Monday, June 23, 2008

OSCE media freedom representative protests prison sentence handed to publisher of book on Turkish history

VIENNA, 19 June 2008 - Miklos Haraszti, the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, today condemned the five-month prison sentence handed down to Turkish publisher Ragip Zarakolu for "insulting the institutions of the Turkish Republic" despite the fact that Article 301 of Turkey's Penal Code was recently reformed.
"It is disappointing that despite recent changes in the law, serious obstacles to free speech in Turkey remain. People are still jailed for publishing peaceful ideas," said Haraszti. "Freedom of debate in Turkey will increase only if the government stops trying to control the debate in the first place. Article 301 must be abolished altogether."
Following a reform of Article 301 in April, the maximum prison sentence was reduced from three years to two, and the crime of "insulting Turkishness" was changed to "insulting the Turkish nation".
On 17 June, an Istanbul court found Zarakolu guilty of "insulting the institutions of the Turkish Republic" for publishing a Turkish translation of "The Truth Will Set Us Free" by British author George Jerjian. The book covers the killings of Armenians in 1915.
The sentence is commutable to a monetary fine, but Zarakolu has said he opposes paying the fine on principle and will appeal the verdict. Following the amendments, cases under Article 301 must be referred to the Justice Ministry. However, the judge decided not to refer Zarakolu's case on the basis that it was launched under Article 159, an earlier version of the current Article 301 of the Penal Code.
"Regardless of the legal dispute over this particular case, publishing a book critical about a country's history should not be criminalized in a democracy. The Helsinki principles, to which OSCE participating States including Turkey have committed, provide for the free flow of information and ideas," said Haraszti.
In May 2008, Zarakolu was the recipient of the International Publishers Association's Freedom to Publish Prize.

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