American Jewish journalist faces charges in Turkey

WESTFIELD, N.J. — The impending trial of an American Jewish journalist in Istanbul is gaining international attention, as prominent journalists are speaking out in her defense.

Aliza Marcus, 33, of Westfield and Scotch Plains, N.J., is charged with racial incitement for publishing an article about that country's Kurdish minority. Marcus, a correspondent for Reuters in Istanbul and a former staff writer for the Jewish Telegraphic Agency in New York, could face a maximum of three years imprisonment if convicted.

Prominent journalists already coming to her defense include retired CBS newscaster 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.

The Washington Post wrote an editorial Sept. 26 about the threat to international journalism posed by Turkey's action, and CNN aired a program on the incident.

"The issue is mobilizing both international and domestic support because the implications of threatening a foreign journalist endanger the freedom of journalists around the world," said Marcus' father, Dr. Matityahu Marcus.

Marcus wrote the article in question last November about the Turkish government's 10-year conflict with the Kurds. She reported about forced evacuations, torture, destruction and the uprooting of villages and its effects on the civilian population. More than 20,000 people have been killed in the ongoing battle.

The story appeared in Turkish in a pro-Kurdish daily, Ozgur Ulke, and an English version was transmitted around the world by Reuters.

On Sept. 21, Marcus was apprehended in her home and ordered to appear in court. She was charged with Article 312 of the Turkish Penal Code, which "prohibits provoking enmity and hatred among people by showing racial and regional differences."

Marcus appeared in court Oct. 12. The trial has been postponed until Nov. 9 and she was permitted to leave the country. She visited the United States briefly this month, but will be returning to Turkey for the trial.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, Turkey has 74 local journalists in jail, more than any other country in the world.

Marcus is believed to be the first foreign journalist to be prosecuted in Turkey for her writings.

A graduate of Columbia University's School of Journalism, Marcus went to Turkey to work at an English-language magazine after graduation. She also reported for The Christian Science Monitor and for several other publications, including Dissent, from Turkey.

After returning to the United States, she worked for the JTA as one of the wire service's staff writers in New York.

When the opportunity to work in Turkey for Reuters came, she grabbed it so she could get more involved in world issues, her father said.

A staff writer based in Istanbul, Marcus files stories almost every day, reporting on the political, social and economic events in Turkey. She has also written stories on the Jewish community in Turkey.

Marcus learned to speak the Turkish language and "loves the people and the country," her father said.

If convicted, Marcus could face up to three years in prison. However, her family does not believe it will come to that.

"She discharged her job as a journalist, reporting what local residents said. Turkey is a democracy and although there is censorship here and there, they believe in freedom of speech," Marcus said.

"There is an enormous amount of interest in this case," he added. "I don't think it would serve Turkey's world image to put a legitimate American journalist in jail for working on a legitimate story. At the present time, Turkey has filed an application with the European Union to join the Common Market and a case like this could hurt their chance of being accepted."

According to Marcus' attorney, Cetin Ozek, part of the defense will be that while she filed the story in Turkey, it was written by Reuters editors and transmitted from the news agency's London headquarters around the world to subscribers. Reuters stories do not carry bylines.