Cyanide expert jailed for meeting

July 7, 2000

A leading Turkish academic with a 25-year record in cyanide research has been sentenced to 18 months in jail for speaking about risks associated with gold mining.

Huseyin Yildirim, of the Ege University in the Aegean city of Izmir, was found guilty of addressing a meeting without receiving the permission of the authorities. He also received an official warning from his university after his arrest three months ago.

The village meeting was organised to oppose the opening of a gold mine near the famous tourist site of Bergama. Gold mining uses large amounts of cyanide in the extraction of gold from rock. A local campaign to oppose the mine has so far been successful in preventing it from opening.

The prosecution provoked outrage in the country's increasingly vocal environmentalist movement, and Dr Yildirim was defended by more than 70 lawyers in a show of solidarity.

Dr Yildirim accused the authorities of trying to silence opposition to the mine, but he remained defiant: "These types of punishment will not stop my struggle against cyanide."

He said that the meeting was not official and that, therefore, he did not need to gain permission. Turkey has numerous laws restricting and controlling public meetings. Most of these laws are seldom used and custodial sentences are rare, with the exception of supporters for greater Kurdish rights.

Accusations have been mounting that the authorities are showing a lack of consistency. According to Dr Yildirim's lawyers, the Tuprag company that owns the mine has, without official consent, held numerous meetings advocating the safety of the mine.

Concerns over cyanide use have been heightened by the environmental disaster in Romania caused by a cyanide leak from gold and silver mines.

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