Congress, Jewish Groups Join Effort to Free Journalist

Member of Congress and Jewish organizations are stepping up pressure on Turkey to drop charges against an American Jewish journalist who is facing trial on charges of racial incitement.

As part of its current aid package to Turkey, Congress has put the country on notice that it is watching Aliza Marcus’ case very carefully.

A letter on the subject to Turkish President Suleyman Demirel is also gathering support in Congress.

At the same time, the World Jewish Congress is seeking to pressure Turkey on the case through the European Union, which is considering Turkey’s application for membership.

The Turkish government has charged Marcus, 33, a correspondent for Reuters in Istanbul and a former staff writer for the Jewish Telegraphic Agency in New York, with provoking racial hatred for publishing an article about the country’s Kurdish minority.

Marcus, whose next hearing is scheduled for Nov. 9, faces a maximum of three years in prison if convicted.

Prominent journalists and newspapers have come to her defense, including retired CBS news anchorman Walter Cronkite, honorary chairman of the New York- based Committee to Protect Journalists, who traveled to Turkey recently to protest her arrest to Turkish Prime Minister Tansu Ciller.

In the foreign aid bill making its way through Congress $33.5 million is designated for Turkey.

Although the legislation does not explicitly tie Turkey’s aid to the case, it does contain a section titled “Aliza Marcus,” which says that Congress expects the government of Turkey to “protect freedom of expression and information by interceding with the military-sponsored state security courts on behalf of Aliza Marcus.”

At the same time, the Helsinki Commission, an independent agency that monitors and encourages compliance with the Helsinki accords on human rights, is enlisting members of Congress to sign on to a letter to Demirel.

The letter, signed so far by 30 representatives and five senators, expresses concern over Marcus’ trial and implores him to “work for the immediate release of all political prisoners jailed for peaceful expression of their views in Turkey.”

Marcus’ case, the letter to Demirel states, “reflects a disturbingly persistent practice in your country of criminalizing peaceful spoken or written expression.”

“Publications and other materials deemed harmful by prosecutors are routinely seized, censored or banned, and newspapers, magazines and publishers have been forced to close,” the commission’s letter states.

“Dozens of journalists, editors, news vendors and others have been killed by death squads in the past three years, making Turkey one of the world’s most dangerous countries for the press.”

In addition, members of Congress are working closely with the State Department, the National Security Council and the Pentagon to assure that Marcus’ case will be raised at all appropriate bilateral meetings between U.S. and Turkish officials, said Mike Amitay, staff adviser to the Helsinki Commission.

The WJC, meanwhile, has chosen to pursue this issue with the European Union.

“We’re going to intervene in Brussels at the European Union on this issue because we feel that’s where the Turks will listen most carefully,” said Elan Steinberg, WJC executive director.

Steinberg said the WJC representative in Brussels has already raised the issue with the head of the Turkey desk at the European Union, but has received no commitment on the matter.

Turkey has lobbied long and hard for membership in the European Union.

The American Jewish Committee also has human rights concerns about this case, said Jason Isaacson, the group’s director of government and international affairs.

Isaacson, who said his organization has an ongoing dialogue with Turkish officials, said he intends to raise this issue in the near future.

Meanwhile, in an editorial last week, the New York Jewish Week called for Marcus’ exoneration, saying, “This attempt to threaten a journalist is an outrage and a danger to journalistic freedom everywhere.”

The Committee to Protect Journalists, meanwhile, is vigorously pursuing the case.

“Our first goal is to get these charges against her dropped,” said Avner Gidron, the organization’s director of research.

Gidron said the committee is also trying “to use Aliza’s case as an example of what many Turkish journalists go through all the time.”

The committee reports that 74 local journalists are jailed in Turkey, more than any other country. Marcus is believed to be the first foreign journalist to face prosecution in that country.

Those familiar with the case remain uncertain as to whether Turkish authorities will actually follow through and jail an American journalist. They note that her conviction would damage relations between the United States and Turkey.

“I’m surprised they’ve taken it this far,” said Amitay of the Helsinki Commission.

“Unfortunately, the way they work, when outside pressure is brought to bear, it has the effect of making them dig in their heels so as not to give the impression of caving in to the West.”

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