Press In Arrest's 7-Month Press Freedom Report

Aug. 7, 2020

In Turkey, the judiciary recess has begun, and will last until September. It was speculated that the recess could be postponed as the country spent the first months of the year under lockdown due to the coronavirus. However, the decision was taken to initiate the recess period as usual. Thus, after the rather turbulent first seven months of 2020, trials were given a short break. This in turn gave us the opportunity to evaluate this period. At Press in Arrest, we have compiled our notes on the events of these past seven months.

Before we start, happy belated feast of sacrifice for those observing it. We would like to remind you on this occasion that at least 65 journalists spent the holiday in prison. We continue working so that from now on, they and all journalists may enjoy future holidays in freedom.

2020 continues as a year when the world as we know it has been shocked to its core. The world is like a ship that has lost its bearings. Naturally, in a country such as Turkey, where one may talk about only an arbitrary democracy, the impact of these shocks is much more devastating, even lethal. The past seven months witnessed developments that eclipsed even the most dramatic TV series.

According to the World Press Freedom Index, whereby Reporters Without Borders evaluate the situation of press freedom in 180 countries on an annual basis, Turkey rose to 154th spot. Turkey had ranked 157th in the previous two years. Turkey’s progress in the index may be explained by the worsening of the situation in other countries, and the 1. Judiciary Package launched at the end of 2019.

That is because, with the first judiciary package passed in the framework of the Judicial Reform Strategy Document a number of journalists were released from prison. The amendments allowed some imprisoned journalists condemned to less than five years in prison to appeal to the verdict at the Court of Cassation.
As a result, the trials of some detained or non-detained journalists resumed, and these trials continued into 2020.

In addition, the package added to Article 7 of the Anti-Terror Law, the phrase “Expressions of opinion that do not exceed the limits of reporting or are made for criticism do not constitute a crime”. However, this rather ambiguous wording triggered debates around the questions, “What is the limit of reporting? Who defines this limit, and how?”

After the Judiciary Package came into force, journalists and lawyers referred to this amendment in their defenses presented in courtrooms. However, this caveat which supposed to protect “the right to receive, share and access news” (!) did not have any impact on the judges, and did not prevent journalists from receiving prison sentences…

Another development which concerned the judiciary and legal world and indirectly the press and journalists was the “amnesty bill” proposed by Nationalist Action Party (MHP) which acts in parliament as the de facto junior partner of AKP. MHP had regularly brought this issue on the agenda since 2018. In the first months of 2020, during the coronavirus lockdown, the demand of amnesty for certain groups of prisoners was associated with the pandemic and brought before the public in the form of an ‘amendment to criminal enforcement laws’.

As is the case with every issue, the “amnesty bill” created expectations among some members of the public, while drawing harsh criticism from others. As a result, the bill was passed into law and a portion of certain inmates’ prison sentences were pardoned, to the exclusion of those condemned for numerous ‘terror crimes,’ ‘armed organization crimes’ and ‘sex offenses’. Around 90 thousand prisoners were released.

This sparked debates around the leveling of “terrorism” charges against every individual considered dissident in Turkey, in a particularly extensive and arbitrary manner in legal proceedings concerning the freedom of press and expression.

As revealed by Press in Arrest’s reports until date, journalists in Turkey face prosecution most frequently on charges of “terror crimes” as defined in the Anti-Terror Law and “crimes concerning state secrets”, “espionage”, and “crimes against persons” as defined in the Turkish Penal Code.

As a result, numerous journalists who were prosecuted, arrested or condemned were left out of the scope of the amendment concerning criminal enforcement. Please click here for our detailed analysis of the matter.

'Coronavirus'

The coronavirus pandemic which shook the entire world had a serious impact on Turkey as well. From mid-March onwards, a series of measures were introduced, including general curfews, shutting down of cafes and pubs, travel bans, and suspension of legal proceedings at courtrooms.

Nonetheless, the pressure on journalists continued to escalate.

In the period when legal proceedings were suspended (March 17th - June 15th), according to Press in Arrest data,

  • At least 61 journalists were summoned to testify, taken into custody and faced criminal complaints. Lawsuits were filed against 18 journalists.
  • In 59 press trials held in 9 provinces, 92 journalists faced prison sentences totaling 5 counts of aggravated life sentence, 1 count of life sentence and at least 587 years 3 months to 1513 years 15 days of imprisonment. All the hearings were postponed during this period.

