Thursday, August 8, 2013

Turkey Jails More Journalists For Ergenekon Conspiracy



Turkey has the dubious reputation of holding the most number of jailed journalists in the world. On August 5, a special court in Istanbul handed down prison sentences – including one life sentence – to at least 12 more as part of the ongoing Ergenekon conspiracy trials. The convictions bring to at least 20 the number of journalists imprisoned for the conspiracy. They were charged under anti-terrorism laws.

The journalists were among 250 others, including politicians, military personnel and academics sentenced. The Ergenekon conspiracy refers to a military coup hatched between 2004 and 2007 against the Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan’s government.

However, while the Ergenekon conspiracy is seen by some as a witch hunt against those opposed to the pro-Islamist Erdogan regime, others say the trials are against a ‘deep state,’ a group of shadowy ultra-national, secular military officers and their supporters who politics has led to an unwholesome influence of the military over the Turkish State over the past 50 years.  

“These Turkish journalists, several of whom have already spent several years behind bars, have been swept up by an overly broad prosecution that equates journalistic coverage unfavorable to the government with actual anti-state activities,” the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalist (CPJ) Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova said.

The Brussels-based International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) was equally severe. “The news about the fresh convictions of Turkish media professionals yesterday was a huge disappointment. We are deeply alarmed and angry at the severe and unprecedented sentences handed out to many of our colleagues in Turkey, a decision which immeasurably undermines the right to freedom of media and free expression in the country,” it said.

IFJ said the most severe sentence had been handed down to Biz TV owner Tuncay Özkan – life in prison, in solitary confinement, possibly without parole – for organising a series of anti-government protests in 2007. Others who received long-term prison sentences on Monday included Mustafa Balbay (34 years and eight months), Yalcin Kucuk (22.5 years), Denis Yildirim (16 years and 10 months) and Turhan Ozlu (nine years) said CPJ.

Reporters without Borders (RSF) said it had received information that five others – Mehmet Bozkurt (nine years and three months), Özlem Konur Usta, (six years and three months), Ruhsar Senoglu, (eight years and one month), Hayati Özcan, (10 years and 11 months) Ufuk Akkaya (eight years and two months) – whose names were not publicised Monday, were also given prison sentences.

CPJ called on Turkey’s appellate courts to overturn the verdicts and said lawyers of the convicted journalists were preparing to appeal.

According to RSF, “The main charge against the defendants was holding clandestine meetings within the armed forces and in academic and political circles in an ‘attempt to destroy the Government of the Turkish Republic or prevent it, partially or fully, from doing its duty’ (article 312.1 of the criminal code).”
 
Political commentators examining the August 5 sentences in larger the context of the power the military has had over successive governments feel that the Erdogan has squandered an opportunity to assert democracy and rule of law over the influence of military-backed civilian politics. “In short […] it is tragic that Ergenekon has failed to elevate people’s thinking on the rule of law and the role of the military in a democracy,” writes Barın Kayaoglu, a visiting fellow in international security studies at Yale University in Al Monitor.

 Erdogan has distanced himself from the trial of the conspirators.

One of the accusations against Ergenekon movement was that it was intolerant of minorities. Kemal Kerinçsiz, one of those sentenced on August 5, was accused of threatening Hrant Dink an Armenian Journalist, who was later, murdered. Turkey is accused of committing genocide against the Armenians in 1915.

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