Ã-zgüden: Int’l Pressure Needed To Stop Jailing Of Journalists In Tu

Ã-zgüden: International Pressure Needed To Stop Jailing Of
Journalists In Turkey

Inteview by RFE/RL on December 12, 2012:

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) says a record 232
journalists are currently imprisoned around the world, with Turkey
being the worst offender. In a report released December 11, the
U.S.-based media watchdog says 49 journalists are behind bars in
Turkey — a NATO member and EU candidate country – compared with 45 in
Iran and 32 in China.

The CPJ says most of the imprisoned Turkish journalists are Kurdish
reporters and editors held on terror-related charges and in connection
with alleged antigovernment plots. Turkey was already subjected to
harsh criticism in an EU progress report in October, which listed
freedom of expression, as well as the right to a fair trial, as areas
of particular concern.

RFE/RL correspondent Eugen Tomiuc talked to exiled Turkish journalist
Dogan Ozguden, the head of the Brussels-based Journalists’ Association
of Turkey, about the report’s findings.

RFE/RL: Mr. Ozguden, there is still an arrest warrant in your name in
Turkey, the country which you left decades ago to escape jail. You
risk being thrown in jail for insulting the Turkish military by
calling for the democratization of the country after years of military
dictatorship. How would you rate press freedom in Turkey?

Ozguden: I am a 76-year-old journalist, and from the beginning of my
career I have not seen anything else than [journalist]
prosecutions. Turkey is now an EU candidate, and it has promised to
fulfill all the obligations in the democracy and liberty fields. In
the beginning, [Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s] Islamist
government said it will respect all the criteria. But unfortunately
for the past three or four years, the pressure on the opposition —
and particularly on the press — increased.

RFE/RL: The Committee to Protect Journalists said in its report that
broadly worded antiterrorism and penal code articles allow Turkish
authorities “to conflate the coverage of banned groups and the
investigation of sensitive topics with outright terrorism or other
antistate activity.” How accurate is this statement?

Ozguden: [The Islamist government is] using the pretext of supporting
terrorist movements to arrest all the journalists who are not
considered “reasonable” by Erdogan’s government.

RFE/RL: Prime Minister Erdogan’s government has pushed forward with
the prosecution and conviction of hundreds of army officers accused of
plotting a coup. Prosecutors have said that what they called Operation
Sledgehammer was a conspiracy by the army to trigger a coup against
Erdogan’s elected government, an accusation sharply rejected by the
army, which has long seen itself as the guarantor of the country’s
secular constitution. The country is also in the grips of a
decades-long Kurdish insurgency. Could these be reasonable arguments
for a harsher attitude toward those suspected of supporting the
alleged conspirators or Kurdish terrorists?

Ozguden: Under the pretext of combating the military putchists,
they’ve arrested many people who have nothing to do with the military
conspirators’ movement. Most important, in terms of Kurdish
journalists — they are in different prisons in Turkey under the
accusation of supporting the PKK. Any declaration, any criticism, or
any call for Kurdish rights is considered support for the terrorist

Many journalists, even not Kurdish journalists who are defending the
fundamental rights of the Kurds or other minorities — Assyrians,
Armenians, and Greeks — are considered terrorists or defenders of

RFE/RL: What are the most prominent cases of journalists currently
imprisoned for exercising their profession?

Ozguden: The most spectacular one is about 16 journalists — among
them, Mustafa Balbay, from the daily “Cumhuriyet,” [and] television
journalists Tuncay Ozkan and Soner Yalcin, who have been in prison for
more than two years [for allegedly supporting the army plotters] and
[whose] trial is continuing.

After that, there are many Kurdish journalists — particularly from
the “Azadiya Welat” Kurdish newspaper or Dicle News Agency. They are
subjected to prosecution continuously.

RFE/RL: Do you think that the international community is doing enough
to bring about a change in the way the government deals with freedom
of expression?

Ozguden: I am very thankful to the international professional
organizations like the Committee to Protect Journalists, or the
International Press Institute, or the International Federation of
Journalists, or Reporters Sans Frontieres. They are always very
attentive at defending the imprisoned Turkish or Kurdish
journalists. They have accepted that these people are accused and
prosecuted and condemned because of ideas, not for their political
activities or terrorist activities. All these organizations are
unanimously defending all journalists in Turkish prisons.

RFE/RL: Turkey is an important player in the Middle East and its
contribution to regional stability is substantial, especially during
this period of growing instability in places like Syria or Egypt. Is
the balancing act by NATO and the EU in their relations with Turkey
successful enough?

Ozguden: As for the international institutions like NATO, the European
Union, the Council of Europe, even the United Nations, unfortunately
they are not so attentive toward these burning questions [on human
rights and freedom of expression]. For example, the relations with the
Turkish regime are maintained without taking into consideration all
these violations of press freedom. These institutions and
organizations should change their attitude and put more pressure on
the Turkish government.

RFE/RL: But the EU on October 10 issued a very critical progress
report on candidate Turkey…

Ozguden: Yes, critical, I agree. But there is no practical
pressure. They say that these, these, and these [rights] are not
respected. OK, but what is the result? The result should be sanctions
against the Turkish government. But such sanctions are not being
applied. Why? Because of geopolitical and strategic issues, the
problems with the Middle East countries, and for all these reasons,
despite their criticism, they are not applying sufficient pressure on
the Turkish regime.

RFE/RL: You yourself have been subjected in absentia to an arrest
warrant under the notorious Article 301, whose abolition has been
demanded by many rights watchdogs. Can you describe Article 301?

Ozguden: For example, insulting the president of the republic or the
prime minister or the Turkish Army. If you criticize one of these
institutions, there is always the Article 301 of the Turkish penal
code. And naturally, there are many private trials opened [under
Article 301] by Prime Minister Erdogan against many journalists
demanding very high fines for insulting [him].

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From: Baghdasarian