Law allowing for multiple bar associations

With the onset of “normalization” after the pandemic, the Turkish public agenda returned to domestic political debates. In recent weeks, the topic that marked the agenda was the legal status of bar associations, one of the most important institutions of the judiciary system, and the government’s attempt to pass a bill allowing for multiple bar associations in a province. Bars figure among the most important actors for the right to defense in Turkey. The government, frustrated due to the failure of its attempts to establish control over the bars, was known to be seeking ways to intervene in this domain. The discussions on the bill started on July 9th at the General Assembly of the Turkish Parliament and ended on July 11th. Of the 417 deputies who participated in the voting on the bill, 251 cast affirmative votes and 163 cast negative votes.

The new law has thus changed the election system and structure of bar associations, making it possible to establish a separate bar association upon the application of 2,000 lawyers in provinces, which have over 5 thousand lawyers registered. While the government claims to “bring democracy to the bars” in this way, bar presidents, lawyers and opposition parties argue that this is tantamount to “dividing up the bars”.

On the other hand, this new legislation will also affect the elections at Turkey Bars Association (TBB). Because, each bar association will be represented at the TBB General Assembly with its president and at least 4 delegates, and an additional delegate for every 5,000 members for bars with 5,000 members and above. As a result, a bar with 49 members and a bar with 4,999 will both have 4 delegates at the General Assembly. As such, cities like Istanbul, Ankara and İzmir, which have a large number of lawyers, may see their influence at TBB reduced. In addition, now that the law has entered into province, it will be possible to establish multiple bars in Istanbul, Ankara and İzmir.

Even before the bill was brought before the Turkish Parliament, the bar presidents visited the parliament and met with all parties to express their objections. Afterwards, presidents of 56 bars decided to hold a protest march from their provinces to Ankara, under the slogan “Defense Hits the Road”. The bar presidents held a symbolic march of 20 kilometers and met on the outskirts of Ankara, however, the police prevented them from entering the capital. Circled by riot police, the bar presidents staged a sit-in for more than 24 hours, demanding to walk 200 meters towards the city in a symbolic gesture, and then to visit M.K. Atatürk’s Mausoleum. Eventually, their demands were accepted, and they ended the sit-in.

Under normal circumstances, while bills submitted to the parliament are being discussed at the parliamentary commission in charge, related parties can participate in the talks and express their opinions. However, as the commission in question debated the law on multiple bar associations, the bar presidents arriving in Ankara were prevented from joining the talks.

Barred from entering the parliament, the bar presidents staged another sit-in in front of its gates. The police prevented communication between the bar presidents, and the journalists reporting on the protests, or the lawyers arriving to show their support. There was a police crackdown at the parliament gates. Then, the bar presidents and lawyers walked to the Ankara Courthouse to hold a protest that they dubbed the “Great Rally for Defense”. The police used pepper gas and shields on the lawyers who wanted to march after this rally.

The presidents of the bar associations returned to Ankara when the bill came to the agenda of the parliament’s General Assembly. This time, they launched a “Defense Vigil” in Kuğulu Park. The riot police blocked the entrances to the park. Numerous lawyers flocking to the park to join the protest were forced to wait outside the park as they were refused entry. There were occasional spats between lawyers and the police.

Despite the objection of the bar presidents and opposition parties, the bill was passed into law with the votes of AKP and MHP deputies, and entered into force upon the approval of the President.

In addition to its effects on TBB’s management structure, it is indicated that the ‘multiple bar associations’ law will encourage lawyers to join bars based on their political leaning, thus leading to political polarization in judiciary proceedings. As such, it is argued that defendants may see their right to a fair trial fall in jeopardy. There are already strong claims about the politicization of the Turkish judiciary system and the ties between various judges and religious sects, and now, this latest piece of legislation may politicize the defense -namely lawyers- as well, forcing them to choose among various political camps.

In this context, journalists appearing in court will be prosecuted not only according to their news stories and media outlets -as is already the case-, but also according to the political leaning of the bar association of their lawyers, in every stage of their defense, from detention to arrest, from court proceedings to Court of Cassation procedures.

‘Social media law’

Another freedom of expression-related development, which will lead to devastating results, concerns the social media in Turkey. The government has passed another law granting itself unlimited powers over the social media and internet use, as it had been planning to do for a while.

