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Manuscript raid in Turkey draws international criticism

ANKARA - Hürriyet Daily News | 3/25/2011 12:00:00 AM | SERA DE VOR

International and domestic press organizations on Friday condemned recent police raids in Turkey targeting the manuscripts of an unpublished book.

International and domestic press organizations condemned Friday recent police raids in Turkey targeting the manuscripts of an unpublished book, incidents that Turkish organizations described as “censorship.”

“Preventing a published book from being distributed is one thing, but forbidding the very possession of a draft book that has not been published sets a very dangerous precedent,” Johann Bihr from Reporters Without Borders told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review.

A week after Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said the issue of press freedom in Turkey was being blown out of proportion, Istanbul police raided a printing house and a daily newspaper in search of an unpublished book, confiscating print copies and destroying all digital traces of the manuscript.

The book in question is by jailed journalist Ahmet Şık and deals with the alleged organization founded within the Turkish police by the Fethullah Gülen Islamic community.

Reporters Without Borders is “really astonished” by the police confiscation of Şık’s manuscript, Bihr said.

“Whatever its content, Şık’s draft book represents a piece of work by a writer and journalist, not a weapon or drugs. Seizing all private copies of it and threatening those who don’t hand it over with prosecution is in complete contradiction with the principle of freedom of expression,” he said.

“Reporters Without Borders is really worried by these searches and the associated threats, which unfortunately take the Turkish judiciary one more step away from European and international standards,” Bihr added.

The International Press Institute also expressed concern about the “very alarming developments” surrounding press freedom.

“We are very disappointed in the situation. There are few other countries in the world, if any, where so many journalists are in prison. And we have not seen any evidence as to why they were arrested,” IPI press freedom adviser Steven Ellis told the Daily News.

Şık’s arrest has been criticized in legal circles since the evidence against him was not revealed to his lawyers. The manuscript raids created suspicion that Şık was arrested for his book, and not as a part of the ongoing Ergenekon case into an alleged coup plot, which Şık tried to expose as a journalist.

The manuscript raids “are a clear and outrageous violation of press freedom and the protection of sources, which is a cardinal part of journalism,” Renate Schroeder, European director of the International Federation of Journalists and the European Federation of Journalists, told the Daily News.

“We are very concerned. We had a meeting in Turkey last year with the Turkish Union of Journalists and it seems as though the situation is getting worse,” Schroeder said. “We are bringing these issues to the agenda of the European Parliament and Commission... such an incident is unheard of in Europe, and Turkey is a part of Europe.”

The Turkish Freedom for Journalists Platform, or GÖP, which is comprised of 92 national and local professional groups, also protested the manuscript raids.

“While the government claims that Ahmet Şık and [fellow arrested reporter] Nedim Şener were arrested for their activities as journalists, the fact that they were questioned about their books by the prosecutor’s office proves otherwise,” the GÖP said in a press release.

“Destroying the manuscript of a book that has not even been published yet is censorship,” the group said in its statement. “For the first time in the history of humanity, police are on a digital hunt for books. They are after thoughts.”

While Erdoğan claimed earlier this month that press freedom in Turkey had “reached very advanced standards in the last eight years,” Reporters Without Borders ranked the country 138th out of 178 nations in its “World Press Freedom Index.”

[HH] Police, judiciary target Turkish journalists with raids and sentences

Multiple police raids and court decisions targeted the press Thursday in Turkey, where Istanbul police searched a publishing house and a newspaper for digital copies of an unpublished book by arrested Ergenekon suspect Ahmet Şık.

Copies of the manuscript were deleted from the hard drives of computers at the offices of the İthaki Publishing House and daily Radikal based on a court order.

The subject of the unpublished book, “İmamın Ordusu” (The Army of the Imam), is the organization the religious community led by U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gülen allegedly formed within the Turkish police.

Also in Istanbul, the 10th Court for Serious crimes sentenced İbrahim Çeşmecioğlu, the chief executive officer of daily BirGün, and reporter Hakan Tahmaz for an interview they published in 2008 in the paper. The interview with Murat Karayılan, a leader of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, based in the Kandil Mountains in northern Iraq, was ruled to have “featured [a terrorist] organization’s statements.”

Çeşmecioğlu was sentenced to a fine of 17,000 Turkish Liras and Tahmaz was sentenced to 10 months in prison although the execution of both sentences has been delayed.

In İzmir, police raided the offices of Kurdish-language daily Azadiya Welat, detaining four people and searching the premises for “forbidden publications,” confiscating some magazines. Those detained were released after being questioned.

The sentencing last year of two chief editors of the publication to record prison terms of 138 years and 166 years for “making propaganda for a [terrorist] organization” drew widespread international criticism.

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