Country of Origin Information Report


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14.14 As noted in the Human Rights Watch (HRW) World Report 2008, covering events of 2007 published 31 January 2008:
“After its electoral victory in July, the new AKP government failed to take immediate steps to restart the stalled reform process by lifting restrictions on freedom of expression such as article 301, and elements of the legal establishment opposed to reform continued to prosecute and convict individuals for speech-related offences, as well as for staging unauthorized demonstrations. Over 2007 hundreds of individuals, among them journalists, writers, publishers, academics, human rights defenders, and, above all, officials of Kurdish political parties and associations, were prosecuted. Some were convicted.” [9b]
14.15 The IHD (Human Rights Association) 2007 Summary Sheet on Human Rights Violations in Turkey recorded that 34 meetings and demonstration intervened by security forces; 29 numbers of investigations were opened against 638 people and 17 cases opened in 2007 against 353 people. 16 cases opened before 2007 against 359 were postponed to 2008. In 5 concluded cases 111 people were sentenced to 170 years and 3 months imprisonment, 9879 YTL fine in total and cases against 49 people were dropped. [73b] (Violations against freedom of Meeting and Demonstration)

14.16 As noted in a Country of Origin Research of the Canada Immigration and Refugee Board, Ottawa, dated 7 June 2007 entitled Turkey: Situation and treatment of members, supporters and sympathizers of the Democratic Society Party, it was noted that:

“Amnesty International (AI) reports that in October 2006 a trial began involving 56 mayors belonging to the DTP, who were accused by the Turkish government of supporting the PKK after they had sent a letter to the Danish Prime Minister requesting that the Denmark-based Kurdish television station, Roj TV, not be shut down (AI 2007; EurasiaNet 4 May 2007). As of April 2007, the trial was ongoing, and the convicted mayors could expect up to 15 years’ imprisonment if convicted (Anadolu Agency 4 Apr. 2007; RSF 9 Apr. 2007; AFP 6 Apr. 2007). Further information could not be found among the sources consulted by the IRB.” [7i]
14.17 The Minority Rights Group International (MRG) report on ‘A Quest for Equality: Minorities in Turkey’ published 10 December 2007 stated that:
“The amendments made to the Law on Associations in November 2004 lifted many of the restrictions on the freedom of association. Most importantly, the establishment of associations is no longer subject to prior authorization. The reforms also created more space for minorities to exercise their freedom of association, inter alia by setting up associations to develop their culture. Following these reforms, some minorities, such as Roma, Caucasians and Assyrians, have set up such associations. Associations are allowed to use minority languages in non-official correspondence. However, the law retains a ban on the establishment of associations to realize purposes prohibited under the Constitution. The over-inclusive reading of this principle by Turkish prosecutors and judges in the past has resulted in the inclusion among prohibited purposes, inter alia, of the advocacy of peaceful solutions to the Kurdish problem.” [57c] (p23)

14.18 The MRG 2007 report also stated that “Indeed, on 21 August 2007, MuratÖztürk, President of the Ağrı branch of the pro-Kurdish Democratic Society Party (Demokratik Toplum Partisi-DTP) was convicted to one year imprisonment under Article 7(2) of the anti-terror law for a speech he made inthe Newroz celebrations on 21 March 2007.” [57c] (p23)