The last item brought on the agenda of the parliament before it entered into recess for the summer was the new control mechanism towards social media apps with millions of users. The “social media law”, introducing new obligations and sanctions for social media companies such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, WhatsApp sparked much public debate.

With the new law, these social networking apps will have to have a representative in Turkey, and give a positive or negative response within 48 hours to government requests for removal of content. The companies will have to pay a fine of 5 million TL if the request for the removal or blocking of content is not responded to within 48 hours, and a fine of 10 million TL if the request is not met. In addition, companies will have to submit to the Turkish government six-monthly reports with categorized statistical data on such requests. If companies refuse to appoint a representative in Turkey, their broadband traffic will be restricted.

Depicted by opposition parties as a “censorship law”, and criticized by many non-governmental organizations, rights advocates, and academics, this piece of legislation was nonetheless adopted by the parliament with the votes of AKP and MHP deputies, and entered into force following the approval of the President. Criticisms and concerns remain.

First and foremost, the new law shows that the basic rights and freedoms, particularly the freedom of thought and expression will be further restricted in Turkey. In particular, the clause regarding the “right to be forgotten” paves the way for the elimination of news stories in online archives. In other words, news penned by journalists to protect public interest will be deleted from archives. For instance, the government or politicians will have the opportunity to retrospectively remove all news of corruption concerning them, or delete statements critical towards them. It is considered that this will not only erase public memory, but also intensify censorship and self-censorship.

Journalists penning news stories in defense of public interest and so as to hold politicians accountable, now stand trial not only for their news stories but also social media posts. Sometimes, prosecutors include their social media posts in the indictments against journalists, and demand penalty increases on that basis. Such that, journalists may be tried even on the basis of the news stories shared on their media outlet’s social media accounts. For example, Onur Emre Yağan faced a prison sentence up to 8 years 9 months, on charges of “continuously spreading propaganda for a terror organization” via the news stories shared on the social media accounts of the web site of which he used to be the editor-in-chief.

Let us now turn to the prosecution of journalists in Turkey in the first 7 months of 2020

According to the Press in Arrest database, in Turkey in the first 7 months of 2020,

  • At least 152 journalists stood trial in 89 cases in 11 cities.
    (These journalists appeared in court at least once in the first 7 months of 2020.)

  • Of these 89 trials, 18 were concluded, while 71 continue.

  • Of at least 152 journalists tried in the 89 cases,
    o 8 were acquitted,
    o 8 were sentenced to prison,
    o 1 was sentenced to an administrative fine,
    o 2 saw their cases dropped,
    o 133 continue to stand trial.

Here are the important details of these legal proceedings:

  • The trial widely known as the “KCK Press Trial” is on since 2012, and the prosecutor has not even submitted his judicial opinion as to the accusations.

  • One of the journalists to stand trial for the longest period (since 2015), Mehmet Baransu is still prosecuted at a district court.

  • The hacker group ‘RedHack’ announced in September 2016 that they had broken into the e-mail account of Minister of Energy and Natural Resources Berat Albayrak, the son-in-law of President Erdoğan. E-mails allegedly belonging to Albayrak were posted on various social media accounts. These posts were then covered by numerous media outlets. Journalists Tunca Öğreten, Derya Okatan, Eray Sargın, Metin Yoksu and Ömer Çelik were sued for related news stories in June 2017. The trial still continues.

  • The trial widely known as “National Intelligence Organization (MİT) Conspiracy Trial” has begun. One of the 34 defendants of the trial, journalist Mustafa Gökkılıç was in prison since July 2018. The indictment was accepted by the court in March 2020, and the first hearing was held in June 2020. However, the court ruled that the hearings had to be closed to the public, as “topics that might jeopardize public safety and national security could arise”. Also, the court ruled to ban all news stories on the trial, and declared that an investigation would be launched against all such stories.

  • Journalist Deniz Yücel had been detained in 2017, remained in prison for a year, and released in February 2018 after the indictment against him was drafted, and then left for Germany on the same day aboard a private plan. For his news articles published on the German-based Die Welt newspaper, Yücel was prosecuted on charges of “continuously spreading propaganda for a terror organization”, facing a prison sentence between 3 years 6 months to 20 years 6 months. The trial has been concluded and Yücel is condemned to 2 years 9 months 22 days in prison for “continuously spreading propaganda for a terror organization via the media”.

