ISTANBUL – Hürriyet Daily News
Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The European Court of Human Rights has joined the fray and passed a decision also criticizing freedom of the press in Turkey.The court found Turkey guilty in a case opened by four dailies that were closed by the Turkish government, and adjudicated that Turkey should pay compensation to the plaintiffs, owners, executive directors, editors-in-chief, news directors and journalists of the four dailies.The publication of dailies Ülkede Özgür Gündem, Gündem, Güncel, and Gerçek Demokrasi was regularly suspended by an Istanbul court between November 2006 and October 2007, for periods ranging from 15 days to a month.The publications were considered propaganda in favor of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, that approved of crimes committed by that organization and its members while at the same disclosing the identity of officials with anti-terrorist duties, thus making them targets for terrorist attacks.The European court adjudicated that this closing of newspapers was a violation of Article 19 (freedom of expression and information) of the European Convention on Human Rights. The court found that Turkey unjustifiably restricted the “essential role of the press as a public watch-dog in a democratic society, in violation of Article 10.”“Under Article 41 of the convention, the court awarded the applicants sums ranging between 5,000 euros and 40,000 euros in respect of pecuniary damage, 1,800 euros to each applicant in respect of non-pecuniary damage and 5,000 euros to the applicants jointly for costs,” read the statement on the court’s Web site.“It makes me sad to see Turkey become subject to such penalties,” said Ferai Tınç, a daily Hürriyet columnist and the International Press Institute’s, or IPI, Turkish national committee chairwoman. “Trying to frighten and silence journalists through political means, closing of newspapers shows that in terms of press freedoms, Turkey is behind in its democratic experiences,” she said. “It points to a level that is not in line with Turkey’s democratic process.”Tınç said freedom of the press should be evaluated on the basis of Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.The article reads: “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”Tınç said: “Closing of newspapers is a direct intervention on the right of humans to be informed.”The European court’s decision follows a report by Reporters Without Borders, or RSF, that was released on Tuesday. In the RSF report, Turkey fell 20 places in the last year on the index chart for press freedom.“Turkey’s big fall was due to a surge in cases of censorship, especially censorship of media that represent minorities (above all the Kurds), and efforts by members of government bodies, the armed forces and judicial system to maintain their control over coverage of matters of general interest,” the RSF report said.“The court’s decision shows how disproportionate the decision of the Turkish justice system was,” RSF’s Europe Desk Officer Elsa Vidal said in an interview with the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review. Vidal said other options should be considered before closing newspapers. “I believe the decision by the court to be a good one. I hope it helps Turkish authorities find more appropriate ways to deal with newspapers, even if they think the papers are dangerous for national identity,” she said.“There is a problem of freedom of expression in Turkey, not only for minority journalists but all journalists,” said Vidal, adding that Turkish laws needed to be amended, including Article 301 of the Penal Code and the law against terrorism. “The law should be proportionate; not closing newspapers but, for example, asking for a proportionate fine to be paid,” she said.Vidal believes that although the European court’s decision may not be enough alone to bring about changes, but together with other statements from the European Union and collaboration with NGOs, changes could come.“NGOs should keep communicating with the Turkish government. It is our duty as NGOs to ask for concrete changes, such as an amendment in laws. There is a big problem in freedom of expression in Turkey but we can find a way to change it if we communicate,” said Vidal.© 2009 Hurriyet Daily News