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MUSTAFA AKYOL > Hopefully, less journalists will be in jail

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Anybody who follows Turkey’s affairs must be familiar with the problem of “jailed journalists.” Despite being a democratic and at least “partially free” country, Turkey has managed to break the record for the number of scribes in prison. That seems to imply that Turkey must be a worse place than Russia, China or Iran, which does not seem to make sense. So, the whole “jailed journalists” issue is not just discouraging but also confusing.

Yet, there is a simple way to understand this complicated issue: By taking a look at the Anti-Terrorism Law, which was first enacted in 1991, when Turkey was still heavily under the influence the military and the militarist mindset. This law, which was amended several times over the years, still has draconian articles that easily turn ideas into crimes.

One key example is Article 6/2, which says: “Those who print or publish leaflets and declarations of terrorist organizations shall be punished.”

This particular clause about “print[ing] or publish[ing] leaflets and declarations of terrorist organizations” has been the main reason behind the imprisoning of journalists. The overwhelming majority of these people have been accused of committing this “crime” by airing the views of the pro-Kurdish Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), the Marxist-Leninist Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party–Front (DHKP-C), and other terrorist groups. The judiciary has been so heavy-handed that even interviews with the executives of these organizations have at times been considered violations of Article 6/2.

Now, here is the better news: The Turkish government has prepared a large amendment called the “Fourth Judicial Reform Package,” which changes this article in significant ways. For example, instead of “those who print or publish leaflets and declarations of terrorist organizations,” the new law will only punish “those who print or publish the leaflets and declarations, which justify, venerate or encourage the aggressive, violent or threatening methods of the terrorist organizations.”

In other words, if a journalist writes something that supports the political arguments of the PKK, or any other terrorist organization, he will not be prosecuted as has been the case so far. He will be prosecuted only if he supports the acts that are terrorist in nature.

A similar amendment will be made in Article 7/2 as well. This article used to penalize “those who make propaganda for terrorist organizations.” This was such a vague and sweeping term that, for years, Turkish prosecutors arrested people for only speaking of Abdullah Öcalan, the jailed leader of the PKK, as “Sayın Öcalan.” (Sayın is a word in Turkish a bit similar to “Mr.,” but implies respect more explicitly.) Similarly, youngsters carrying flags of the PKK or posters of Öcalan in political rallies were arrested for “terrorist propaganda.” (There are thousands of such Kurdish activists in jail right now.)

But the Fourth Judicial Reform Package amends this clause as well. It penalizes the propaganda of only “the methods of the terrorist organizations that include aggression, violence and threats.” In other words, a mere poster of Öcalan will not be a crime anymore. A poster which says, “Go PKK, bomb and kill them” will be.

In other words, the reform seems to be a key effort to have less “thought crimes” in courts, and thus less journalists and activists in jail. When it passes soon, the problems of the Turkish judicial system will still be far from resolved, but an important step forward will have been taken.

February/16/2013

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