Tale of a governor’s rage landing a journalist in jail

Who says Turkish courts are slow? It took less than a year to prosecute a Turkish journalist on 18 different charges, sentence him to prison terms of nine years and to scores of fines worth $3,000. Little did journalist Sinan Kara know that nothing in his life would ever be the same again after he wrote an article criticizing a powerful state official in a small holiday resort on the Aegean coast. Last August, Kara, a correspondent for the mass circulation Hurriyet and publisher of a local newspaper in Datca, an otherwise peaceful town, filed a most bizarre story that said the local governor, Savas Tuncer, had banned dogs from bathing in the sea «because this was a sin under the Koran.» The governor admitted the ban but denied the reason for it. That was how the battle lines were drawn between journalist and governor. The enmity deepened when Kara filed another story in December, when the governor hosted a dinner for the town’s poorest people, using finances from a poverty fund at his disposition. A decent act of charity? Not really, according to the story. The dinner guests were military and police chiefs, judges, prosecutors and local politicians. «Here are our poorest!» was the satirical headline in Kara’s local daily, Datca Haber. The governor saw no reason to hide his anger. «You are tarnishing the State!» he shouted at Kara the day after the dinner story went to print. «You spent poor people’s money to host a dinner for the rich,» the journalist replied. «You are tarnishing the State. I am only reporting.» The aftermath of the argument was a genuine nightmare for Kara. Acting on appeals by the governor, state prosecutors brought several actions against Kara on charges that had been unheard of before – such as failing to keep proper books for his small newspaper, or for using one of the rooms in his flat as office space and not registering this act. Kara once reported the plight of an American citizen, Danielle Kelly, who was swindled by a real-estate agent in Datca. He was sentenced to two years for «threatening the real-estate agent.» «State officials in the town have teamed up against a journalist,» Kara’s colleague, Gulden Aydin, wrote in Hurriyet. «The courts in this small town are working at extraordinary speed. The governor appeals, the prosecutor opens the case the next day and the judges convict him at the first hearing.» On 18 different charges, Kara has so far got prison terms of nine years and fines worth $3,000. The governor’s office has indefinitely suspended the publication of Datca Haber. The police are investigating «whether Mr Kara really is a journalist.» He was forced to testify without his lawyer present – a contravention of the law. He was even accused of being a terrorist. Kara’s drama is not the first example of abuse of power by state authorities, nor will it be the last. It came only months after Kasim Tirpanci, the owner of a local newspaper in eastern Turkey, was arrested because he had argued with a prosecutor; a local television station in Konya was searched for drugs after one of its cameramen pictured a prosecutor drunk and leaving a nightclub; and the governor of the Black Sea town of Bartin shouted at a journalist during a meeting, «I will kill you,» because the journalist had taken up a speaker’s point without the governor’s permission. The day after Kara’s run-ins with the governor became public, a state prosecutor in Bursa had the security official of a department store arrested, because he had wanted to search her bag. The poor chap made an odd defense. «I did not know she was a prosecutor.» Oops! Are all of us not equal in this country? Apparently, Western Europeans are so obsessed with human right violations committed for ethnic/ideological reasons that they overlook the simple fact that the most common of all human rights violations in Turkey arise from disputes between ordinary and not-so-ordinary people. Some museums and archaeological sites are expected to be closed this weekend and the following weekend after yesterday’s confirmation by the union representing museum guards of two threatened 48-hour strikes. Guards want the Culture Ministry to increase their pay.

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