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Turkey Tries Journalist Over Corruption Article - 2001-12-20

A journalist is on trial in Ankara for writing an article about corruption in Turkey's judicial system. The trial is the latest in a series of cases launched against journalists accused of expressing views that insult or threaten the Turkish state.

Burak Bekdil is a financial affairs commentator for the English language Turkish Daily News. In August, he wrote an article charging that Turkish politicians exert undue influence over the country's justice system and the system is rife with corrupt officials and judges.

Shortly after the article appeared, Turkish authorities charged him with insulting the state. If found guilty, he faces up to six years in prison.

Mr. Bekdil, who has denied the charge, told VOA that he does not believe he will get a fair trial.

"Well, I doubt this is going to be a fair trial because I will be tried by the people who think I insulted them," he said.

He is not the first writer to face such charges in Turkey. The country's constitution and penal code forbid any writing that is considered injurious to the state. Scores of journalists have been convicted and jailed in recent years on charges similar to the one Mr. Bekdil is facing.

"As long as the legislation remains there will be further cases, similar cases. Someone has to launch a campaign, an appeal perhaps. It is the lawmakers, they should change the legislation, they should update the legislation," he explained.

In October, Turkey's parliament approved reforms to the constitution that relax restrictions on free expression.

And, the government, led by leftist Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit, is considering proposed changes in the penal code that would remove an article penalizing verbal or written criticism against the Turkish state. It is this article that Mr. Bekdil and several other prominent journalists, including the pro-Islamic commentator Fehmi Koru, are being prosecuted for violating.

But legal experts say it remains unclear whether the changes in the constitution and the penal code, when they are officially enacted, will be applied retroactively. Until that is decided, the cases against Mr. Bekdil and the other journalists will continue. Mr. Bekdil's case resumes on January 14.