the printer of a book be considered “like its author”, condemning the owner of Berdan Printing House, Sadik Daşdöğen, to a 9-month prison sentence in absentia for printing a book that included interviews of Abdhullah Öcalan, is also of concern. Sadik Daşdöğen was convicted of “spreading propaganda for an illegal organisation”. If the printers were held responsible for the books they print, the consequences on freedom of expression, freedom to write, and freedom to publish in Turkey could be severe.
What Shall be Done?
To curb the flow of freedom of expression and freedom to publish trials in Turkey, domestic and international freedom of expression groups have consistenty called on the Turkish authorities to amend Turkish legislation (Articles 125, 216, 301 […] of the Turkish Penal Code, Law 5816 protecting Atatürk’s memory from insult, Anti-terror legislation, etc.) and practice for Turkey to meet international standards, including the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, as Turkey was reminded of by its peers when it came under review during the 8th Session of the Universal Periodical Review (UPR) of the UN Human Rights Council in May 2010 in Geneva, Switzerland. See IPA-PEN-Index on Censorship joint submission on Turkey.