Press In Arrest April 2020 Press Freedom Report

May 1, 2020

Covid19 outbreak continues to set the agenda in Turkey and the world. The virus seems to hold the reins of politics, society and daily life. Efforts to bring the virus under control and to return to normal continue.

Although Covid19 appears to be our only agenda item nowadays, other issues continue to change and evolve in Turkey and the world.

Press in Arrest has gathered in a report the top issues concerning ‘freedom of press and journalists standing trial’ in April 2020 in Turkey.

Yeşim Yavuzer - 1 May 2020

Covid19 outbreak continues to set the agenda in Turkey and the world. The virus seems to hold the reins of politics, society and daily life. Efforts to bring the virus under control and to return to normal continue.

Although Covid19 appears to be our only agenda item nowadays, other issues continue to change and evolve in Turkey and the world.

Turkey has risen to 154th position in the 2020 World Press Freedom Index, which covers 180 countries. Turkey was in 157th position in the last two years, and its recent rise to 154th position may be explained by the deterioration of the conditions in other countries, and the release of some detained journalists in Turkey with the recently enacted Judiciary Reform Package.

Here are the top agenda items concerning ‘freedom of press and journalists standing trial’ in Turkey, in April 2020:

* Hearings postponed due to measures against Covid19!
In April, 23 journalists were on trial in 17 lawsuit cases, facing in total between at least 171 years 11 months and up to 408 years 10 months 15 days in prison.

*Legal amendment on criminal enforcement comes into force: Half of jailed journalists remain out of its scope!
The bill has been ratified by the Turkish Parliament, and enacted upon its approval by President Tayyip Erdoğan. However, the amendments, ostensibly drafted ‘in accordance with the sensitivities of the public conscience’ have left at least 54 out of nearly 100 journalists in jail uncovered in its scope. Moreover, with certain provisions of the so-called reform, journalism has further been criminalized, and journalists now face even higher barriers… You may click the link below for an analysis by our editor Sinan Tartanoğlu on the legal amendments on criminal enforcement and its ramifications for journalists currently standing trial or those who may be indicted in the future, as well as the freedom of press in Turkey.

* Cumhuriyet newspaper under pressure: 2 lawsuits against 3 journalists, 4 journalists investigated!
Two separate lawsuits were filed against Cumhuriyet newspaper correspondents Hazal Ocak, Alican Uludağ and Olcay Büyüktaş Akça. Furthermore, journalists Olcay Büyükbaş Akça, İpek Özbey, Hazal Ocak and Vedat Arık were summoned to testify under a separate investigation.

* Journalists arrested for reporting on the funeral of a National Intelligence Organization officer!
A news story by Sabah newspaper disclosed that an indictment was being drafted against 7 journalists, 6 of whom are detained, as well as a municipality employee. Although the reports confirmed that the prosecutor’s office completed the indictment and forwarded it to the court, it has yet to be confirmed whether the court has accepted the indictment or any date has been set for a court hearing.

In the face of Covid19 epidemic and the coming into effect of the law on criminal enforcement, imprisoned journalists reiterate their demand for release through their lawyers.

According to the latest statement by Minister of Justice Abdülhamit Gül, 120 detainees and convicts in 4 penal institutions have been diagnosed with Covid19. Social media campaigns are organized to demand the release of inmates, who face life-threatening conditions.

On the other hand, all journalists continue to feel the triple oppression from politicians-executive-judiciary.

IN APRIL;

Investigations were launched and criminal complaints were filed against at least 12 journalists:

  • Turkey’s state-owned tea manufacturing company ÇAYKUR filed a criminal complaint against journalist Gençağa Karafazlı, the owner of the news web site Rize Nabız, which published news stories titled “Virus alert at ÇAYKUR” and “Workers infected with virus”, on allegations that the web site “attempted to create an unfavorable image about ÇAYKUR”.

  • Journalist Gamze İşler was summoned to testify for her video news titled “Aren’t men guilty at all in femicides?” published by Odatv on August 28th, 2019. An investigation was launched against her on allegations of ‘insulting the president’.

  • President Tayyip Erdoğan’s co-in-law Özdemir Bayraktar and his son-in-law Selçuk Bayraktar, filed a criminal complaint against journalist Mustafa Hoş for his news stories about the “assassination of Mesut Mevlevi”. Hoş gave a statement to İstanbul Çağlayan Courthouse, Prosecutor’s Office for Press Crimes.

