Cablegate: Istanbul Writers Speak Out On Freedom Of

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.





E.O. 12958: N/A


C. 04 ANKARA 6116

This message is sensitive but unclassified-- not for internet

1. (SBU) Summary: A "Gathering for Freedom of Expression"
November 19-22 in Istanbul brought local writers, authors and
activists together to evaluate the state of free speech in
Turkey. Though Noam Chomsky's counter-intuitive (and perhaps
garbled) statement that Europe has much to learn from Turkey
about the topic monopolized press attention, more meaningful
was participants' conclusion that the 2004 Turkish Penal Code
was a step backward for freedom of expression in Turkey.
Attendees agreed that self-censorship still exists in Turkey,
and has in fact intensified as a result of the continuing
prosecution of publishers and authors. End summary.

2. (U) Istanbul's Initiative for Freedom of Expression and
local branches of Amnesty International, International PEN
and Turkey's Human Rights Association, among others,
organized a "Gathering for Freedom of Expression" in Istanbul
November 19-22. Six Istanbul municipalities were listed as
"supporters," and offered community centers and municipal
theaters for activities throughout the event. Among those
addressing the gathering were Orhan Pamuk and Noam Chomsky
(the latter via a video greeting).

3. (U) In his address, Pamuk repeated the phrase that
resulted in criminal charges against him -- that one million
Armenians and 30,000 Kurds had been killed in Turkey (ref A)
-- emphasizing that for him, "these are scholarly issues...I
am a novelist. I address human suffering and pain, and it is
obvious, even in Turkey, that there was an immense hidden
pain which we now have to face." Garnering the most press
coverage was Chomsky's surprising statement that Europe had
much to learn from Turkey in the area of freedom of
expression. Though papers did not reflect this, he (with
typical opacity) seemed to be referring to the vigor with
which free speech activists in Turkey are moving to defend
their rights.

Some Relaxation in the Mood...

4. (U) Writers and publishers evaluated the state of free
speech in Turkey in a November 22 panel discussion featuring
publisher Ragip Zarakolu and others who have faced charges
for their work. In the session, Reporters without Border
representative Erol Onderoglu expressed optimism about what
he called an increased awareness in Turkey about freedom of
expression issues, and society's acceptance of the legitimate
role the media plays in the public realm. Onderoglu pointed
out that cases brought against writers have not always
resulted in convictions; he noted a case in Batman where a
judge cited ECHR precedents in siding with a journalist and
telling the members of Parliament who brought the suit that
they must be prepared to "tolerate" criticism.

...But Still Many Risks

5. (U) Despite some advances, however, Onderoglu said the
government has not fully accepted the media's public service
role, and "never misses a chance to file a case." The
plaintiff with the highest number of cases against
journalists was the Joint Chiefs of Staff, he claimed, with
18 in 2005. Beyond court cases, said Onderoglu, 22 attacks
were committed against journalists in 2004, in the first nine
months of 2005 alone the number had reached 32. (Note: He
neither defined "attack" nor mentioned specific instances.
End note.)

6. (U) Onderoglu discussed the "sensitive" issues that
cause the most problems for journalists, putting Armenian
issues near the top of the list. In addition to the more
well-known Article 301 of the Penal Code, which covers
insults against the State and Turkishness (ref B), he said
Article 305 also restricts the Armenian debate with its
stipulation that "citizens who receive financial benefit from
a foreigner or a foreign institution directly or indirectly
with the purpose of taking an action against fundamental
national benefits...including independence and national
security" can be sentenced to ten years.

7. (U) Onderoglu also criticized Article 216 of the penal
code as it impacts the headscarf debate, saying it has
created confusion in the judiciary. Article 216 states that
a person who incites hatred toward others based on class,
race, religion in a way that might endanger public order can
be sentenced to up to three years in prison. Without
referring to specific cases, Onderoglu claimed some in the
judiciary equate wearing a head scarf with inciting hatred.
He closed by touching on local minority language
broadcasting, lamenting the slow pace in enacting reforms
that would allow such broadcasting in Kurdish. Ten
applications are pending, with no implementation since the
legislation had passed.

To What Are We Harmonizing?

8. (U) Panelist Metin Celal, chair of Turkey's Publishers'
Association, told the gathering that Turkey had taken a step
back in freedom of speech with the new Penal Code,
particularly Article 301. Celal focused on challenges facing
publishers, mentioning a recent case against Aram Publishing
House, publisher of a book by US author John Tirman, which
includes information about human rights violation in
southeast Turkey during the 1990's, and which allegedly
"insults the memory of Ataturk" in another chapter. Aram's
owner faces up to six and a half years in prison if
convicted. Celal, like Onderoglu, touched on Article 216
regarding incitement, citing the case of academics and former
members of the GOT's Human Rights Consultation Board being
prosecuted under this article for a report they published on
minorities last year (ref C). Lawyer and author Fethiye
Cetin (among whose clients is Hrant Dink) agreed the 2004
penal code had been a step back, arguing that it protects the
State rather than citizens. Many of the articles view
citizens' actions through a security lens, she said,
resulting in the judiciary's de facto consideration of
military and security policies in their decision-making.

Self-censorship Remains

9. (U) Nadire Mater, author and advisor to Bianet, a
network for monitoring and reporting on freedom of expression
issues in Turkey, argued that self-censorship is still common
among journalists here, especially as regards issues related
to the military. She highlighted the recent news that
descendants of Armenians who had died in 1915-16 had recently
won a USD 17 million settlement from French insurance company
Axa. Axa has a partnership in Turkey, Axa Oyak -- the
Turkish Armed Forces Pension fund. This could be an
important story, she said: Does Axa Oyak have some
connection to or role in solving "the Armenian problem"?
Zaman and Hurriyet did tackle the topic briefly, she said,
but many decided not to cover it, considering it too
sensitive. Celal alluded to a similar point in his
presentation, pointing out that with the precedents of fines
and charges against publishers, many houses were becoming
much more selective about the material they accepted.

Article 301: Ragip Zarakolu Update

10. (U) Publisher Ragip Zarakoglu currently has three cases
open against him, and a group of conference participants
attended hearings in two of the cases on November 21. The
Article 301 charges against him stem from two books he
published: Dora Sakayan's "Garabet Hacheryan's Izmir
Journal: An Armenian Doctor's Experiences," and George
Jerjian's "History Will Free Us All -- Turkish-Armenian
Conciliation." In the hearing regarding the Jerjian book,
material was sent to an expert committee that will determine
if the book is insulting; in the Sakayan case, the prosecutor
asked for six years imprisonment in his final statement,
calling for conviction for both insulting the state and the
armed forces. (Note: Conviction on one count of violating
Article 301 carries a maximum penalty of three years. End
note.) Hearings in the latter case will resume February 15.

12. (SBU) Comment: Orhan Pamuk's case may have monopolized
Western media attention, but the Istanbul gathering
illustrates how wide a net Turkish prosecutors have spread in
applying Turkey's new penal code. This is an area where even
Turkey's friend, EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn, has
been using increasingly strong language, issuing what Turkish
press called a "warning" about freedom of expression. The
conference highlighted activists' determination to continue
to shine the spotlight on and challenge freedom of speech
restrictions. They also made one important point that we
highlight regularly: while many cases may eventually be
dismissed, the very fact that they are brought brings about
an unhealthy degree of self-censorship. End comment.

© Scoop Media

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