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Writer Hrant Dink acquitted; trials against other journalists continue

(WiPC/IFEX) - Eight writers, journalists and publishers accused of "insult" and "interference in the judiciary" have been brought before the courts since 6 February 2006, in four separate trials. One - Hrant Dink, editor of the Armenian language magazine "Agos" - was acquitted. The other cases were all postponed and the defendants are destined for more weeks - if not months - of waiting in uncertainty.

International PEN is deeply disappointed that lessons were not learned from the case of Orhan Pamuk, against whom trial proceedings were dropped last month. It will continue to protest against the many trials and other acts of judicial harassment against writers, journalists and publishers, and to call for the quashing of laws that breach the right to freedom of expression in Turkey.

In the last three days, eight writers and journalists have been brought before Turkish courts, accused of "denigration of the Turkish State" under Penal Code Article 301 and of "interference with the judiciary" under Article 288, used against journalists who have criticised the outcome of trials. Hearings against several other journalists tried on other charges were also held in recent days, most of them also adjourned to later dates.

International PEN is delighted that, on 9 February at a court in Urfa, Hrant Dink was acquitted of "insult" charges, charges which derived from his having claimed discrimination against the Armenian minority in Turkey when speaking at a conference in December 2002 on human rights and multi-culturalism.

However, Dink, with three other "Agos" journalists, faces another trial, this time on charges under Article 288, for an article that criticised the six-month suspended sentence served against Dink in October 2005, again for his writings.

The trial of five journalists, charged for having written articles critical of a decision to ban an academic conference on the mass killings of Armenians in the early 20th Century, ended with a postponement on 7 February. The journalists - Ismet Berkan, Erol Katirciolgu, Murat Belge, Haluk Sahin and Hasan Cemal - all work for mainstream newspapers. All are accused under Article 288, and all but Berkan also under Article 301.

Proceedings in their trial were halted temporarily when a fight broke out between the prosecuting lawyers and police; the presiding judge demanded the troublemakers be removed for haranguing observers. It was reported that the complainant's lawyers shouted such slogans as "There are foreigners here! They occupy a Turkish court! They have settled in the Turkish courts like black clouds!" Ruling that there had been insufficient time to consider all the evidence presented by the defence team, the presiding judge ordered that the court be adjourned until 11 April.

Eugene Schoulgin, Board Member of International PEN, as well as members of the Norwegian, English and Canadian PEN Centres, were present at this trial, as was the Chairman of the European Parliament's Turkey Delegation, Joost Lagendijk, and other observers. For a more detailed report see: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/4688992.stm

Two others charged under Articles 288 and 301 of the Penal Code went to court this week and had their cases adjourned. On 8 February, Murat Yetkin, journalist for Radikal, had his case postponed to a later date. He has been charged under Article 288 for an article criticising the trial against Orhan Pamuk, whose case under Article 301 was subsequently dropped. Also on 8 February, Fatih Tas, of Aram Publishing House, stood trial under Article 301 for publishing a Turkish translation of US academic John Tirman's "Spoils of War: the Human Cost of America's Arms Trade." Tas is accused of insulting the army, the Turkish state, "Turkishness", and the memory of Kemal Ataturk. His case was adjourned to 18 April.

On 15 February, another high profile defendant, charged under Article 301, will appear in court. Ragip Zarakolu, a publisher with Belge Publishing House, will appear for proceedings on two separate cases of insult to the Turkish state. The first is based on the publishing of George Jerjian's book "History Will Free All of Us/Turkish-Armenian Conciliation." The other, on the publishing of Dora Sakayan's "An Armenian Doctor in Turkey: Garabed Hatcherian: My Smyrna Ordeal of 1922." It is believed that the final verdict on charges relating to the second book will be announced at this hearing.

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