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Turkish journalist faces 79 years in prison

Media groups have appealed to the Turkish prime minister to revise the laws threatening press freedom.

A TURKISH JOURNALIST is facing 79 years in prison for writing articles for the Istanbul daily Radikal.

Ismail Saymaz has been accused of “violating the secrecy of an investigation” in a high-profile trial against the Ergenekon group - an ultra-secular organisation, which is suspected of organising massive anti-government rallies in 2007 and attempting to overthrow the ruling AK party.

Saymaz is due to face a total of nine charges, including “violation of the secrecy of an investigation”, “insult”, and an “attempt to influence a fair trial”.

Saymaz’s first hearing is scheduled for 28 January 2011. His trial will be the ninth opened against Radikal newspaper.

He is supported by the International Press Institute, and is quoted as saying to The IPI National Committee:

I only do my job as a reporter, inform the public on the events that the public is interested in, and supply them with objective information. I do not try to influence in any way. They sue me with imprisonment of tens of years on every word my newspaper reports.

IPI Press Freedom Manager, Anthony Mills said:

IPI reiterates that it is unacceptable that journalists be criminally charged simply because the content of what they write is not liked by the authorities. Journalists have a professional duty to transmit information that is in the public interest. The authorities have an obligation to allow them to do so.”

Chairperson of the IPI Turkey National Committee, Ferai Tinc, said that at present, 48 journalists are in prison and more than 700 face imprisonment.

Other cases

Another journalist facing decades in prison is Helin Şahin – who faces 57 years in prison due to her reporting on two coup plots.

Şahin has also been charged with “violation of secrecy”, as well as “making people targets of a terrorist organization.” She told the Turkish daily Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review:

I am not scared. Everything I wrote was real, with documents. I will continue to write under my name.

Şahin’s co-worker, Bünyamin Demirkan, is also facing similar charges. He told the Hürriyet:

A foreign journalist would be acquitted if he can prove his reporting was true, right? We get sentenced because [the courts] say, ‘There! It is true and you have violated secrecy.

Speaking a a conference about the current state of free media in Turkey, IPI board member Ferai Tinc mad an appeal to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan:

I ask Prime Minister Erdoğan and the government to revise the laws threatening press freedom, while they have the support from the constitutional referendum. Press freedom is the guarantee of a democratic Turkey.

Turkey is currently classed as a country ”under surveillance” by press freedom organisation Reporters Without Borders.

It currently ranks 122 out of a pool of 175 countries worldwide in terms of press freedom.

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