Turkey demands life for journalists in coup bid trial

A member of the special forces stands guard outside the Sincan Penal Institution at the 4th Heavy Penal Court in Ankara, in this August 1, 2017 photo. (AFP)
Updated 12 December 2017
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Turkey demands life for journalists in coup bid trial

ISTANBUL: Turkish prosecutors on Monday demanded life terms for three veteran Turkish journalists on trial over accusations of links to the 2016 failed coup, in a case that has raised new concerns for freedom of speech in the country.
The brothers Ahmet and Mehmet Altan and prominent commentator Nazli Ilicak are charged with violating the Turkish constitution in the trial, which began in June at the Istanbul criminal court.
They are accused of links to US-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen who Ankara says masterminded the failed bid to oust Erdogan on July 15 last year.
Gulen denies ties to the incident, which left 249 people dead, not including the plotters. Turkey accuses his movement of being the “Fethullah Terrorist Organization” (FETO) but supporters deny this.
The journalists have been charged with having foreknowledge of the coup bid and being involved in the sending of subliminal messages that it was to happen, including an October 2015 advertising campaign by the now defunct pro-Gulen newspaper Zaman.
All three reject the charges.
Ilicak, 73, was one of the very first journalists arrested in July after the coup bid. Briefly an MP from 1999, she wrote for several dailies including Hurriyet.
“I see FETO as a terror group. Before July 15, I did not know,” she was quoted as telling the court on Monday by private-run news agency Dogan, adding: “I am not a member of FETO.”
Ahmet Altan, 67, is a novelist and journalist who has written for some of Turkey’s leading dailies including Hurriyet and Milliyet as well as founding the now-closed opposition daily Taraf. Mehmet Altan, 64, has written books on Turkish politics. Both were detained in early September although Ahmet Altan was released in mid-September before rapidly being re-arrested.
In the same case, prosecutors also demanded life sentences for former Zaman newspaper marketing manager Yakup Simsek, police academy instructor Sukru Tugrul Ozsengul and Zaman layout designer Fevzi Yazici.
The Altan brothers and Ilicak are also accused of appearing together on a TV show on a pro-Gulen channel just before the coup bid and issuing a message that the attempted overthrow was in the offing.
The court ordered them to remain in prison and said the next hearing would be on Feb. 12, according to Dogan agency.
The case is separate to the trial of 17 current and former writers, cartoonists and executives from the opposition Cumhuriyet (“Republic“) daily on charges supporting terror groups.
Four of the suspects are still behind bars, including investigative reporter Ahmet Sik, and the trial is seen as a critical test of press freedom. The next hearing in that case is Dec. 25.
Turkey ranks 155 on the latest Reporters Without Borders world press freedom index, below Belarus and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
According to the P24 press freedom website, there are 153 journalists behind bars in Turkey, most of whom were detained under the state of emergency imposed after the coup bid.
— AFP


Arabic cinema wins over movie-goers

Updated 17 September 2018
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Arabic cinema wins over movie-goers

  • Oscar-nominated Saudi Arabian director Haifaa Al-Mansour premiered her short film set in Riyadh, ‘The Wedding Singer’s Daughter,’ at the Venice Film Festival
  • Earlier in the year Ziad Doueiri was the first Lebanese film director to be nominated for an Oscar with his film ‘The Insult’

