Reaction sparks change from prison to fines for journalists

March 04, 2011, Friday/ 17:50:00/ MUSTAFA TURAN

Prison sentences continues to threaten freedom of the press in Turkey for journalists writing about the Ergenekon, Balyoz, Action Plan to Fight Reactionaryism and similar cases, all of which are closely followed by the public.

With strong negative reactions to the prison sentences handed down to journalists, courts are now putting priority on imposing fines rather than prison sentences. Journalist-writer Nazlı Ilıcak has experienced exactly such a situation.

In a court case calling for a prison sentence for Ilıcak because of alleged insults to an Ergenekon suspect, retired Col. Hasan Atilla Uğur, in one of the journalist’s newspaper columns, the court instead converted the prison sentence to a fine of TL 1,740. In this case, the judge noted that negative public reaction to the possible prison sentence for Ilıcak had played a significant role in the conversion of the sentence to a monetary fine.

The most recent hearing in the Ilıcık case took place yesterday in Istanbul’s 2nd Criminal Court. Ilıcak did not appear at the hearing but was represented by her lawyer. Prosecutor Atilla Ayvacı reminded the court that the reason for the case was in fact a column by Ilıcak from Dec. 2, 2008, which prompted a formal complaint from Uğur, who alleged Ilıcak had insulted him and “attempted to influence the course of justice.” Ayvacı said the actual crime in Ilıcak’s column was contained in the words, “The orders for the murder of Mardin Commander Rıdvan Özden were put together by Atilla Uğur, then a gendarmerie commander in a town near Mardin.” Ayvacı pressed for a prison sentence of between three months and two years for Ilıcak based on the crime of “insult.” Ilıcak’s lawyer, Fatma Selcen, asserted that she did not accept the prosecutor’s allegations and called for the acquittal of her client. According to Judge Sevim Efendiler’s decision, while Ilıcak’s columns had insulted Uğur, she was fining Ilıcak TL 1,740 rather than ordering a prison sentence. As for the charge of trying to “influence the course of justice,” Ilıcak was acquitted on all counts. Judge Efendiler noted a perception had arisen in the public that prison sentences for journalists were negatively affecting freedom of the press in Turkey and that from now on there would be a focus placed on converting such sentences to fines instead.

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