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Back Activities Alert Archive URGENT ALERT: Turkey - Demand Turkish Government release journalist imprisoned for "insulting memory of Ataturk”

URGENT ALERT: Turkey - Demand Turkish Government release journalist imprisoned for "insulting memory of Ataturk”

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Pressure must be put on the Turkish Government following a decision to sentence journalist Hakan Albayrak to fifteen months imprisonment for an article in which he "insulted the memory of Ataturk”. 1. "Insult to Ataturk”
2. Imprisonment and fine
3. Suggested action


1. "Insult to Ataturk”

A 1951 Turkish law makes it a criminal offence to commit any act constituting an "insult to the memory of Ataturk”, the country's first president (1923-38). People found guilty face imprisonment of up to three years, a sentence which can be doubled if the insult was committed in the media.

2. Imprisonment and fine

On 20 May 2004 journalist Hakan Albayrak was sentenced to fifteen months imprisonment for his article "A Funeral Prayer”, published in Milli Gazete in 2000. In it he had stated the lack of public protest when funeral prayers were omitted at Ataturk's burial. For Turkish authorities this statement was sufficient to warrant prosecution and jail. All this was despite a follow up article in which Albayrak admitted, and apologised for, what was an innocent mistake made about Ataturk's funeral. The Supreme Court of Appeals has decided to uphold the prison sentence. Albayrak must stay in detention for a further five months.

Meanwhile Mehmet Terzi, Milli Gazete's editor-in-chief at the time of publication, has been ordered by the Supreme Court to pay a fine. Initially, he too had faced a 15 month jail term but this was commuted on appeal to a fine.

These two recent convictions are not rare and form part of Turkey's long running track record of convictions under the 1951 law. Political scientist Ismail Besikci has been imprisoned twice for his academic work challenging Ataturk's "sun-language theory” (which had postulated that Turks were the first people to inhabit the Earth and that Turkish was the mother of all languages). Again, in 1997 the centre-left daily "Radikal” was seized because of the translation of a French article which it had reprinted.

The 1951 law presents considerable interference with the freedom of expression and the freedom of press, both guaranteed by the European Convention on Human Rights - of which Turkey is a signatory. Journalist Albayrak considers that his imprisonment is simply the price he has to pay for "not being pro-Ataturk”. From his and other cases it is clear that the 1951 law is anachronistic and an example of patriotism run wild. Continued prosecution under the 1951 law seems dubious especially at a time when Turkey is applying to join the EU. The government has repeatedly been asked by the European Commission to first consider its record on human rights before its adhesion to the EU can be contemplated seriously.

3. Suggested action

IHRC condemns the prosecutions of Hakan Albayrak and Mehmet Terzi under the 1951 law. It also questions more fundamentally the validity of the 1951 law. You are requested to write to the Turkish Prime Minister and Minister of Justice, demanding they reconsider the most recent cases and review the continued policy of prosecution under the 1951 law. Addresses are given below and followed by a template letter which you may choose to adopt:

Recep Tayyip Erdogan
Prime Minister
TC Easbakanlik
Ankara, Turkey
Fax +90 312 417 0476

Cemil Cicek
Minister of Justice
TC Adalet Bakanligi
Ankara, Turkey
Fax +90 312 417 3954

[Your Name]
[Your Address]



[Date]


Recep Tayyip Erdogan
Prime Minister
TC Easbakanlik
Ankara, Turkey
Fax +90 312 417 0476



Dear Mr. Erdogan,

Imprisonment of Hakan Albayrak

I write to you regarding the recent decision of the Supreme Court of Appeals (20 May 2004) which confirm the convictions under the 1951 law of Hakan Albayrak and Mehmet Terzi, respectively former journalist and former editor-in-chief of Milli Gazete.

There are good reasons as to why the Turkish government should immediately intervene to reconsider these cases and in the longer-term review its policy to prosecute under the 1951 law. Mr Albayrak has long ago apologised publicly for his article and the Court has deemed it fit to commute Mr Terzi's jail sentence to a fine. Overturning the Court's decision then must surely be in the interests of all parties concerned.

I would also like to highlight the unfortunate timing of these prosecutions. Highly publicised violations of the European Convention on Human Rights run counter to the progress which Turkey has been making in recent years to correct its human rights record. All this comes at a time where the Turkish government has been asked by the European Commission to first consider its record on human rights before accession to the EU can be contemplated seriously.

I hope that common sense will prevail.



Sincerely,


___________________

[Your Name]

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