Press In Arrest August 2020 Press Freedom Report

While justice was "on vacation”, violence took center stage!

Sept. 4, 2020

Trials were suspended in August due to the judiciary recess; however, attempts to bring journalists into line continued under violent forms.

After a one-month judiciary recess, legal proceedings resumed in Turkey under the shadow of the coronavirus. The number of coronavirus cases and deaths are once again on the rise in the country.

Minister of Justice Abdülhamit Gül stated that strict measures will be taken against the coronavirus in courthouses and that the judicial videoconferencing system SEGBİS will be used widely in hearings.

Trials were suspended in August due to the judiciary recess; however, attempts to bring journalists into line continued under violent forms.

Investigations and interrogations against journalists continued, and incidents of psychological and physical violence increased at the same pace.

In August, at least 15 journalists were subjected to psychological and physical violence:

  • During a row in CHP’s İzmir Province Youth Branch Congress, 6 journalists covering the incident were assaulted. First two groups fought with each other, before targeting the journalists. Journalists were prevented from taking footage and then battered. One journalist’s phone was confiscated, the computer of another was broken, and a chair was hurled at another’s head. One journalist obtained a legal medical report for battery and filed a criminal compliant. İzmir Association of Journalists, İzmir Young Journalists Platform and Progressive Journalists Association’s İzmir Branch jointly organized a press conference to condemn the incident and demanded an investigation to be initiated. CHP’s İzmir branch leaders paid a visit to the Association of Journalists to apologize. Furthermore, they announced that they had established an investigative committee to identify the assailants, initiate disciplinary procedures, and shed further light on the event.

  • Journalist Cengiz Anıl Bölükbaş, working for Evrensel Newspaper’s Diyarbakır Office, indicated that on August 24th, 2020, he was withheld in a shop by three individuals, who claimed to be police officers and attempted to “convince” him to become a police informant, after listing detailed information on him, his family and professional activities.

  • A member of MHP’s Central Executive Committee, Osman Şişman threatened journalist Şirin Payzın, by posting the obituary of Payzın’s father, along with the words, “Chased from the nightingale’s nest, you are wallowing in sewers on the other side of the river; you will soon face THE END (sic) for what you have done and will do against the Turkish fatherland; as the Turk’s roots strangle you, you will go mad, gasping for air.”

  • Yıldıray Çiçek, an advisor to the MHP Chairman Devlet Bahçeli threatened Karar Newspaper’s columnist Ahmet Taşgetiren, saying “The nationalists have not yet forgotten your insults and calumnies… Someone may pluck off your beard, watch out…”

  • Journalist Gökhan Özbek stated on his social media account that the police raided his home, saying “The police searched my house. They claim to have received a tip-off. They have left now. I opened the door after seeing their police IDs”.

  • Kanal D correspondent İbrahim Konar and cameraman Volkan Kamber were assaulted physically while following a news story, and their technical equipment was smashed. The journalists filed a criminal complaint.

  • The owner of the news web site “Haber Ünye Portalı” published in Ünye, Ordu, Samet Girme stated that he was battered for 40 minutes by two individuals, who asked him “Why do you write pieces against Hilmi Güler?”, before inserting a gun’s barrel in his mouth. Girmeç filed a lawsuit against the mayor of the Ordu Metropolitan Municipality, on the charge of “incitement to crime”, and against the two assailants on charges of “willful injury, threat, insult, violation of liberty”.

  • The owner of Yörem Newspaper published in Karacabey, Bursa, Şaban Önen, was assaulted by 4 individuals in the parking lot of the Municipal Truck Garage. It was claimed that the assailants were the relatives of the district mayor.

  • In Antalya, unidentified assailants opened fire on journalist Yakup Kocabaş’s home.

At least 8 journalists were detained or summoned to testify; faced lawsuits, investigations and/or criminal complaints:

  • In Batman, an investigation was launched against İdris Yayla, one of the first journalists to report on the specialized sergeant Musa Orhan’s sexual assault on the 18-year-old İpek E. Journalist İdris Yayla stated that, at the police station, he was asked questions such as “Why did you pen such a news story? Why did you post it on social media?” and that “he was prevented from contacting the family and investigating the incident while following the story.”

  • Journalist Mehmet Erol was summoned to testify by the police due to social media posts by Democratic Regions Party (DBP), where he used to work as media advisor. Erol had previously been tried and acquitted for the same matter. In the statement which he gave while being accompanied by his lawyer, Erol refused the accusations saying that the posts in question were shared after he resigned from his position at DBP.

  • In the first weeks of the coronavirus outbreak, the government had launched the donation campaign titled “Biz bize yeteriz Türkiyem” (“Turkey can take care of its own”) and published IBAN numbers for bank transfers. Journalist Hakan Aygün had criticized the campaign with a social media post that read “Oh, those who believe in IBAN”, and was arrested for ”inciting the population to hatred and enmity, or humiliating the people”. Although he was released at the first hearing, a separate indictment was drafted against him and the two cases were merged. Aygün was detained a second time for the same matter and released after a police interrogation.

  • Journalist Eylem Akdağ was taken into custody in Ankara, while following the protests against the government’s attempt to withdraw Turkey from the İstanbul Convention.

  • Author Sebahattin Önkibar stated that President Erdoğan filed a lawsuit against him on allegations of insulting him in a YouTube video.

  • A lawsuit was filed against journalist Can Ataklı who, in his program titled ‘Gün Başlıyor’ on Tele 1 TV, asked how the taxes collected for earthquake preparedness were spent. He faces 1 year 2 months to 4 years 8 months in prison.

  • A lawsuit was filed against Rize Nabız Newspaper’s Concessionaire and Rize Branch President of Progressive Journalists Association (ÇGD) Gençağa Karafazlı, for his news story on “President of AKP’s Rize Province Assembly and his wife, who were acquitted from charges of membership to FETÖ, before being offered jobs in a state-owned bank,” with 50 thousand TL claimed for damages. Access bans were placed on the news story in question, and on news stories about the access ban on the news story.

CHP’s İzmir deputy and Chief Media and Corporate Communications Advisor to the Party Chairman, Tuncay Özkan announced that he would file a lawsuit against Süleyman Özışık, who made various claims about him in an article published on Türkiye Newspaper.

Separately, Özgür Boğatekin, an editor and writer with Adıyaman Gerger Fırat Newspaper, had been tried for 4 of his articles criticizing the Gerger District Governor of the period, and sentenced in 2015 to 1 year 15 days in prison on the charge of “successive slander”. He had appealed against the verdict. 5 years on, the Court of Cassation has upheld the sentence. Boğatekin was placed in prison. However, on the next day, the reinforcement of the sentence was deferred due to coronavirus measures, and he was released.

Although most hearings were suspended in August due to the judiciary recess, the 29th hearing of the trial against Mehmet Baransu -in prison since March 2015- and Ahmet Altan, Yasemin Çongar and Yıldıray Oğur took place.

These journalists stand trial for the news stories published in the now shuttered Taraf Newspaper in 2010, where it was claimed that “Some groups within Turkish Armed Forces planned a coup in 2003”.

Baransu faces 35 to 75 years in prison, while Altan, Çongar and Oğur each face 20 years to 52 years 6 months in prison.

The prosecutor is expected to present his opinion as to the accusations in the next hearing scheduled for October.

In September 60 journalists will appear in court in 7 provinces in Turkey.
(This report has been written by Press in Arrest editor Yeşim Yavuzer.)


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