Freedom of the press in Turkey has been on a constant decline in recent years, human-rights reports published annually by the U.S. State Department have revealed.

The first line of the 2010 report says: "the [Turkish] government continued to limit these [press] freedoms in a significant numbers of cases."

In the first years of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) government, the reports focused on the role of restrictive laws limiting freedom of the press, while later surveys drew attention to the role of government officials, including the prime minister.

Starting in 2005, the reports noted Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's readiness to file lawsuits against cartoonists and columnists, as well as his later quarrels with prominent journalists and media owners over what was written about him and his party in the press.

The increase in such cases was followed by a spike in the number of critical journalists arrested in the Ergenekon case, an alleged gang purportedly formed to topple the government in 2003 and 2004.

One unchanged aspect of the State Department reports is the oppression of some pro-Kurdish media organizations, despite the fact that many laws have been amended to expand freedom of expression.

According to the State Department's 2003 report, the number of jailed journalists in Turkey was between 4 and 34, with the different figures reflecting on-going disagreement over which prisoners were legitimate journalists or were jailed for carrying out journalistic tasks.

After legal changes to expand freedom of the press were brought to the fore in 2004, the government said no journalists were held on speech violations that year, but the U.S. report noted 43 prisoners, who claimed to be journalists, had been charged with a variety of crimes.

Self-censorship in the media

In 2005 the government prepared a draft law that would allow prison sentences for a number of press-related crimes, overruling restrictions in the 2004 Press Law. Erdoğan's first reported lawsuit against the press also came this year, when the prime minister sued the satirical magazine Penguen for depicting him as an animal in a cartoon.

"The government intimidated journalists into practicing self-censorship," read the first line of the 2006 report, which counted 26 jailed journalists, and noted an increasing number of lawsuits filed by Erdoğan.

"Prime Minister Erdoğan, through his attorneys, filed 59 cases on the grounds of defamation, of which 28 were pending at year's end. Among the 31 cases decided, 21 rulings were in favor and 10 against Erdoğan," the report said.

In 2007, there were 21 jailed journalists, according to the report, which devoted significant space to the raid against weekly Nokta over an article on the relationship between unnamed civil-society groups and the military.

The same report noted the government's efforts to place further restrictions on the media by adopting amendments to the anti-terror Law.

Government officials critical of media

The 2008 report broke with the earlier ones by emphasizing critical statements from senior government officials. "Senior government officials, including Prime Minister Erdoğan, made statements during the year strongly criticizing the press and media business figures, particularly following the publishing of reports on alleged corruption in entities in Germany connected to the ruling party," the report read.

Also that year, the Prime Ministry did not renew the press licenses of six journalists, claiming they had reported inaccurate material.

Several large holding companies that own news agencies were reportedly concerned about losing business opportunities if their journalists wrote articles critical of the government, with one journalist claiming that his senior management discouraged such reporting.

Tax fine breaks record

The substantial tax fine against the Doğan Media Group came up in the 2009 report, which said, "Some observers considered it to be related to the political editorial line of the media conglomerate's print and broadcast outlets."



The European Union is expected to convey a series of warnings to Turkey during the next meeting of the EU-Turkey Association Council, which will be held in Brussels on April 19.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu is scheduled to attend the meeting of the council, which is reportedly getting ready to draw attention to a host of issues, ranging from freedom of the press to energy security, mentioned in a draft document of the EU Common Implementation Strategy.

On the issue of freedom of the press, the EU report maintained a critical stance, calling on Turkey to enact further legislation in order to better harmonize its laws with the jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights, while expressing concern over the recent arrests of journalists, bans on certain Internet sites and the seizure of a draft manuscript.

The increasing trend of self-censorship among journalists was also mentioned as a source of concern.

Noting Turkey's progress in developing good relations with its neighbors, the EU will express to Turkey its readiness to expand foreign-policy cooperation with the country.

Regarding Turkey's plans to change its constitution in the future, the EU will recommend that Turkey negotiate and consult with an as-wide-as-possible range of interest groups on the country's key legal text. The EU is also expected to express its approval of Turkey's steps to increase civil society's control over security and military forces.

While stressing the country's economic growth in 2010, the EU is expected to draw authorities' attention to Turkey's large current account deficit. Nuclear energy will also be among the priorities discussed, as the EU is expected to invite Turkey to create a suitable environment around nuclear-security issues.

Regarding the Kurdish issue, the document said the EU regrets that the democratic initiative and measures announced by the government in 2009 in order to address the Kurdish problem have not met expectations.

On the Cyprus issue, the document says that despite the requests coming from the EU, Turkey has refused to open its ports to ships with Greek Cypriot flags. "The fact that Turkey has not made any step will influence the entire negotiations," said the document.



Ali Fahir Kayacan was a military judge during the September 12 period. He later retired and now works as a lawyer.

Regarding the latest developments Kayacan said, "I cannot call the Ergenekon case a conspiracy in general, however, this book issue is meaningful." Kayacan also claimed that martial courts had been much more committed to the law and at the time parties had had the chance to defend themselves for hours.



The Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said on Saturday, "The latest evacuation operation from Libya shows Turkey's strong and compassionate side to the whole world once again."

Speaking after his visit to the governor of the Aegean province of Izmir, Davutoglu said Turkey had brought Turkish citizens living in Libya and those injured during the clashes back to Turkey during the successful evacuation operations. Davutoglu said that such operations "contributed remarkably to Turkey's prestige in the world."

Davutoglu also thanked the Turkish authorities, particularly the governor of Izmir, for their help and hospitality during the patients' medical tratment and evacuation.

Pointing to Izmir's position as a diplomatic center, Davutoglu said diplomacy would not be limited to Ankara or Istanbul anymore, adding that Izmir and the Mediterranean province of Antalya would soon become Turkey's new centers for diplomacy.

"I believe Izmir will return to its former past as an important commercial and diplomatic center in near future. The number of consuls and honorary consuls in this city will increase," Davutoglu said.



Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu arrived in Cairo on Sunday to hold meetings with Egyptian officials amid protests in Tahrir Square after the army backed down on a threat to disperse an overnight sit-in demonstration.

Davutoğlu was expected to meet with Egyptian Prime Minister Essam Sharaf, Foreign Minister Nabil Elaraby and Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa as the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review went to press Sunday. Recent developments in protest-swept Arab countries and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict were expected to top the agenda of the meetings.

As the Turkish foreign minister arrived in Cairo, more than 1,000 Egyptians protested in the city's central Tahrir Square on Sunday after an overnight sit-in demonstration.

The protesters, who blocked the square with a charred army truck, barbed wire and beams, chanted against military chief Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, who has been in charge of the country since President Hosni Mubarak's ouster in February.

"The people demand the toppling of the field marshal," they chanted, after spending a nervous night waiting for the army to carry out its warning that it would enforce a three-hour pre-dawn curfew.

Soldiers, backed by riot police, had dispersed an overnight protest in the iconic square before dawn Saturday, with one protester shot dead. The military later warned it would clear out remaining protesters, keeping the demonstrators on edge throughout the night as the countdown began for the curfew.

Groups of young men whistled and banged at the barricades when they thought the military, which remained out of sight, was approaching, prompting others to run to them wielding sticks. As the curfew neared its end, some protesters began to chant jokingly: "Hit us, hit us, you are taking your time and we're bored." Their numbers waxed and waned throughout morning, with groups of protesters locked in arguments with passers-by who wanted them to leave the square, which remained closed to traffic.

By the afternoon there were more than 1,000 of them. Groups of protesters would rush to the barricades when their sentries yelled that "thugs" were sighted. There was no noticeable military or police presence.

The protesters faced mounting criticism from other groups that took part in the revolt that toppled Mubarak. The Muslim Brotherhood, the best-organized opposition movement, had from the start described protesters against the military as feckless "zealots."

"The Muslim Brotherhood condemns any attempt to weaken the military's relationship with the people, and especially desires to cause splits between the military and the people or to pit them against each other," it said. "It is apparent that there are those who are striving to accomplish that from the remnants of the old regime and some zealots who do not consider consequences."

A senior Brotherhood official, Essam al-Erian, said Sunday that the group stood by the statement after the deadly clash and refused to comment on the military's actions. State television and newspapers played up criticism by other opposition figures.



Turkish mediation between rival Palestinian groups Hamas and al-Fatah could be possible if Turkey can persuade the Hamas leader to establish a unified government, the Palestinian ambassador said Friday.

President Mahmoud Abbas might be willing to meet with Hamas leader Khaleed Meshaal in Istanbul under those conditions, Palestinian Authority Ambassador Nabil Maarouf told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review.

"Turkey should guarantee the reaching of a solution at the end of the meeting. What's the reason for President Abbas coming here and meeting Meshaal and not agreeing on a solution? Abbas will not go Istanbul for a new round of negotiations without a guaranteed outcome," Maarouf said.

"Abbas said he cannot go for a photo-op with Meshaal," the ambassador said, calling on Turkey to persuade Hamas to declare an agreement in Istanbul.

Following the latest initiative of Abbas, Turkey has proposed that the leaders of the Palestinian groups hold a meeting in Istanbul to resolve their differences.

The Palestinian Authority asked the U.N. Security Council in February for a resolution condemning Israeli settlements. "We got 14 votes in support, all except for the U.S. That means all the world is with us," the ambassador said. Following this vote, the Palestinian Authority planned to ask the U.N. General Assembly in September to recognize a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as its capital, Maarouf said citing Namibia as an example.

"This scenario has something against it. If we get this resolution, then Israelis or somebody will say, 'Who is the government in Palestine, Gaza or the West Bank?'" the ambassador said, adding that Abbas is now seeking reconciliation to reunite the feuding Palestinian territories before going to the General Assembly.

'If Hamas joins the initiative, Abbas would go to Gaza to immediately to establish a unified government made up of national figures that would be accepted by the international community," Maarouf said emphasizing that there would not be politicans from either al-Fatah or Hamas in this government.