LONDON: Arabic cinema has increasingly captured the imagination of movie-lovers around the world this year, with Arab film-makers winning award nominations and securing high-profile screenings at major film festivals.
This month the Oscar-nominated Saudi Arabian director Haifaa Al-Mansour premiered her short film set in Riyadh, “The Wedding Singer’s Daughter,” at the Venice Film Festival. Al-Mansour previously wrote and directed the film “Wadjda,” which was the first foreign-language Oscar entry from Saudi Arabia in 2014.
Earlier in the year Ziad Doueiri was the first Lebanese film director to be nominated for an Oscar with his film “The Insult.”
“Arab cinema’s profile has been on the rise. There are several different Arab movies being shown at Venice (film festival) this year,” said Joseph Fahim, an Egyptian film critic and the curator of this year’s London-based Safar Film Festival, which runs on Sept. 13-18.
Daniel Gorman, the director of London’s biannual Shubbak festival, which showcases mainly contemporary Arabic culture, art and film, said he that has seen the appeal of Arabic film grow in the UK.
“There is a huge interest and appetite for creative work coming from across the Arab world and there is strong interest in the UK to hear the voices of people from across the region, in an area that is generally represented in headlines in newspapers. Film is an excellent way of doing that,” he said.
Festivals have played a vital role in boosting awareness of Arab film, he said.
“(They) are able to bring new audiences to new work as they bring this concentrated moment of activity. A festival tends to have a bit more reach in terms of media coverage and audience awareness.
“(It) brings people along to something which they might not go to as a one-off screening,” Gorman said, explaining how the Shubbak festival also works with local schools and community groups to increase access to Arabic film and art.
This year’s Safar film festival — which is in its fourth year and organized by the Arab British Center — has focused on the theme of literature and film in the Arab world.
Fahim has created a program that includes movies dating back to the 1960s that have been buried deep in their respective country’s archives, as well as new films that have not been screened in London yet.
One of the films included is the Tunisian “In the Land of Tararanni,” originally released in 1973 and based on a collection of short stories by Ali Dougai.
It was one of the more tricky recordings to track down, said Nadia El-Sebai, executive director at the Arab British Center.
“There are films in this program that audiences will have no idea how many people it took to get that film,” she said, explaining the lengthy negotiations with ministries of culture, national archives and old friends and contacts to track down the much sought-after recordings.
There were other movies they had to give up on ever finding, including those lost in Syria or Iraq, or old versions of films that have not yet been digitised by national archives, she said.
More recent festival entries include this year’s Egyptian film “Poisonous Roses,” adapted from a 1990s cult novel, as well as the European premiere of the work of an Iraqi filmmaker — “Stories of Passers Through” — which traces the stories of Iraqis exiled from their country during the Saddam Hussein regime.
The literary theme of this year’s festival was chosen as a reaction to the growing popularity of contemporary Arab cinema, with the event’s organizers wanting to delve into the history of Arabic film.
“We are delighted by the increasing access to Arabic cinema. There are more films plugged into the London film festival this year. We have other other festivals — the Shubbak festival (in London), and the Liverpool Arab Arts Festival,” said El-Sebai.
“For this year’s edition we thought we would like to take the opportunity to go a little deeper into the history and heritage of Arabic cinema, and the industry,” she said.
“Safar is taking place just before London Film Festival (LFF), which was another motivation for us to look at something a bit different as we are definitely going to see really amazing contemporary films at the London Film Festival,” she said.
The LFF — which begins on Oct. 10 — is set to feature work by Syrian filmmaker Soudade Kaadan as well as the Saudi Arabian director Mahmoud Sabbagh’s latest dark comedy “Amra and the Second Marriage,” among other Arab productions.
Fahim was also keen to use the Safar event as a way of bringing audiences’ attention to a broader range of Arabic movies, highlighting the heritage of the film industry.
“It is reminding people that Arab cinema did not spring out today — there is a long history,” he said, adding that he wanted to question audience expectations.
“There have been a flood of amazing images from Arab cinema being displayed at festivals and most critics had no idea what they were. The more I spoke to people, the more I realized that there is a certain expectation of what Arab movies should be,” he said.
“We wanted to challenge what people expect from Arab cinema … I am tired of seeing Lawrence of Arabia a gazillion times on the big screen,” he said.
He said the selected films in the festival will hopefully challenge preconceptions. He referred to the inclusion of the 1964 Egyptian film — “The Search” — based on the writer Naguib Mahfouz’s novel. “It is a crime noir. It is essentially an existential noir and I don’t think many people will expect to see that,” he said.
Arabic cinema, however, needs to be better promoted, he said, noting a dearth of adequate film critics.
“At the big festivals it sometimes feels like Arab cinema is the bottom priority for critics,” he said.
“We need more perceptive writing. I could name you on one hand the film critics who know their stuff. That needs to change. Maybe we need to have more different voices. Film criticism is still being dominated by white male writers — although it has been developing — but that is still the norm,” he said.