  • For their news stories on the funeral of a National Intelligence Organization (MİT) officer killed during Turkish operations in Libya, a lawsuit was brought against journalists Barış Terkoğlu, Barış Pehlivan and Hülya Kılınç of Odatv, Ferhat Çelik and Aydın Keser of Yeni Yaşam newspaper, and Murat Ağırel of Yeniçağ newspaper, who were detained in March 2020. The indictment against them was completed in April 2020. Alongside these 6 arrested journalists, Erk Acarer, a journalist living abroad, was also included in the investigation. As such, under the scope of the “MİT News Trial”, 7 journalists started being tried for ‘revealing information that must be kept confidential for the state’s security and its domestic and external political interests’ and ‘breaching the MİT law’, facing prison sentences between 8 to 19 years. The first hearing was held in June 2020, and Aydın Keser, Barış Terkoğlu and Ferhat Çelik were released. The court ordered the continuation of the imprisonment of Barış Pehlivan, Hülya Kılınç and Murat Ağırel. The next hearing is in September 2020.

  • Journalist Müyesser Yıldız was taken into custody on June 8th, 2020 with a police raid on her Ankara home. Alongside her, Tele1 TV’s Ankara Representative İsmail Dükel was also detained under the same investigation. It was revealed that the investigation was based on charges of “political and military espionage”. Later on, Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office, Terrorist Crimes Investigation Bureau changed the accusation and demanded Yıldız’s arrest on charges of “revealing information that must be kept confidential for the state’s security and its domestic and external political interests”. Yıldız was arrested on June 12th, 2020 on this charge, for two of her news articles about Turkey’s military operations in Libya. Müyesser Yıldız has been placed in Ankara Sincan Women’s Closed Prison, however, the indictment against her has not been drafted yet.

  • Journalist Aziz Oruç had gone abroad in 2017 due to the legal proceedings against him, resumed journalism in Northern Iraq, passed via Iran to Armenia in order to travel to Europe, however was deported to Turkey by Armenia, and was detained and arrested in Ağrı. The legal proceedings which continued in his absentia were resumed in his presence. Oruç first appeared before court for the lawsuit filed in 2017, and was condemned to prison for 2 years 1 months for “continuously spreading propaganda for a terror organization via the media”. Another lawsuit was filed against Oruç, for “membership of an armed terror organization” and “continuously spreading propaganda for a terror organization via the media”. In the indictment, the prosecutor based the accusations on the social media posts and likes of the TV channel he worked for, as well as his interviews, requesting a prison term between 9 years 4 months 15 days to 28 years 1 month 15 days. The first hearing was held in July 2020. Oruç remains in prison, and the trial will continue in September.

  • In April 2020, Cumhuriyet newspaper published a much-discussed news story stating that the President Erdoğan’s Communication Director Fahrettin Altun rented a plot of land from General Directorate of Foundations for 10 years at a monthly rent of 258 TL, built structures for landscaping on the plot, and Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality demolished the structures in question. In response, houses of journalists working for media outlets pursuing an editorial policy ‘critical’ of the government were monitored by pro-government media outlets. The latter published the photographs of dissident journalists’ houses, and a drone with camera was flown over the house of FOX TV anchorman Fatih Portakal. İstanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office launched a criminal investigation claiming that “Altun’s residential address and its photo were shared in the said news story”, for the purposes of “presenting a target to terror organizations”. Journalists Olcay Büyükbaş Akça, İpek Özbey, Hazal Ocak and Vedat Arık testified under this investigation in April. The investigation still continues. Fahrettin Altun submitted via his lawyers a criminal compliant to İstanbul Anadolu 30. Court of First Instance, claiming that the news stories in question violated his personal rights, demanding 250 thousand TL in moral compensation. A lawsuit was brought against Cumhuriyet newspaper reporter Hazal Ocak and the newspaper’s managing editor Olcay Büyüktaş Akça.

