Update on writers' and journalists' trials underway in Turkey
(WiPC/IFEX) - Between 26 March and 20 April 2002, International PEN members world-wide staged a campaign aimed at highlighting the huge number of trials under way against writers and journalists in Turkey. PEN has on its records over 100 trials believed to be ongoing against those whose only act has been to write critically of Turkish government policies, ranging from human rights to corruption. During the month-long campaign, members focused on trials where hearings were held in that period. The following is a brief update of the trial results.
On 19 April, writer Mehmed Uzun appeared in a court in Diyabakir to hear charges under the Anti-Terror Law for his speeches on Kurdish issues. Several international observers, including members of Swedish PEN, attended the trial. Uzun was acquitted of all charges.
On 8 April, 14 writers, poets, artists and playwrights who had formed the Initiative of Intellectuals and Artists were brought before the Ankara State Security Court on charges of "supporting an illegal organisation". Their offence was to protest the new F-type prisons. All were acquitted at the first hearing (see IFEX alerts of 16 and 2 April 2002).
Seven of the nine trials led to postponements. Most trials against writers in Turkey are protracted and entail a series of trial hearings taking place over a period of months. Awaiting another hearing in May is Burak Bekdil, a journalist on trial for his article lampooning the judiciary. The other five to have hearings continuing in June are:
The Freedom of Expression 2000 publishers, a group of writers, artists and intellectuals who published a book containing articles breaching several of Turkey's laws that penalise free speech (see IFEX alerts of 29, 28 and 26 March 2002 and 22 June 2001);
Asiye Güzel Zeybek, a writer for a now defunct radical newspaper who has been on trial for over four years. He will be brought to court for a final time on 5 June to hear the final verdict (see IFEX alerts of 2 April, 28 and 26 March 2002, 25 and 20 September, 24 May and 18 April 2001);
Abdullah Keskin, on trial for publishing American author Jonathan Randal's book on his experiences in Kurdistan. He will have his next hearing on 7 June (see IFEX alerts of 4 and 2 April and 29 March 2002);
Selma Koçiva and Muammer Akyüz, who will return to the courts on 28 June to present further arguments against charges of "incitement to hatred and enmity" for a book on the Laz minority (see IFEX alerts of 4 and 2 April and 29 March 2002);
Hassan Öztoprak, publisher of Mehmed Uzun's book on Kurdish literature and language, who will return to court on 20 June.
The number of trials presently underway against writers in Turkey is alarmingly high. The majority of these writers are being penalised solely for the legitimate practice of their right to freedom of expression. The existence of such heavy measures against them belies the Turkish government's stated commitment to improving human rights. International PEN will continue to monitor the trials and to lobby the Turkish authorities to bring them to an end and to cease imprisonment and other penalties against those whose only act is to criticise government policy or to write on minority rights. It also urges the Turkish authorities to once again review legislation with the aim of removing all possibility of prosecution of those who practice their right to freedom of expression as guaranteed under the European Convention on Human Rights and other international human rights instruments.