The trial of an American reporter opened here Thursday, the first time Turkey has prosecuted a foreign correspondent under controversial laws limiting freedom of expression.
Reuters news agency correspondent Aliza Marcus is accused of "provoking enmity and hatred by displaying racism or regionalism" in a November, 1994, report about Turkey's 11-year-old fight with Kurdistan Workers Party rebels. If convicted, she could face one to three years in jail under laws that have imprisoned more than 170 Turkish writers and intellectuals.
Diplomatic pressure from Western allies--even an intervention with Prime Minister Tansu Ciller by visiting newsman Walter Cronkite--failed to persuade the Istanbul state security court to drop charges against Marcus, 33, of Westfield, N.J.
The case could hardly come at a worse time for Turkey. President Suleyman Demirel is paying an official visit to Washington next week. And the European Parliament is demanding improvements in the nation's human rights record before it will ratify a key customs union.
"This case has been pushed by hidden forces that want to block Turkey's integration with the West," said one Turkish official, who declined to be identified. But he also insisted that Marcus' hard-hitting articles on Turkey's Kurdish problem during her two-year assignment in Istanbul showed that "she wanted to be a hero."
Defense lawyer Cetin Ozek argued that the military-civilian state security court should dismiss the case because the prosecution had exceeded a six-month limit on bringing charges.
But the three judges ruled in favor of the prosecution, which argued that the statute of limitations began not from the date the story was issued by London-based Reuters, but from the time Marcus' name was mentioned in another recent court case against a pro-Kurdish newspaper. The article in question dealt with Turkey's evacuation of about 1,500 villages in mainly Kurdish southeastern Turkey to deny food and recruits to the guerrillas. It said that "forcibly evacuating and even torching villages in southeastern Turkey is now a central part of the military's 10-year battle against Kurdish rebels."
Turkish judges asked who had written the report. Marcus said that she had telephoned basic information to the Reuters bureaus in Ankara and Istanbul and that editors in London wrote the final version and transmitted it to the agency's subscribers worldwide.
The judges called for Reuters management to inform them exactly who wrote what in the article before the court next convenes on Nov. 9. Reuters executives asked Marcus to make no public statement.