  • The Court of Cassation reached a verdict in the “FETÖ’s Media Organization Trial”, as it is generally known, where 29 individuals, 27 of whom are journalists, are prosecuted. In its verdict, the Court of Cassation upheld the prison sentences for Abdullah Kılıç, Cuma Ulus, Hanım Büşra Erdal, Mutlu Çölgeçen, Bayram Kaya, Bünyamin Köseli, Cihan Acar, Davut Aydın, Habip Güler, Halil İbrahim Balta, Hüseyin Aydın, Muhammet Sait Kuloğlu, Mustafa Erkan Acar, Murat Aksoy, Oğuz Usluer, Seyid Kılıç and Ufuk Şanlı, based on charges of “membership of an armed terror organization”. The Court of Cassation overturned the prison sentences against the journalists Ali Akkuş, Ahmet Memiş, Cemal Azmi Kalyoncu, Gökçe Fırat Çulhaoğlu, Ünal Tanık, Yakup Çetin and Yetkin Yıldız, stating that an incorrect offense was attributed to them by the district court. As regards Atilla Taş, whose prison sentence was overturned, the Court of Cassation stated that his actions corresponded to the crimes of “insulting the president” and “explicitly denigrating the state organs and agencies”. Ahmet Memiş, Cemal Azmi Kalyoncu, Gökçe Fırat Çulhaoğlu, Ünal Tanık, Yakup Çetin and Yetkin Yıldız, whose prison sentences were overturned by the Court of Cassation, were released in June. Their trials will resume in the district court.

The judiciary recess period began in July…

Pressure is placed on the freedom of press and journalists not only via legislation and legal proceedings, but also by means of the Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTÜK) and Press Bulletin Authority (BİK) -thus at a bureaucratic level and in a more systematic way.

RTÜK imposes TV channels penalties such as broadcast bans and heavy administrative fines, while BİK prevents certain newspapers from receiving ads, thus also placing economic pressure on dissident media outlets such as Fox TV, Tele 1 TV, Halk TV, BirGün newspaper, Evrensel newspaper, and Cumhuriyet newspaper. In brief, journalists working in these outlets are pressurized by the judiciary system, while the media outlets themselves are pressurized by the bureaucracy.

The judiciary recess period began in July…

The judiciary recess corresponds to a leave for all judiciary personnel, and as per Law on Legal Procedures, Article, 102, “The judiciary recess starts on July 20th and ends on the August 31st every year. The new court year begins on September 1st.”
As such, until September, courts on duty will host the trials of only detained defendants.

The judiciary recess has begun, however, according to the Press in Arrest database, as of today,

  • At least 65 journalists are in prison as convicts or detainees!
  • At least 251 journalists stand trial in or outside prison, or in absentia.
    (The figures do not include other media professionals such as advertisers, concessionaires, graphic designers and distributors.)

“Freedom of press” and “prosecution of journalists” in July:

At least 9 journalists were taken into custody, summoned to testify, faced a new investigation and / or criminal complaint!

  • As discussions continued at the Turkish parliament on the legal amendment which will change the current legal structure of bar associations to introduce a system of so-called ‘multiple bar associations’, the presidents of the bar associations were not admitted to the parliament and staged a sit-in protest before its gates. Journalist Sibel Hürtaş went to the location of the protest to follow the news story, but was refused entry by the police. Although she said that she was a journalist and was there for reporting on the event, she was taken into custody. Hürtaş wrote on her social media account that she was subjected to ill treatment during custody. The General Directorate of Security issued a statement on the incident. In the statement, the directorate stated that Hürtaş was warned to comply with social distancing rules, she violated the rules despite the warnings, her ID was demanded to impose an administrative fine, and she resisted against the police so as not to submit her ID. The statement also read, “Judicial proceedings were initiated against the journalist for ‘Resisting against the police to impede the performance of their duty’, and administrative proceedings were initiated for ‘not complying with Social Distancing Isolation Rules’ as stipulated by the Law on Public Healthcare. Despite her allegations, she was not indeed ill treated by police officers during detention. Her claims on her social media accounts are totally unfounded and slanderous.” Sibel Hürtaş was released, after testifying for about 6 hours.

  • An investigation was launched against Aytunç Erkin, a journalist with Sözcü newspaper, for his interview with the retired Military Judge Ahmet Zeki Üçok, published on September 20th, 2019 under the title “In the judiciary system, there are still 2221 judges and prosecutors who are members or supporters of FETÖ”. Erkin was summoned to testify under this investigation on allegations of “insulting public officials”.

  • The Presidency of the Turkish Parliament filed a criminal complaint against Yılmaz Özdil, a columnist with Sözcü newspaper for his article “What are the bars doing at the parliament…”, demanding the launch of an investigation against him on charges of “explicitly denigrating the Turkish parliament”, “insult” and “provoking the public to hatred and enmity”.

