In Turkey in February, developments concerning press freedom and journalists’ trials were quite worrisome, with many journalists finding it difficult to step out of courthouses. During the month of February, at least 68 journalists appeared before a judge in 36 press trials held in 11 provinces. As such, an average of 3.5 journalists appeared in court every day -for simply exercising their job.
According to the Press in Arrest database, in total, at least 130 journalists are prosecuted in 240 trials at high criminal courts. In these 240 trials, Public Prosecutors demanded a life sentence in one in every ten trials. In more than 50 percent of the trials, Public Prosecutors demanded a prison sentence of over 9 years.
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan signed an executive decree appointing Melih Bulu as the president of Boğaziçi University. Bulu’s appointment was protested by students at the Boğaziçi University campus and many other locations. The police cracked down upon protesters taking to the streets in many cities, especially Istanbul and Ankara, and prevented journalists from following the incidents. Numerous journalists’ cameras were broken, and many were hit by rubber bullets, or subjected to physical violence.
According to the figures by Press In Arrest, at least nine journalists were detained and one journalist was placed under house arrest in February. Four of these journalists were detained while following protests concerning Boğaziçi University.
The investigation against five journalists -four of whom now behind bars- for reporting on the allegation that two villagers were thrown off a helicopter in Van, was completed. Five journalists will appear in court, facing up to 88 years in prison. In February, prosecutors demanded a total of up to 106 years in prison for 7 journalists.
During the trials in February, three journalists were acquitted, while 5 journalists were handed down a total prison sentence of 20 years. One journalist was released after spending two months behind bars.
The Constitutional Court ruled that journalist Hakan Aygün’s “right to liberty and personal security” had been violated as his arrest was unlawful. 40 thousand TL will be paid to Aygün for non-pecuniary damages.
In February, journalists were also threatened over the social media, and various courts imposed “access bans” on dozens of news articles.
68 journalists appeared before a judge in 38 trials in 11 provinces (19 in İstanbul, 3 in Ankara, 4 in Diyarbakır, 2 in İzmir, 2 in Van, 1 in Muş, 1 in Bayburt, 1 in Erzurum, 1 in Kars, 1 in Adıyaman and 1 in Bitlis) in February. 25 of them were women. Some journalists were acquitted in three cases, while others were given prison sentences in three other cases.
Muş 2. High Criminal Court handed down a prison sentence of four years to Mezopotamya Agency reporter İdris Sayılğan for “spreading continuous propaganda for a terror organization via the media”.
Journalist Alican Uludağ received a 10-month prison sentence for “targeting officials taking part in anti-terrorism efforts” at the final hearing in Ankara 18. High Criminal Court.
Özgür Gündem Newspaper’s former co-editor-in-chief Eren Keskin and managing editor İnan Kızılkaya were each sentenced to six years, three months in prison by Istanbul 23. High Criminal Court for “membership of a terror organization”.
Zana Bilir Kaya, an ex-editor-in-chief of Özgür Gündem, on trial in the same case, was sentenced to two years, six months in prison for “spreading propaganda for a terror organization”.
Journalist Hatice Kamer, whose previous acquittal was overturned by Gaziantep Regional Court of Justice 3. Criminal Chamber, was acquitted once again at the first hearing by the district court.
Mezopotamya Agency’s Managing Editor Ferhat Çelik stood trial for allegedly “fabricating an offense” with his news story titled “Guards spit and throw bugs in inmates’ food at Bayburt Prison”. Çelik was acquitted at the first trial held at Bayburt Criminal Court of First Instance.
Journalist Banu Güven was acquitted in the trial at Istanbul 41. Criminal Court of First Instance for “praising the offense and offender” in a social media post.
Gökhan Altay, an editor with Mezopotamya Agency (MA), was investigated by Cizre Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office for “spreading propaganda for a terror organization” in his social media posts from 2014 to 2018; the investigation ended in a decision of non-prosecution.
Another decision of non-prosecution was reached in the case of journalist Oktay Candemir, who had been detained in Van on September 7, 2020 by Van Public Prosecutor’s Office, for a social media message concerning Ottoman sultans, reading “Selim the Grim: Blackout, Suleiman the Magnificent: Lethargy, Murat IV: Stupor, Abdul Hamid: Whimper and Vahdettin: Flight”, for allegedly “denigrating the precious memory of sultans”. Oktay Candemir had been previously put on probation by the court.
Antalya Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office concluded the investigation against Mezopotamya Agency’s arrested reporter Mehmet Aslan and issued an indictment. The indictment was sent to Antalya 2. High Criminal Court, which stated that the location of the accusation was Istanbul and thus forwarded it to Istanbul High Criminal Court. In the indictment, Aslan is charged with “membership of a terror organization” and faces a prison sentence of up to 15 years.
Van Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office completed an investigation and drafted an indictment against five journalists, four of whom are currently under arrest, for reporting the allegation that two villagers were thrown off a helicopter in Van. In the indictment, accepted by Van 5. High Criminal Court, the journalists are accused of “membership of a terror organization”. Journalists Adnan Bilen, Cemil Uğur, Nazan Sala, Şehriban Abi and Zeynep Durgut each face 7 years, 6 months to 15 years in prison.
The prosecutor also charged journalist Nazan Sala with “continuous propaganda for a terror organization via the media” and requested 1 year, 10 months, 15 days to 13 years, 1 month of imprisonment for her.
In the indictment, the prosecutor claimed “these publications contain much propaganda for PKK / KCK, inciting the public to hatred and enmity, and issuing stories going against the state and its institutions”, and alleged that “unlike normal newspaper, they do not even cover sports, tabloid or weather events”.
