A Turkish court Tuesday dropped charges against four prominent journalists, but will continue to try a fifth in a high-profile freedom of speech case linked to debate over the massacres of Armenians under the Ottoman Empire.
The five were indicted in December for criticizing a court decision that briefly blocked a landmark conference in Istanbul on the World War I massacres, a long-standing taboo that Turks have only recently began to debate. The prosecution charged them under articles that penalize insults to the judiciary and attempts to influence the justice and carry up to 10 years in prison.
The European Union, which Turkey is seeking to join, has repeatedly warned Ankara to stop prosecuting intellectuals for exercising their right to free speech.
"The court dropped the charges against me and my colleagues Hasan Cemal, Ismet Berkan and Erol Katircioglu, citing the statute of limitations," Haluk Sahin, a columnist for the liberal daily Radikal, told AFP by telephone. "The judge decided to continue trying Murat Belge because his articles were published later and do not fall under the scope of the statute of limitations," he added.
Like Sahin, Katircioglu and Belge are columnists for Radikal, while Berkan is also the newspaper's editor-in-chief. Cemal is a senior editorialist for the mass-selling Milliyet.
A landmark conference contesting Ankara's official line on the mass killings of Armenians was blocked in September when a court, petitioned by a group of nationalists, ordered the suspension of the event. The event, already postponed once earlier in 2005, was finally held with a one-day delay after the organizers changed the venue to circumvent the court order. The ruling came under widespread criticism, including harsh words by the EU and even the Turkish government, which backed the holding of the conference in a bid to prove its tolerance of dissenting views.