14.19 The above MRG 2007 report also stated that:
“Kurdish politicians face continuing prosecutions for their activities. In February and March 2007, a series of arrests, searches, seizures and prosecutions have been launched against leaders of the DTP, the latest of successive pro-Kurdish political parties. On 18 February, İbrahim Sungur and Abdulvahap Turan, President of the Van branch and member of the DTP respectively, were arrested for making propaganda for the PKK during a police raid on the party headquarters in Van. On 23 February, Hilmi Aydoğdu, the President of the Diyarbakır branch, was arrested on the basis that he violated Article 216 by allegedly stating in an interview that his party would ‘consider any future attack on Kerkuk [in Iraq] as an attack on Diyarbakır’.” [57c] (p27)
14.20 The MRG 2007 report further noted that:
“The ban against the use of minority languages has resulted in frequent prosecutions against individuals for speaking Kurdish. The former president and 12 executives of the pro-Kurdish Party for Rights and Liberties (Hak ve Özgürlükler Partisi, HAK-PAR) were sentenced in February 2007 to six months to one year in prison for making speeches in Kurdish during their party congress and sending invitations in Kurdish to the President, Prime Minister and the President of the Parliament. The court also decided to call on the prosecutor to file a case for the dissolution of the party. A similar case for the formal closure of the Democratic People’s Party (Demokratik Halk Partisi, DEHAP) is pending before the Constitutional Court.” [57c] (p27)

See Section 19 Ethnic Groups

14.21 The Freedom House report ‘Countries at the Crossroads 2007’ stated that:

“Turkish laws establish a framework for democratic elections generally in line with international standards, although with certain restrictions. A party can be shut down if its program is not in agreement with the constitution, and this can be widely interpreted to include support for Kurdish insurgents and opposition to state pillars such as secularism and the military. Restrictions are used to target certain groups. While even small gatherings can face difficulties, the most extreme example is the Kurdish Democratic ’People’s Party (DEHAP), which is accused of being the political arm of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) – recently renamed Kongra-Gel and considered a terrorist organization by the Turkish government as well as by the EU and the United States. DEHAP has faced continual legal battles and arrests. Still, DEHAP does not represent the interests of most Kurds, who, when living outside the southeast, are generally more integrated and participate in mainstream politics.” [62c] (Accountability and Public Voice)

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15 Freedom of speech and media
15.01 The European Commission 2007 Progress report published 6 November 2007 stated that:

“As regards freedom of expression, including the media, open debate continued in the Turkish media on a wide range of issues, including those perceived to be sensitive by Turkish society. However, the prosecution and conviction for the expression of non-violent opinions under certain provisions of the Turkish Criminal Code are a cause of serious concern. The number of persons prosecuted almost doubled in 2006 compared with in 2005), and there was a further increase in the number of prosecutions in 2007. More than half of these charges were brought under the Criminal Code, and in particular under article 301, which penalises insulting ‘Turkishness’, the Republic and the organs and institutions of the state. The restrictive jurisprudence established in 2006 by the Court of Cassation on article 301 remains in force. Against this background, article 301 needs to be brought in line with the relevant EU standards. The same applies to other legal provisions which have been used to prosecute the non-violent expression of opinions and may limit freedom of expression. The potential impact of the anti-terror law on freedom of expression is a concern.” [71c] (p13-14)

15.02 Reporters Without Borders in an article ‘Freedom of expression still in danger in Turkey despite article 301 reform’ published on 5 May 2008 noted that: “Amendments to a law punishing insults to Turkish identity which the Turkish parliament adopted on 30 April are ‘cosmetic and insufficient,’ Reporters Without Borders said today. Furthermore, this reform concerns only article 301. Any real improvement in freedom of expression in Turkey would have to include a thorough overhaul of all the laws and regulations that restrict it. The limited nature of this reform highlights the size of the problem that free speech poses to the Turkish authorities.” [11d]
15.03 The Reporters Without Borders article further noted that “According to justice minister Mehmet Ali Sahin, 1,189 people were taken before a court in the first quarter of 2007 alone for article 301 violations. Nobel prize-winning novelist Orhan Pamuk and Armenian-Turkish newspaper editor Hrant Dink, who was murdered by ultranationalists in Istanbul on 19 January 2007, were among those prosecuted under the article.” [11d]
15.04 The US State Department Report (USSD) 2007, published on 11 March 2008, noted that:

“The law provides for freedom of speech and of the press; however, the government continued to limit these freedoms in occasional cases. The government intimidated journalists into practicing self-censorship. The government, particularly the police and judiciary, limited freedom of expression through the use of constitutional restrictions and numerous laws, including articles of the penal code prohibiting insults to the government the state, ‘Turkishness’ Ataturk, or the institutions and symbols of the republic. Other laws, such as the Anti terror Law and laws governing the press and elections also restricted speech.” [5g] (Section 2a)

