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Last Updated: Friday, 12 October 2007, 09:47 GMT 10:47 UK
Trial unnerves Turkey's Armenians
By Sarah Rainsford
BBC News, Istanbul

Agos staff mourn Hrant Dink
The Agos newspaper has been in the spotlight since Dink's killing
A court in Istanbul has found two Turkish-Armenian journalists guilty of "insulting Turkishness" for reprinting an interview that referred to the mass killing of Ottoman Armenians by Turks in 1915 as genocide.

The ruling came one day after the Foreign Affairs Committee of the US Congress approved a resolution that recognises the killings as genocide, infuriating Ankara, which denies any such thing.

"I think this is the retaliation of the judiciary to that decision of Congress," says Ozlem Dalkiran, who followed the trial for the Helsinki Citizens Assembly, a European human rights group.

"It's a judicial scandal," she says.

If this bill passes it will have an impact on us. But we are already facing problems
Ethnic Armenian

The newspaper journalists were prosecuted under the now notorious Article 301 of Turkey's penal code for publishing comments made by their then-editor, Hrant Dink, in an interview with the Reuters news agency last summer.

Hrant Dink was an outspoken critic of state policy here on the events of 1915, a rare voice in Turkey's small ethnic Armenian community.

In January he was shot and killed outside the office of his newspaper, Agos. A teenage nationalist gunman is on trial for murder along with his alleged accomplices.

'Dangerous decision'

One of the journalists convicted of insult on Thursday is Hrant Dink's son, Arat. The other is Agos newspaper colleague Sarkis Seropyan.

Turkish nationalist demonstration
Turkish nationalists say there was no genocide against Armenians

Hrant Dink himself had been tried and convicted of insulting Turkishness in another article on the Armenian issue before he was killed.

"The fact Hrant was prosecuted under Article 301 was an important factor in his assassination. That way, the prosecution singled him out as a target," Agos journalist Markar Esayan underlined shortly after the latest court ruling on Thursday.

"This latest verdict of insulting Turkishness is a very serious accusation which may have very serious consequences. This court decision puts lives in danger."

The European Union has long called for the controversial insult law to be changed or repealed.

Article 301 shot to international attention when it was used to bring charges against the author and Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk, again for his comments on the fate of the Armenians.

"This new conviction is a particularly distressing and alarming verdict. It demonstrates once again the serious nature of Article 301," says Emma Sinclair-Webb of Amnesty International.

"It shows its implementation is still very problematic," she says.

She argues the law must be abolished.

"There also seems to be a pattern that this law is used against particular groups, Armenian or Kurdish. If so, that is extremely alarming," she says.

Frightened into silence

Other newspapers in Turkey reprinted Hrant Dink's comments. Only Turkish-Armenian Agos was prosecuted.

Abdullah Gul
Abdullah Gul has said Article 301 may need to be reviewed

Just last week, President Abdullah Gul suggested changes to A301 were a possibility. But the Turkish government has shown no sign it is in any hurry.

A nationalist backlash against the US Congress resolution on genocide is likely to stall things even longer.

That debate in America has also affected Turkey's ethnic Armenian community.

Many people were frightened into silence by the murder of Hrant Dink. Now they are even more withdrawn.

"If this bill passes it will have an impact on us. But we are already facing problems," says one ethnic Armenian.

"Someone threw a sound bomb into a schoolyard recently. People in all neighbourhoods here are now courageous enough to do such things."

Armenia welcomes 'genocide' vote
11 Oct 07 |  Americas
Q&A: Armenian 'genocide'
12 Oct 06 |  Europe
Obituary: Hrant Dink
19 Jan 07 |  Europe

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