PEN centres to observe free expression trials in Turkey

International free expression groups will be watching Turkey closely in March when a writer and a publisher accused of insulting the government and inciting hatred go on trial. The International Publishers Association (IPA), Norwegian PEN, the Writers in Prison Committees of International PEN and English PEN (WiPC) and Human Rights Watch will be sending observers to Turkey to monitor the trials of Fikret Baskaya and Ragip Zarakolu.

Baskaya, an economics professor and author, and Zarakolu, a book publisher, both English PEN honorary members, are scheduled to appear before courts in Ankara and Istanbul on 2 March 2005. Baskaya is charged under Article 159/1 of the Penal Code with insulting the state and the military. If convicted, he could be jailed for up to three years in prison. Zarakolu is charged under Article 312 of the Penal Code for “incitement to racial hatred” and faces two years in jail. As owner and director of Belge Publishing House, he published an issue of “Ozgur Politka” magazine in March 2003 which included an article that criticised the Turkish government’s treatment of Kurds.

A December 2004 EU monitoring report says while free expression conditions in Turkey have “improved significantly” in recent years, some journalists and citizens continue to be prosecuted for expressing their opinions. The report says Turkey‘s Penal Code “provides only limited progress as regards freedom of expression.”

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