15.05 The IHD (Human Rights Association) 2007 Summary Table on Human Rights Violations in Turkey recorded that 11 people were tried under section 159 of the Turkish Penal Code and section 301 of the new Turkish Penal Code in 24 cases. Under article 125 on insult there are 10 people showing as being tried and under article 215 on praise a crime or a criminal a total number of 43 cases were opened in 2007. A total of 39 cases under article 215 were opened before 2007 and continue in this period. [73b] (Investigations against those who expressed their opinions)
15.06 The HRW World report 2008 stated that:
“After its electoral victory in July, the new AKP government failed to take immediate steps to restart the stalled reform process by lifting restrictions on freedom of expression such as article 301, and elements of the legal establishment opposed to reform continued to prosecute and convict individuals for speech-related offences, as well as for staging unauthorized demonstrations. Over 2007 hundreds of individuals, among them journalists, writers, publishers, academics, human rights defenders, and, above all, officials of Kurdish political parties and associations, were prosecuted. Some were convicted.” [9b] (Freedom of Expression and Assembly)

15.07 The BIA 2007 Media Monitoring Report stated that “there are still countless violations of press freedom across the country. There were also more attacks on journalists in 2007 than in the previous year, with the shocking murder of Hrant Dink still fresh in ’everyone’s mind. Emrullah Özbey, owner of the local Mus Haber 49 newspaper in the east of Turkey, said that he had been threatened for alleging that a school rector who did not give contracts to the nephew of the AKP province chair without a public bid was forcibly transferred by the Mus Educational Authority.” [102c]

15.11 An article by Amnesty International (AI) Turkey ‘article 301, how the law on denigrating Turkishness is an insult to free expression’, dated 3 Janury 2006, recorded that:
“Hrant Dink is a journalist and the editor of the Armenian-language weekly newpaper Agos, which is published in Istanbul. On 7 October 2005, Hrant Dink was given a six-month suspended prison sentence by the Şişli Court of First Instance No. 2 in Istanbul for denigrating Turkishness in an article he wrote on Armenian identity. The court suspended the sentence as the journalist had no previous convictions, on condition that he does not repeat the offence. The Court of Appeal overturned this decision on 24 February 2006.” [12g]
15.12 In the same article, Amnesty International, however, welcomes news that in another case brought against him under Article 301, Hrant Dink was acquitted by Şanlıurfa Court of First Instance No. 3 on 9 February 2006. He had been charged under Article 159 of the previous Turkish penal code (now Article 301) for a speech he made during a conference sorganised by the non governmental sorganisation Mazlum Der’s Urfa branch on 14 December 2002 entitled ‘Global Security, Terror and Human Rights, Multi-culturalism, Minorities and Human Rights’. [12g]
15.13 AI further noted that Birol Duru is a journalist charged with denigrating the security forces under Article 301 because he reported for the Dicle news agency the issuing of a press release by the Human Rights Association (İHD) Bingöl branch which stated that the security forces were burning forests in Bingöl and Tunceli.

Erol Özkoray, publishing director of İdea Politika magazine, faces a trial under Article 301 on charges brought under the previous Article 159 in connection with two articles on the magazine’s website, ‘The new barbarians and the Taliban in epaulettes’ (“Yeni Barbarlar ve Apoletli Talibanlar”) and ‘What’s the point of the army?’ (“Ordu ne işe yarar?”). Separate prosecutions against each article resulted in conviction, but the cases were combined when they were sent to the Court of Cassation. The next hearing of the case is due to take place on 2 June at the Şişli Court of Second Instance.