A lawsuit has been filed against Evrensel Newspaper’s Managing Editor Görkem Kınacı for allegedly “provoking the public to hatred and enmity” with the news story “Racist attack in Sakarya”. Kınacı will stand trial at Gaziosmanpaşa 10. Criminal Court of First Instance, facing a prison sentence of up to 3 years.
Mezopotamya Agency (MA) reporter Dindar Karataş, detained in Van on November 24, 2020 for alleged “membership of a terror organization” and kept in prison for over two months, has been released at the first hearing held on February 9, 2021.
Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office initiated an investigation against İnan Kızılkaya, Managing Editor of Özgür Gündem Newspaper, closed down back in 2016 with a Decree Law (KHK). An arrest warrant has been issued for Kızılkaya to receive his statement concerning posts in a social media account that does not belong to the newspaper. Kızılkaya was referred to the prosecutor’s office after “Özgür Gündem Main Trial” held on February 15, 2021 at İstanbul 23. High Criminal Court. His statement was received under the scope of the said investigation and he was released.
Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office initiated an investigation against Ferhat Çelik, Managing Editor of Mezopotamya Agency (MA). The investigation was launched due to a complaint filed with Presidential Notification Center (CİMER) regarding two news stories titled “Protest rally in Sur against prison isolation” dated January 27, 2021 and “109 months since the Roboski Massacre” dated January 28. Çelik gave a statement to Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office under the investigation.
The Constitutional Court accepted journalist Hakan Aygün’s claim that his arrest on April 22, 2020 for a social media post was unlawful, and reached a verdict on January 12, 2021. The top court ruled that Aygün’s “right to liberty and personal security” had been violated as his arrest was unlawful.
The Constitutional Court stated in its verdict that the journalist’s “right to liberty and personal security”, guaranteed by the Constitution, had been violated and ruled that 40 thousand TL shall be paid to Aygün for non-pecuniary damages.
The Constitutional Court found that the Presidential Directorate of Communication’s supervisory powers over Anadolu Agency’s (AA) “activities” and “organizational and human resources management” were unconstitutional, and cancelled these. In the relevant legislation, the Constitutional Court crossed out the second sentence, “Procedures and principles regarding audit shall be determined by the Directorate” and the third sentence, “The contract to be signed shall set forth the appointment procedures of Anadolu Agency executives”.
Evrensel newspaper’s columnist Ayşen Şahin was detained by police coming to her house even as she attended an online meeting by March 8 Women’s Platform. Şahin was released the same night after giving a statement at Istanbul Police Department. Şahin is charged with “inciting the public to hatred and enmity”.
An arrest warrant was issued against Ahmet Takan, a columnist with Korkusuz Newspaper, standing trial at Bakırköy 16. Criminal Court of First Instance for his article concerning Turkey’s talks with IMF. Upon the warrant, Takan was detained in Ankara. He was referred to the court on duty at Ankara Courthouse; he was released after giving a statement.
At AK Party’s 7. Ordinary Congress in the city of Ordu, even as the chair of the province, Halit Tomakin delivered his speech, journalist Osman Şahin, raised a banner that read “I don’t want a mayor swearing at my mother and wife. Local media is the cornerstone of democracy”. Tomakin was detained by the police after the incident.
Journalists Ozan Kaplanoğlu, Nur Derya and Gökay Küpeli were detained in Bursa while following the protests that took place after President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan appointed Melih Bulu as the president of Boğaziçi University. Journalists were released after giving a statement to the police. A student at Ege University’s Journalism Department and photographer, Ozan Acıdere was detained in Istanbul also while covering the protests. After his detention, Acıdere was referred to the court on duty, which placed him under house arrest. House arrest stood out as a widely used probation measure following detentions during these protests. The journalists were charged with allegedly “violating the Law no. 2911 on Demonstrations and Public Meetings”.
Mezopotamya Agency (MA) reporter Rojin Altay and Özgür Gelecek Newspaper reporter Taylan Öztaş were detained by the police while following a news story in Kadıköy. Altay and Öztaş gave a statement to Anadolu Public Prosecutor’s Office, and were then released.
Journalist Gökçer Tahincioğlu stated that he was threatened by an account dubbed “Görünmeyen” [Invisible]. Previously, a citizen named Gökhan Güneş, kidnapped in Istanbul and released after suffering torture, had remarked that his kidnappers had described themselves as “the invisible”. Tahincioğlu penned an article titled “The Invisible and the Visible” on the news web site T24 regarding the kidnapping cases, on the rise in recent years, and stated that he received the threat after publishing this article.
Melih Gökçek, ex-mayor of Ankara, threatened journalist Nevşin Mengü over social media, saying “I will draw you such an illustration that you will never forget it for the rest of your life.”
The letter sent by Cemil Uğur, an imprisoned reporter for Mezopotamya Agency, to Evrensel Newspaper was seized on the allegation that it was “problematic” as it included remarks about journalist Metin Göktepe, killed by torture, and injustices in the judiciary system.
One province and one district branch of Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) filed a criminal complaint with their provincial prosecutor’s offices against journalist Nedim Şener for insulting HDP voters. Şener was accused of “inciting the public to hatred and enmity, or humiliation”, “hate and discrimination”, “blocking the exercise of political rights”, “insult” and “threat”.
Ayşe Böhürler, a columnist with Yeni Şafak Newspaper, filed a criminal complaint against Celal Eren, the editor-in-chief of the news web site Haberalternatif, who had reported on the public tenders that Böhürler was granted by Gaziantep Metropolitan Municipality.
Kayseri 3. Criminal Court of Peace issued an access ban for the web site of Mezopotamya Agency (mezopotamyaajansi27.com), with its ruling dated February 22, 2021 and dated 2021/963.
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