  • President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan filed a criminal complaint against journalist Fatih Portakal, on the grounds of Portakal’s social media posts comparing the president’s donation campaign to fight the coronavirus outbreak - ‘Biz Bize Yeteriz Türkiyem’ [‘We are all we need my Turkey’ in literal translation] – to the heavy taxes imposed upon the nation during Turkey’s independence war. On another case, Banking Regulation and Supervision Agency, BDDK, has also filed a criminal complaint against Portakal for allegedly violating Banking Law Articles 74, 158 and 162. Portakal faces from one to three years in prison as well as judiciary fines.

  • Journalist Ruşen Demir was summoned to testify under an investigation against his social media posts and news stories.

  • Journalist Oktay Candemir was summoned to testify under three separate investigations against his social media posts by Van Public Prosecutor’s Office.

  • Journalist Ahmet Kanbal reported on the claim that at the Mardin State Hospital, coronavirus-positive children were kept in the same department with other children. Mardin Provincial Health Directorate filed a complaint against Kanbal, and an investigation was launched against him. Kanbal was summoned to give a statement under this investigation for allegedly ‘inciting the population to hatred and enmity’. Kanbal was also summoned to testify under a separate investigation concerning his social media posts, for allegedly ‘insulting public officers performing their duty’ and ‘denigrating the state and its institutions’.

  • Bakırköy Public Prosecutor’s Office, Cyber Crimes Bureau launched an investigation against journalist Zülal Koçer for sharing footage from the March 8th Feminist Night Rally in İstanbul on her social media account.

  • Cumhuriyet newspaper published a news story indicating that Fahrettin Altun, Communication Director of the Turkish Presidency, rented a plot of land from General Directorate of Foundations for 10 years at 258 TL per month, carried out landscaping on the plot, and the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality demolished these structures for being illegal. Istanbul Public Prosecutor’s Office launched an investigation against journalists Olcay Büyükbaş Akça, İpek Özbey, Hazal Ocak and Vedat Arık for sharing “the address and photographs of Altun’s residence”, on charges of “presenting a target for terror organizations”. Journalists were summoned to testify.

2 journalists taken under custody, 1 journalist arrested:

  • Journalist Hakan Aygün was taken under custody for his social media post titled ‘Oh, those who believe in IBAN’ which referred to the presidential donation campaign for the coronavirus outbreak. He was arrested on charges of ‘inciting the population to hatred and enmity, or humiliating the population’.

  • Bülent Karagöz, owner and manager of the news web site Kocaeli Cumhuriyet, was detained for not paying the judiciary fine of 1700 TL that he was sentenced to in a trial concerning a news story about the former Mayor of Ankara Metropolitan Municipality, Melih Gökçek.

23 journalists tried in 17 cases, facing a total of 171 years 11 months to 408 years 10 months 15 days in prison:

Sertaç Kayar, Arafat Dayan, Deniz Yücel, Mehmet Baransu, Ahmet Altan, Yasemin Çongar, Yıldıray Oğur, Canan Coşkun, Can Uğur (in two seprate cases), Ali Açar, Mehmet Y. Yılmaz, Yetkin Yıldız, Zehra Özdilek, Barış İnce, Alican Uludağ, Duygu Güvenç, Derya Okatan, Doğan Akın, Mehmet Dursun, Hayri Demir, Pelin Ünker, Ruken Demir, Ender İmrek.

The hearings for these trials were postponed due to the measures against the coronavirus, which has been declared as a pandemic.

Lawsuits filed against 6 journalists:

  • A lawsuit was filed against Cumhuriyet newspaper’s reporter Alican Uludağ and its managing editor Olcay Büyüktaş Akça for publishing a news story suggesting that the police knew that two ISIS militants who massacred 103 citizens at the Ankara Train Station on October 10th, 2015, had previously purchased chemicals to enhance the explosive power of the bomb. Uludağ and Büyüktaş are facing one to three years in prison on charges of “disclosing and publishing the identity of those reporting crimes and criminals” as per Anti-Terror Law, Article 6/3.

[According to the Press in Arrest database, no journalists stood trial in the last two years as per Anti-Terror Law, Article 6/3.]