The trial of singer Ferhat Tunç under Article 301 is reportedly scheduled to continue on 31 May 2006 at Beyoğlu 2nd Criminal Court of First Instance. He is charged with “denigrating the judicial organs of the State” after a 2004 article entitled ‘A revolutionary Leyla and a song’ in Özgür Gündem newspaper in which he had commented critically on the judiciary for the decision not to release Leyla Zana and another three former DEP parliamentarians on bail pending the outcome of their retrial. The charges were originally brought under Article 159 of the previous Turkish Penal Code.
The newspaper’s editor, Mehmet Çolak, is also prosecuted in connection with the same article. On 22 December 2005, Istanbul Penal Court of First Instance No. 2 sentenced author Zülküf Kışanak to five months’ imprisonment on charges of insulting the Turkish Republic in his book ‘How the Inheritance of Thousands of Years was Burned: Lost Villages (Bin Yılların Mirası Nasıl Yakıldı: Yitik Köyler)’. The sentence was commuted to a fine of 3000 YTL [c. US$ 2,260]. [12g]
15.14 Reporters Without Borders (RSF), in their 2007 annual report on Freedom of the Press Worldwide –Turkey, noted that:
“Turks are divided on the issue. The EU enlargement commission’s report on 8 November said press freedom must improve and that freedom of expression in line with European standards is not yet guaranteed by the present legal framework (...) Article 301 and other provisions of the Turkish penal code that restrict freedom of expression need to be brought in line with the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR).

“The strong campaign for and against Turkish EU membership and the award of the Nobel Prize for literature to a writer, being prosecuted for his work forced the Prime Minister to publicly declare support for amending article 301. Several journalists prosecuted under it said they would take their cases to the European Human Rights Court.” [11b]

15.15 Reporters Without Borders (RSF) in their 2007 annual report further noted that:
“Amendments to the country’s anti-terrorist law that were approved by parliament on 29 June also threatened freedom of expression by allowing imprisonment for printing news about ‘terrorist organisations’ and raised fears of unjustified prosecution of journalists who dared to mention the subject. Rüstu Demirkaya, of the pro-Kurdish news agency Diha, was jailed on 14 June in the eastern town of Tunceli for ‘collaborating with the PKK/Kongra-Gel’ after a former militant reportedly accused him of giving the PKK a laptop and 10 blank CDs and telling the party about an ongoing military operation. He faces up to 12 years in prison.” [11b]
15.16 The EC 2007 Progress report noted that:
“Judicial proceedings and threats against human rights defenders, journalists and academics have created a climate which has led to occurrences of self-censorship in the country, including in the academic field. The weekly newspaper Nokta, which published several articles on issues relating to the military, stopped its publication in April 2007 at the decision of the owner. This followed a police raid on the ’paper’s premises at the instruction of the public prosecutor acting on behalf of the General Staff Military Prosecutor. Journalistic freedom on military issues is restricted by an internal memorandum from the General Staff, which establishes that journalists most critical of the army are to be denied accreditation to military receptions and briefings.” [71c] (p15)

15.16 The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) in their 2007 report ‘Attacks on the Press in 2007 – Turkey’ noted that “In the last 15 years, 18 other Turkish journalists have been killed for their work, many of them murdered, making it the eighth-deadliest country in the world for journalists, CPJ research shows. The last killing was in 1999. More recently, journalists, academics, and others have been subjected to pervasive legal harassment for statements that allegedly insult the Turkish identity, CPJ research shows.” [15a]

15.17 The same CPJ 2007 report also noted that “In July 2006, ’Turkey’s High Court of Appeals upheld a six-month suspended prison sentence against Dink for violating Article 301 of the penal code in a case sparked by complaints from nationalist activists. His prosecution stemmed from a series of articles in early 2004 dealing with the collective memory of the Armenian massacres of 1915-17 under the Ottoman Empire. Armenians call the killings the first genocide of the 20th century, a term that Turkey rejects.” [15a]
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Media and Press
15.17 The US State Department Report (USSD) 2007, published on 11 March 2008, noted that:
“Turkey had an active print media independent of state control. There were hundreds of private newspapers that spanned the political spectrum… Most media were owned by large, private holding companies that had a wide range of outside business interests; the concentration of media ownership influenced the content of reporting and limited the scope of debate. Observers noted that media conglomerates increasingly used media as a tool to build pressure against government policies.” [5g] (Section 2a)
15.18 The USSD 2007 report noted that:

“Prosecutors harassed writers, journalists, and political figures by bringing dozens of cases to court each year under various laws that restrict media freedom; however, judges dismissed many of these charges. Police harassed and beat journalists during at least one demonstration. Authorities ordered raids of newspaper offices, closed newspapers temporarily, issued fines, or confiscated newspapers for violating speech codes. Despite government restrictions, the media criticized government leaders and policies daily and in many cases adopted an adversarial role with respect to the government.” [5g] (Section 2a)

15.19 The USSD 2007 report noted that:
“In April an Istanbul court began investigating journalists Lale Sariibrahimoglu of Today's Zaman newspaper and Ahmet Sik of Nokta newsmagazine under Article 301, after Sik published a Nokta story in which Sariibrahimoglu expressed concern about the ‘mentality’ of the military and its role in internal security. The court held its first hearing on November 12; the case continued at year's end.” [5g] (Section 2a)
15.20 In the year 2008, Turkey ranked 106 (out of 195 countries) in the Freedom House Table of Global Press Freedom Rankings and the status of its press was considered ‘partly free’. [62b] In the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) ‘Worldwide Press Freedom Index 2007’, the ranking of Turkey was 98 out of 167 countries in 2005/06 but in 2007 it ranked 101 out of 169 countries (ranging from one for the most free to 169 for the least free). The previous ranking for Turkey in 2004 was 113. [11a]
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The High Board of Radio and Television (RTÜK)

15.21 The United States Department of State (USSD) 2007 report published 11 March 2008 noted that:

“The government owned and operated the Turkish Radio and Television Corporation (TRT). According to the High Board of Radio and Television (RTUK), there were 213 local, 16 regional, and 23 national officially registered television stations and 952 local, 102 regional, and 36 national radio stations. Other television and radio stations broadcast without an official license. The wide availability of satellite dishes and cable television allowed access to foreign broadcasts, including several Kurdish-language private channels.” [5g] (Section 2a)

15.22 The USSD 2007 report noted that:
“The government maintained significant restrictions on the use of Kurdish and other minority languages in radio and television broadcasts. RTUK regulations limited minority-language news broadcasts to 45 minutes per day, with no time restrictions for minority-language cultural shows or films. RTUK regulations required non-Turkish-language radio programs be followed by the same program in Turkish and that non-Turkish-language television programs have Turkish subtitles. Start-up Kurdish broadcasters reported that these were onerous financial obligations that prevented their entry into the market. The state-owned TRT broadcasting company provided limited national programming in Kurdish and three other minority languages.” [5g] (Section 2a)
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15.23 The European Commission 2007 Progress report published 6 November 2007 recorded that:
“As in previous progress reports, the issue of independence, including adequate funding of the public service broadcaster TRT and RTÜK remains a matter of concern. In particular, a number of sanctions imposed by RTÜK, on private media raise question marks over its independence. With regard to the administration of the broadcasting sector, RTÜK has not reallocated frequencies and reviewed temporary licences. The new regulation on licensing and authorisation of cabled transmissions obliges cable operators not to transmit programmes of foreign origin, if these are deemed inappropriate by RTÜK. This obligation is not compatible with the Television without Frontiers Directive.” [71c] (p43)

15.24 The Freedom House report, “Countries at the Crossroads, Turkey – 2007” noted that:

“Turkey’s constitution establishes freedom of the media (Articles 28-31), and EU harmonization reforms have included many measures to reduce political pressure on the media – including an improved Press Law in 2004. Nevertheless, major impediments remain. Turkey’s Supreme Council of Radio and Television (RTUK) has the authority to sanction broadcasters if they are not in compliance with the law or its expansive broadcasting principles; fines and cancellation of programs or licenses occur. In February 2007, television station Kanal Turk reported attempts by officials to intimidate it into curtailing reporting critical of the ruling party.” [62c] (Accountability and Public Voice)
15.25 The Kurdish Human Rights Project (KHRP) in their 2007 Fact Finding Mission report ‘Reform and Regression: Freedom of the Media in Turkey’ stated that:

