New Turkish Press Coalition Calls for Release of Imprisoned Journalists

ISTANBUL (Hurriyet)—A new coalition of 14 journalists’ unions and associations in Turkey is calling for the release of more than forty-seven journalists in Turkey imprisoned and awaiting trial under political charges.

There are currently more than 700 ongoing criminal and civil cases involving journalists in Turkey. There are also 27 articles in the Turkish Penal Code that limit the freedom of the press in addition to two in the Anti-Terror Law.

The so called “Freedom for Journalists Platform” has said it will support every media member on trial for reporting, regardless of ideology. The coalition held its first meeting in Istanbul on Wednesday with the Press Council as host and elected Orhan Erinc as its first term president, to serve for two months. Erinc is also the chairman of the Turkish Journalists Association, or TGC,

The coalition says it first came together to discuss the “undesirable articles” of the Turkish Penal Code in terms of its effect on freedom of the press and communication. The meeting resulted in the founding of the Platform and an “acting commission.”

Atilla Sertel, chairman for the Turkish Journalists Federation, said the Platform wants to see all arrested journalists immediately released pending trial. “We are calling on other professional press organizations that did not attend this meeting to take their places in this platform,” Sertel said.

Oktay Eksi, chairman for the Press Council and a columnist for Hurriyet, said some members of the Platform first met on August 18 and noted that they had visited Silivri Prison in support of journalist Mustafa Balbay and Tuncay Ozkan. Both are suspects in the Ergenekon case, an ongoing investigation into an alleged ultranationalist, shadowy gang accused of planning to topple the government by staging a coup by spreading chaos and mayhem.

Deniz Ergurel, the general secretary of the Media Association, one of the groups that did not accept the invitation to join the new Platform, told the Hurriyet on Friday that although the Association agrees with the cause, it did not feel the platform would be impartial because of its strong stance on the Ergenekon suspects.

He added that he personally thinks it is not right for the journalists to be tried under arrest when the accused soldiers are not.

Erinc, the Platform’s new president, however told Hurriyet the group would support every journalist, regardless of ideology.

When asked whether the Platform would support Mehmet Baransu, a reporter for daily Taraf and the journalist with the most ongoing legal cases against him, as he is ideologically opposed to Balbay and Ozkan, Erinç replied: “Is it possible that we would not?”

Erinc noted that Baransu was given an award by the TGC this year and said Balbay and Ozkan were on the Platform’s agenda because they are symbolic names in terms of their cause, but he emphasized that the group would support all journalists.

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