"For instance, if you have Ismail Haniyeh, the Hamas leader in Gaza, in the government, the Europeans and the U.S. will not deal with the issue," Maarouf said.

Once created, the unified government "would start receiving money from the donors and launch a process of reconstructing Gaza," Maarouf said, adding that elections would be carried out under the supervision of the international community.

"I sent the details of the initiative to Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu and conveyed my president's message asking for support for this initiative," Maarouf said. "Davutoğlu was always asking us to have early elections, saying that if we have differences we should go to the people and let them decide who will be in power," he added.

Ankara has proposed a meeting between Meshaal and Abbas in Turkey, but the al-Fatah leader has ruled out a new round of negotiations, the ambassador said. He continued, "There is no guarantee of reaching a solution through negotiations, since we have been negotiating for years."

According to the ambassador, Abbas has proposed that the process be started by setting up a unified government and then discussing all the differences. "If Hamas confirmed the government, then Abbas would consider all the reservations from Hamas," he said.

"Hamas is not going to approve the agreements that the PLO (Palestine Liberation Organization) signed," Maarouf added. "Hamas has never adopted the Arab League initiative. We want to be more reasonable discussing the issues."



U.S. Ambassador in Ankara, Francis Ricciardone, said that there are warm relations between Turkey and the United States. "Sometimes we can have different goals," he said.

Noting that Turkey was getting stronger in the region and this situation could cause some difference of opinions between Washington and Ankara, Ricciardone commented that this was a very natural process.

Ricciardone said, "Our interests are similar. Even if we have different methods and goals, our strategic visions are the same. We have always hoped that Turkey would fulfill its potential one day. We saw the importance of Turkey the day it joined NATO."



The Turkish chief negotiator for talks with the European Union (EU) said on Saturday that Turkey is proceeding towards EU membership in a determined fashion.

Turkish State Minister & Chief EU Negotiator Egemen Bagis, who is in Amsterdam to hold a series of talks, attended a conference on "Turkey-EU relations."

Delivering a speech at the conference, Bagis said Turkey was faced with several obstacles on the way to EU membership, but these did not change the country's direction. Bagis noted that the EU process had never been easy for Turkey and it had overcome many obstacles. "The only goal of our activities in the EU process is to improve the living standards and prosperity of our citizens," Bagis said.

Commenting on the improvements in the Turkish economy, Bagis said: "Turkey's economy has grown three times faster than the most successful country in Europe."

"The EU is getting old. Europe's average age is 43, ours is 27. No matter how prejudiced they are or whatever they say regarding Islamophobia, Turkey is getting stronger with each passing day," the negotiator said.

Regarding EU's visa procedures for Turkish citizens, Bagis said Turkish citizens were treated unfairly on the visa issue. "Today, citizens of Brazil or Paraguay can enter this country without any visas. It is unfair that citizens of Turkey, 60 percent of whose foreign trade is with EU countries, have to wait in visa queues. This is irrational," the minister said.



Libyan leader Moamar Gaddafi wrote letters to each Turkish businessman who had to leave Libya due to war. In his letters, Gaddafi wrote, "It is noticed that you left your jobs unfinished. Return to your workplaces."

With this move, Gaddafi prepared a basis to burn the letter of guarantees of Turkish businessmen who business was worth $17.3 billion in Libya. Turkey sent two letters to Gaddafi and it will apply to the United Nations as well.



A warning came from a representative of the government in relation to the moves aiming to help the Ergenekon and Balyoz case suspects become elected at the upcoming elections and thus be saved from imprisonment.

Turkish State Minister Hayati Yazici, one of the legist members of the government, said that Republican People's Party's (CHP) announced Mustafa Balbay and Mehmet Haberal as candidates and National Movement Party's (MHP) including retired Gen. Engin Alan's name in its list would lead to a legal chaos.

According to Yazici, even if these men are elected, they will not be able to enter the parliament without a court decision. Yazici also said all these efforts were in fact a part of a plan which aimed at creating a conflict between the judiciary and the parliament.



The Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) has decided to support 61 independent candidates in 39 provinces in the upcoming election.

Leyla Zana became one of independent candidates to be backed by the political party in the southeastern province of Diyarbakir.



Research company A&G's owner Adil Gür commented on the current situation in Turkey two months before the elections.

Gür said that the perception of the state of the economy and success had raised Justice and Development Party (AKP) votes to 47 percent in 2007. He said it looked the like Republican People's Party's (CHP) family-insurance project would have a positive effect on the party's votes, adding that young males could also vote for the CHP as a result of its promises regarding shortened military service. Gür also noted that the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) would not have any problems with the electoral threshold and all studies showed that its votes would exceed 10 percent.

Regarding the Peace & Democracy Party (BDP), Gür said the party's votes had significantly increased in the last year and had reached 7 percent. He said 28-32 deputies could be accepted from the BDP.



NATO has, at last, come to the political solution regarding Libya that has been advocated by Turkey from the very beginning.

NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen confessed that the crises required a political solution instead of a military one. He said that Libya's territorial integrity should be protected and asked for the United Nation's assistance.


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