“The mission was uncertain about the role and independence of the media regulatory body RTÜK. Although it must decide on suspensions of broadcasting, RTÜK was reported to lack expertise and staff who speak Kurdish. Further, as was pointed out by the EU in its 2005 Progress Report, the police monitor local broadcasts on behalf of RTÜK. This was said to lead to them being unduly reliant on translations provided by the police to launch investigations against Kurdish language broadcasters. This was raised as an area of concern to the mission, given that the police increasingly harass members of the opposition media. It was the general perception of those with whom the mission met that police translations may prove less than objective due to possible personal prejudices and lack of cultural awareness of Kurdish issues. The mission further heard that under the new Anti-Terror Law, the police were raiding television and radio outlets and preventing broadcasting without RTÜK’s authorisation. Meanwhile, the government’s recent decisions in relation to RTÜK’s appointment procedure further appear to have contributed to its perceived state-orientated outlook.” [6b] (Section vi)

15.26 The United States Department of State (USSD) 2007 report published 11 March 2008 stated that “Limitations on freedom of expression expanded to the Internet, as Turkish courts on several occasions ordered telecommunications providers to block access to Web sites… The Internet was widely available in the country. It is used in schools, libraries, private internet cafes and other public locations, and the government encouraged its use.” [5g] (Section 2a)
15.27 The European Commission 2007 Progress report published 6 November 2007 stated that:
“Some progress can be reported in the field of electronic communications and information technologies… The broadband market has increased significantly mainly through the ’incumbent’s digital subscriber lines (DSL). The ’incumbent’s internet service provider (ISP) has 97% of the market share, but all DSL access options were recently offered to alternative ISPs. Fixed network competition remains limited and the new entrants are not allowed to offer local telephone services. [71c] (p43) 8.7% of the households have internet access at home in 2005 compared to the 7.0% in 2004.” [71c] (p 80)
15.28 The Freedom House report ‘Freedom of the press 2007’ noted that, “An estimated 13 percent of the Turkish population was able to access the internet in 2005, and the government refrains from restricting the internet beyond the same censorship policies that it applies to other media.” [62e]

15.29 The Freedom House, Countries at the Crossroads, Turkey – 2007 noted that “Internet freedom can also be affected; a court ordered Turkey’s main internet provider to ban access to video-sharing website YouTube in March as a result of a video making fun of Ataturk. A draft bill on internet crimes would ban access to Turkish websites with content related to crimes defined under the new anti-terror law (see ‘Rule of Law’).” [62c]
15.30 The Kurdish Human Rights Project (KHRP) in their 2007 Fact Finding Mission report ‘Reform and Regression: Freedom of the Media in Turkey’ published October 2007 stated that:
“It learnt that in many cities in Turkey the police produce a list of internet sites that are considered to be obscene. The list is subsequently circulated to internet cafes, so that the listed sites can be blocked from public access through the use of imposed filters. According to Dicle News Agency (DİHA), the list is intended to protect against child pornography and other illicit behaviour, yet with no central monitoring body, the nature and application of this practice is quite arbitrary, and is used as a means to block Kurdish websites and those of other opposition media. The law also allows the government to block websites ‘when there is sufficient evidence of the improper aspect of content’. The new Internet Censorship bill therefore has the potential to dramatically affect the media’s ability to publicise material online. According to Human Rights Assiciation of Turkey (İHD), between January to June 2007, seven websites had been banned.” Footnote: 196. The law has already been used to ban access to YouTube because of the availability of materials allegedly insulting to Atatürk. Access was restored only after YouTube removed the offensive video. [6b] (p67)

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