  • A lawsuit was brought against Cumhuriyet reporter Hazal Ocak for a news story indicating that ‘President’s son-in-law and Minister of Treasury and Finance Berat Albayrak purchased plots of land along the planned route of the Istanbul Canal project’. In his indictment dated March 6th, 2020, the prosecutor requested that Ocak stand trial for ‘insult’ through this news article. However, the Chief Public Prosecutor rejected this indictment, stating that Ocak ‘committed the offense of insult via the press and publicly’, and thus the sentence had to be aggravated. As per the second indictment drafted on March 31st, 2020, Ocak faces one to two years in prison.

  • A lawsuit was filed against journalist Sabiha Temizkan on charges of “spreading propaganda for a terrorist organization via the press” for her social media posts. She faces a prison sentence of 1.5 to 7.5 years.

  • İstanbul Public Prosecutor’s Office launched a lawsuit against journalist Fatih Portakal for allegedly violating Law on Banking, Article 74 on ‘Protection of Reputation’. In the indictment, the prosecutor claimed that Portakal violated Law on Banking, Article 74 with his social media post which evoked the heavy taxes imposed during the Turkish War of Independence, stating “We are going through a rough patch. I hope that the government does not demand money from those who have savings or deposits! Unfortunately, I cannot rule out that possibility.” Portakal faces 1 to 3 years in prison and a judiciary fine of up to two thousand days.

  • A lawsuit was brought against Yolculuk newspaper’s reporter Buse Söğütlü for her social media posts concerning the President of İstanbul 37. High Criminal Court, on charges of “targeting officers who play a role in counterterrorism efforts”.

Indictment against 7 journalists for a news story on the funeral of a National Intelligence Organization (MİT) officer killed in Libya:

It was reported that the prosecutor’s office drafted and sent to the court an indictment concerning the journalists Barış Terkoğlu, Barış Pehlivan, Hülya Kılınç, Murat Ağırel, Ferhat Çelik and Aydın Keser, arrested for a news story on the funeral of a National Intelligence Organization officer killed during Turkey’s military operations in Libya.

The information that the indictment was drafted and sent to the court was shared by the newspaper Sabah, known for its pro-government editorial line. The journalists’ lawyers also learned about the completion of the indictment from Sabah newspaper. It was only later that the state-owned news agency Anadolu published a news story about the content of the indictment.

According to the news stories and information provided by the lawyers, the indictment sent to Istanbul 34th High Criminal Court concerned Oda TV managing editor Barış Terkoğlu, Oda TV editor-in-chief Barış Pehlivan, the reporter penning the story Hülya Kılınç, Yeni Yaşam newspaper’s editor-in-chief Ferhat Çelik, Yeni Yaşam newspaper’s managing editor Aydın Keser, BirGün newspaper’s columnist Erk Acarer, Yeniçağ newspaper’s columnist Murat Ağırel and Akhisar Municipality Press Office employee E.E.

If the indictment is accepted by the court, these seven journalists will stand trial for ‘disclosing confidential information which has to be kept secret for reasons of state security or domestic and international political interests of the state’ and ‘violating the Law on National Intelligence Organization’, facing 8 to 19 years in prison.

Although news stories confirmed that the prosecutor’s office completed the indictment and forwarded it to the court, it has yet to be confirmed whether the court has accepted the indictment, or any date has been set for the hearing.

On the other hand, even before the indictment was completed, while the law on criminal enforcement was being discussed at the Turkish parliament, MPs from the ruling party presented an amendment to this law to take crimes against National Intelligence Organization outside of its scope. That is, the imprisoned journalists Barış Terkoğlu, Barış Pehlivan, Hülya Kılınç, Murat Ağırel, Ferhat Çelik and Aydın Keser will not benefit from the law on criminal enforcement in case they are sentenced.

The indictments against İsmail Yıldız / Rawin Sterk, in prison for about two months, and Tülay Canpolat, in prison for about three months, have yet to be drafted.

In April;

Numerous news stories were associated with ‘terrorism’. Reporters were obliged to testify and defend against charges of ‘terrorism’. Journalists were kept in prison without indictment, thus being sentenced in advance. They were also declared to be ‘criminals’ in advance with news stories on indictments which were later rejected by the courts. The executive branch continued to pressurize journalists as well as independent judges and the judiciary system.

Press in Arrest is a database, monitoring, documentation and collective memory study of Press Research Association.
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