ANKARA (Reuter)–Turkish Prime Minister Mesut Yilmaz said Monday his newly-formed government will present a draft law to parliament next week for the release of senior editors held in Turkish prisons on political charges.
"We have decided to present this bill to parliament next week," Yilmaz told reporters after meeting a visiting delegation of Western reporters.
The Committee to Protect Journalists delegation was led by Terry Anderson–a former Associated Press reporter held hostage in Lebanon for seven years.
The group’s visit–aimed at seeking the release of jailed journalists–comes two weeks after the appointment of a right-left coalition headed by Yilmaz.
At least 78 journalists are currently jailed over charges connected with their work–according to CPJ figures. It was not immediately known how many among them were editors.
But many of them would not benefit from the bill if it was approved by members of parliament–since it only envisages the release of editors.
Yilmaz admitted most are imprisoned under Turkey’s anti-terrorism laws for spreading "separatist propaganda" in reporting the insurgency by Kurdish rebels seeking self-rule in the southeast of the country.
More than 25,000 people have died in the conflict.
"First we will try to clean up the damage made by the state apparatus in previous years in fighting against terrorism and then we will aim to provide a working atmosphere that a contemporary press requires," he said.
On Wednesday–the group was to visit jailed editor–Ocak Ucuk Yurtcu–now in the third year of an almost 16-year sentence. The CPJ last November gave Yurtcu its International Press Freedom award.
Earlier on Monday–Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit called for the release of writers and journalists held in Turkish prisons and an end to torture–the state-run Anatolian news agency said.
Asked by Anderson about a possible early release of Yurtcu–Deputy Prime Minister Ecevit was quoted by the Anatolian news agency as saying: "This will be resolved by the end of July."
"We will take firm steps to end the practice of beatings and torture–especially against journalists," Ecevit said.
The delegation met with Turkish president Suleyman Demirel Sunday–to discuss serious press violations and rampant censorship practices by the government of Turkey.
Demirel–yet again–expressed his commitment to abolishing press censorship and creating democratic and free norms for journalists to practice their profession. According to the Turkish official–there is an extensive movement in the country to create a democratic atmosphere for press practices.
Specifically–Demirel referred to the case of Ochak Ucuk Yurtcu who was sentenced to 16 years in prison in 1994 for publishing articles on the Kurdish movement in Turkey. He added that he would do everything in his power to bring a just resolution to the case. However–he said–such cases operate under the strict jurisdiction of Turkish courts–and as Demirel claimed–courts function independently from any other governmental entity in the country.
The delegation pointed out that Turkey–in issues of press violations–is listed with such countries as Ethiopia–China–Kuwait and Libya. 80 of the world’s 180 imprisoned journalists are in Turkish prisons.
Demirel expressed his understanding to the journalists’ concerns–and he claimed he found it quite appropriate for international organizations to interfere with human rights issues–because–"such issues are ones where every country has the right to say something," he explained.
He further assured the representatives that legislative changes are in the works.
The delegation also met with deputy prime minister Ismet Sezcin–as well as justice minister Oltan Sungurlui. Sezcin expressed hope that Yurtcu would be freed sometime this month.
Sungurlui–however–did not confer with his governmental colleagues–and said that journalists imprisoned were done so based on treason charges. Turkish law calls articles written about the Kurdish struggles treasonous acts.
The official pointed out that writing against the Turkish government–and any branch thereof–is considered treasonous–however Menar pointed out that most of the journalists kept in captivity were arrested for their personal views on the political situation in Turkey–and none were in any way affiliated to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
The delegation will be visiting the Tegirdagh prison–where Yurtcu is being held. The journalists will present him with a CPJ award which he was not able to receive in 1996–because of imprisonment.
The delegation includes Journalists Without Borders Executive Secretary Robert Menar–Committee for the Protection of Journalists chairman William Orn–board members–Associated Press representative Terry Anderson–Cable News Network’s Peter Arnet–Josh Friedman–Shebnem Sheniuner–Middle East–North African representative Joel Cambania–International Media Group president Johann Fritz–Peter Gold–Turkish Journalists Committee representative Octar Eksi–Eomer Erseoz.