Turkey jails Kurdish editor for 3 years


A Turkish court jailed the former editor of a Kurdish-language newspaper for three years today for spreading terrorist propaganda, in a case that may renew concern about press freedom in the EU candidate country.

Vedat Kursun, who faces a combined sentence of 525 years in prison in 103 cases on similar charges, was convicted in connection with two stories that appeared in the daily in August 2007, the state-run Anatolian news agency said.

Mr Kursun was editor-in-chief at Azadiya Welat until he was jailed more than a year ago for disseminating propaganda on behalf of the illegal Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), Emin Yildirim, an editor at the newspaper, said.

The paper has replaced its top editor six times since 2006 because they have been jailed or fled the country to avoid imprisonment, Yildirim said, estimating that prosecutors have opened 200 or more cases against the five former editors.

The newspaper also faces regular temporary bans, including a month-long closure ordered this week, he said.

The European Union has called on prime minister Tayyip Erdogan to improve press freedom in Turkey to meet the political criteria for membership of the bloc.

The government has promised to expand Kurdish cultural and political rights in a bid to end a 25-year conflict with PKK insurgents demanding autonomy that has claimed 40,000 lives.

Mr Kursun told the penal court in Diyarbakir, the largest city in the majority Kurdish southeast, that the news stories were not meant as propaganda, Anatolian reported.

The same court sentenced Mr Kursun's successor Ozan Kilinc to 21 years in prison on February 11th for printing what it called Kurdish rebel propaganda.

Azadiya Welat's website today showed pictures of Abdullah Ocalan, the PKK's jailed leader, and armed Kurdish guerrillas. It also featured a column attributed to Cemil Bayik, a top PKK commander.

Mr Yildirim denied the newspaper promoted the PKK's message. Some of the charges against the editors stem from advertisements or announcements taken out by readers and at least two cases were due to faulty translations, he said.

"Our mission is to inform the Kurdish people about issues that concern them," Yildirim said. The conflict with the PKK "affects millions of people in this country, and it would mean neglecting our duty as journalists to ignore it."

The US State Department said on March 11th in its annual report on human rights that Turkish prosecutors harassed writers and journalists by opening court cases against them, though judges dismissed many of the charges.