The Imprisonment of Ragip Duran

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Mr Duran's imprisonment provides further evidence of the arbitrary nature of laws in Turkey that restrict free expression and constitutes a clear violation of Turkey's international human rights obligations. -- Human Rights Watch

At any given moment, there is a sort of all pervading orthodoxy, a general tacit agreement not to discuss large and uncomfortable facts. -- George Orwell

Ragip Duran, former BBC journalist, was sentenced on 17 June 1998 to a term of imprisonment. Ragip Duran's 'crime' was to have written an article in 1994 based upon an interview with Abdullah Ocalan (President of PKK). In Turkey freedom of expression is a terrorist offence.

19 December 1994, the No 5 Istanbul State Security Court found Ragip Duran guilty of violating Article 7 of the 1991 Anti-Terror Law, which prohibits conducting 'propaganda for outlawed organizations.' The conviction was based on a 1994 article in which Ragip Duran referred to Abdullah Ocalan as a 'Kurdish Garibaldi' (the Italian fighter). The article appeared in a now defunct pro-Kurdish daily newspaper.

Ragip Duran had written a similar article in March 1991 in which he referred to Abdullah Ocalan as a Kurdish Zapatista (the Mexican rebels fighting government corruption). He was not prosecuted for the 1991 article. The laws are enforced in a very arbitrary fashion according to the prevailing political climate with the resultant effect that many journalists engage in self-censorship to avoid the risk of prosecution.

Ragip Duran is confined in prison in the Saray district of Tekirda province in western Turkey.

The sentence has been strongly condemned by Human Rights Watch. 'Ragip Duran should have been free to publish both articles without facing legal sanctions. These articles fall squarely within the limits of protected speech that is guaranteed by international human rights law,' said Holly Cartner, the executive director of HRW Europe and Central Asia division. She added 'All of Turkey's citizens, especially its lawmakers, need to ask themselves what purpose is served and how Turkey is strengthened by prosecuting writers, intellectuals and journalists such as Ragip Duran, Esber Yagmurdereli ...'

Article 7 of the 1991 Anti-Terror Law is just one of many laws used by the Turkish state to silence free speech and freedom of expression. In applying such laws Turkey is in breach of its international treaty obligations.

Ragip Duran has been awarded the Hellman/Hammett award by Human Rights Watch. The Hellman/Hammett is given to journalists and writers who face state repression.

List of Turkish Laws Violating Free Expression, HRW

Imprisonment Of Well-Known Turkish Journalist Underscores Arbitrary Nature Of Restrictive Press Laws, HRW, 18 June 1998

Further information on the Imprisonment of Ragip Duran may be obtained from:
Human Rights Watch
tel +1 212 216-1277 (New York) / +1 202 371-6592 (Washington)

Justice in Turkey? ~
(c) Keith Parkins 1998 -- June 1998 rev 1