  • An investigation was launched against Artı Gerçek web site’s columnist Nurcan Kaya for allegedly “spreading propaganda for a terror organization”.

  • The concessionaire of the web site ‘Manisa Son Haber’, based in the province of Manisa, Mustafa Temiz stated that he was summoned to testify by the Public Prosecutor who claimed that “he might write a news story”, although he had not even taken any photos despite allegations.

  • Journalist Onur Emre Yağan testified under an investigation launched on allegations of “insulting a public official”, owing to his social medial posts from back in 2017.

  • Journalist Emel Armutçu announced on her social media account that she was summoned to testify under an investigation launched against her based on her social media posts from five years ago.

  • Journalist Can Özçelik testified under an investigation initiated for his news article titled “Here is the villa claimed to house the ‘FETÖ Exchange’”.

  • Ayşe Güney, the spokeswoman of the Mesopotamia Women Journalists Platform and editor of the agency Jinnews, which employs only female journalists, was detained in a police raid on her home in Diyarbakır. Following the police operation where 26 women in total were detained, journalist Ayşe Güney was released with a judicial control measure.

3 journalists acquitted!

  • Journalist Doğan Akın stood trial for reporting on the posts from the social media account dubbed “Fuat Avni”, on charges of “willingly and knowingly abetting an armed terror organization without being a part of its hierarchical structure”, facing a prison sentence of 7 years 6 months to 15 years. He was acquitted at the third hearing of the trial.
    (The account “Fuat Avni” had marked the public agenda in Turkey when the tension between the “Fetullah Gülen sect” and the Justice and Development Party government escalated.)

  • Journalist Onur Emre Yağan faced a prison sentence between 1 year 3 months to 8 years 9 months, on charges of “continuously spreading propaganda for a terror organization” via the news stories shared on the social media accounts of İleri Haber web site, of which he was the editor-in-chief. He was acquitted at the fourth hearing of the trial.

  • Journalist Mehmet Yakup Yılmaz was persecuted on charges of “continuously insulting a public official” in the news articles where he questioned the reason for the sudden increase in the wealth of ex-Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım and his sons, upon a complaint by Binali Yıldırım, and faced a prison sentence of one year five months 15 days to four years one month. He was acquitted at the third hearing of the trial. Later on Binali Yıldırım stated that he withdrew his complaint and the demand for moral compensation, in a petition he sent to the court via his lawyer.

Three other journalists were acquitted in the trials where they were charged with violating the Anti-Terror Law with their news stories, as “there was no evidence for crime”.

Lawsuits filed against at least 4 journalists!

  • Journalist İsmail Yıldız (Rawin Sterk) was taken into custody on February 28th, 2020 while reporting on the refugees in Edirne trying to cross the Turkish-Greek border, and was arrested on March 6th, 2020 on charges of “spreading propaganda for a terror organization”. The indictment against him was completed by the prosecutor while Yıldız was in prison for almost five months. İstanbul 34. High Criminal Court accepted the indictment, where Yıldız is accused of “membership of an armed terror organization” and “continuously spreading propaganda for a terror organization”. The journalist faces 8 years 9 months to 23 years 9 months in prison. The trial will begin with the first hearing scheduled for September 2nd, 2020.

  • Lawsuits were filed against the Cumhuriyet newspaper reporter Hazal Ocak and the newspaper’s managing editor Olcay Büyüktaş Akça for the news stories published on Cumhuriyet which stated that the President’s Communication Director Fahrettin Altun rented a plot of land from General Directorate of Foundations for 10 years at a monthly rent of 258 TL, built structures for landscaping on the plot, and Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality demolished the structures in question. The President’s Communication Director Fahrettin Altun submitted via his lawyers a criminal compliant to İstanbul Anadolu 30. Court of First Instance, claiming that the news stories in question violated his personal rights. Altun demanded moral compensation of 150 thousand TL for the news story titled “Unlicensed Construction by the Bosphorus” published on Cumhuriyet on April 14th, 50 thousand TL for the news story titled “CHP: This is fraud” published on Cumhuriyet on April 15th, and 50 thousand TL for the news story titled “Our crime is to expose the criminal, to catch criminals red handed” published on Cumhuriyet on April 29th, amounting to 250 thousand TL in total. On the other hand, İstanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office launched a criminal investigation for the said news story claiming that “Altun’s residential address and its photo were shared in the said news story” for allegedly “presenting a target to terror organizations”. Journalists Olcay Büyükbaş Akça, İpek Özbey, Hazal Ocak and Vedat Arık testified under this investigation in April. The investigation still continues.

