Fight halts Turkish journalists' trial

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The trial of five Turkish journalists charged with insulting the country's courts began yesterday with the judge ordering two lawyers to be removed after a fight broke out in the courtroom.

The trial will test the relationship between Turkey and the European Union, which has called for judicial reforms and increased rights to free expression in Turkey as part of its negotiations on possible EU membership. A group of European Parliament observers was attending the journalists' trial.

Dozens of nationalist Turks protested against the EU pressure on Turkey to increase freedom of speech.

The reporters had criticised a court's decision to shut down a conference in Istanbul about the mass killings of Armenians by Turks during the Ottoman Empire. The conference in September went on despite the court order to close it down after organisers changed the venue at the last minute. It was the first time the issue was publicly discussed in Turkey.

In criticising the court, the reporters were trying to influence the outcome of a trial and insulted the court system, the prosecutor's indictment said.

The judge ordered two nationalist lawyers, both of whom had pushed for the trial against the journalists, to be removed after a fight.

The court later adjourned the trial until 11 April to study the case.

The five journalists named in the indictment are Murat Belge, Hasan Cemal, Ismet Berkan, Haluk Sahin and Erol Katircioglu.

They face prison terms between six months and 10 years if convicted.