  • On July 14th, at the second hearing of journalist Hakan Aygün’s trial, the court stated that another indictment was drafted against Aygün for “explicitly denigrating the religious values of a sector of the society” and ordered that the second indictment be merged with the first one.

1 journalist condemned to prison!

  • In the trial filed against him for his news articles published on the German-based Die Welt newspaper, journalist Deniz Yücel was prosecuted on charges of “continuously spreading propaganda for a terror organization”, facing a prison sentence between 3 years 6 months to 20 years 6 months. Initially charged with “spreading propaganda for PKK/KCK armed terror organization,” Yücel was eventually condemned to 2 years 9 months 22 days in prison for “continuously spreading propaganda for a terror organization via the media”, but was acquitted from the charges of “spreading propaganda for FETÖ/PDY armed terror organization” and “inciting the people to hatred and enmity”. The prosecutor claimed that in his defense during the trial, Yücel committed the crimes listed in Article 301 of Turkish Penal Code. Accordingly, the court ordered that a criminal investigation be launched against Yücel, “for denigrating the Turkish state, government, judiciary institutions, and law enforcement agencies”. A further criminal complaint was launched against Yücel on charges of “insulting the President” as per Turkish Penal Code, Article 299, with his article dated November 6th, 2016 and titled “Putschist”, featuring a photo of Erdoğan against the backdrop of the Turkish flag.

Court of Cassation overturns the acquittal verdict for 4 journalists!

Wiretapping recordings of a meeting among senior bureaucrats concerning the transportation of the Suleiman Shah Tomb in Northern Iraq had been leaked and the newspapers Aydınlık and Cumhuriyet had published the recordings on their web site. A lawsuit had been launched against Cumhuriyet newspaper’s then editor-in-chief İbrahim Yıldız and managing editor Aykut Küçükkaya as well as Aydınlık newspaper’s then editor-in-chief Mustafa İlker Yücel and managing editor Murat Şimşek in December 2015 on charges of “revealing information which has to be kept secret for the state’s security and political interests”. The district court acquitted the journalists of the charges. However, the prosecutor appealed this verdict at the Court of Cassation, which overturned the verdict and ordered a retrial. The retrial began at İstanbul 2. High Criminal Court. However, the journalists did not attend the trial. The court ordered that the journalists be brought to the second hearing by force and adjourned the trial until December 10th, 2020.

In July, 46 journalists were prosecuted in 21 press-related lawsuits in 8 Turkish cities, facing a total of 1 count of aggravated life imprisonment, 2 counts of life imprisonment, and at least 411 years to 841 years in prison!

Arzu Demir, Ayşe Oyman, Çağdaş Kaplan, Çağdaş Ulus, Ertuş Bozkurt, Evrim Kepenek, Fatma Koçak, Hüseyin Deniz, İsmail Yıldız (Rawin Sterk), Kenan Kırkaya, Mazlum Özdemir, Mehmet Emin Yıldırım, Murat Eroğlu, Nevin Erdemir, Nilgün Yıldız, Nurettin Fırat, Oktay Candemir, Ömer Çelik, Sibel Güler, Ramazan Pekgöz, Sadık Topaloğlu, Semih Alankuş, Sibel Güneş Ünsal, Turabi Kişin, Yüksel Genç, Zeynep Kuray, Ziya Çiçekçi, Zuhal Tekiner, Doğan Akın, Alican Uludağ, Duygu Güvenç, İsmail Cem Şimşek, Ruken Demir, Can Dündar, Ayhan Bilgen, Yetkin Yıldız, Onur Emre Yağan, Hakan Aygün, Mehmet Dursun, Meşale Tolu, Kibriye Evren, Mehmet Y. Yılmaz, Deniz Yücel, Mehmet Baransu, Murat Şevki Çoban, Aziz Oruç.

(In July, journalist Oktay Candemir appeared before judges multiple times in different trials.)

Press in Arrest is a database, monitoring, documentation and collective memory study of Press Research Association.
+90 (312) 945 15 56 | pressinarrest@gmail.com

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