Press In Arrest September 2020 Press Freedom Report

Oct. 2, 2020

In September at least 64 journalists -20 of whom are women- appeared in court for 38 press trials in 7 provinces.

In the trials, the prosecutors demanded 7 counts of aggravated life sentence, and prison sentences of at least 376 years, 11 months to 970 years, 10 months against journalists.

Sinan TARTANOĞLU

The freedom of press and expression of journalists and therefore of the society is violated on an almost daily basis: at interrogation rooms in police stations or prosecutors’ offices, prisons, courthouses and courtrooms.

Sometimes six journalists stand trial in a single day; sometimes one journalist stands in three different trials in a single day.

Some journalists are forced to present their defense statements from prison to a panel of judges, which changes at almost every hearing in certain trials, and via the monitors and cameras of the judiciary videoconferencing system called SEGBİS.

Those who can present a defense statement in person in the courtroom come under the supervision of police officers or private security guards.

Courtrooms are closed to the press or observers on the pretext of the coronavirus outbreak.

All of these constitute violations of “the right to fair trial”.

In September at least 64 journalists -20 of whom are women- appeared in court for 38 press trials in 7 provinces.

(İsmail Yıldız, Erdal Güven, Semin Sezerer, Selman Keleş, Arif Aslan, Uğur Koç, Mustafa Kömüş, Aydın Keser, Barış Pehlivan, Barış Terkoğlu, Erk Acarer, Ferhat Çelik, Hülya Kılınç, Murat Ağırel, Zana Bilir Kaya, Eren Keskin, İnan Kızılkaya, Engin Korkmaz, Pınar Gayıp, Semiha Şahin, Onur Emre Yağan, Müyesser Yıldız, Pelin Ünker, Ahmet Sever, Hakan Dirik, Gülsün Altan, Kadır Cesur, Koçali Özipek, Nahide Aslan, Serdar Altan, Sibel Eren, Mustafa Gökkılınç, İdris Sayılgan, Arafat Dayan, Hayri Demir, Filiz Koçali, Ragıp Zarakolu, Canan Coşkun, Can Uğur, Ali Açar, Aziz Oruç, Ferhat Parlak, Can Dündar, Hüseyin Aykol, Sabiha Temizkan, Reyhan Çapan, Havva Cuştan, isminaz Temel, Çiğdem Toker, Fatih Portakal, Zehra Özdilek, İnan Ketenciler, Derya Okatan, Ersin Çaksu, Olgun Matur, Kenan Baş, Cihat Ünal, Osman Yakut, Özkan Mayda, Ömer Özdemir, Serhat Şeftali, Hasan Yavaşlar, Ali Orhan, Durket Süren.)

7 journalists (İsmail Yıldız (Rawin Sterk), Barış Pehlivan, Hülya Kılınç, Murat Ağırel, Müyesser Yıldız, Mustafa Gökkılıç, Aziz Oruç) appeared in court under detention. Two of them are women.

Journalist Müyesser Yıldız spent almost three months in prison waiting for an indictment to be drafted against her under a trial, and appeared in court for a separate trial in the same period.

Journalists İsmail Yıldız (also known as Rawin Sterk), Barış Pehlivan, Hülya Kılınç, Murat Ağırel and Mümtazer Türköne were released from prison under trials that still continue.

Courts extended Mustafa Gökkılıç and Aziz Oruç’s detentions this month.

In September;

Journalists faced a total of 7 counts of aggravated life sentence, and prison sentences of up to 970 years, 10 months

  • In the trials, the prosecutors demanded 7 counts of aggravated life sentence, and prison sentences of at least 376 years, 11 months to 970 years, 10 months against journalists.

  • In lawsuits for damages filed against 3 journalists, the complainants demanded a total of 340 thousand TL in moral compensation.

6 journalists prosecuted in multiple lawsuits

  • Journalists Ahmet Sever and İnan Kızılkaya stood trial in three separate lawsuits while journalists Can Dündar, Aziz Oruç, Erk Acarer and Zana Bilir Kaya stood trial in two separate lawsuits each.

Prosecutors attended 13 trials for the first time

  • Of the 38 trials against journalists, 21 were held in high criminal courts, 13 in criminal courts of first instance, and 3 in civil courts of first instance.

With the start of the Judicial Year 2020-2021, a previously cancelled practice has been reintroduced in courthouses. Accordingly, prosecutors can now participate in hearings at criminal courts of first instance. Fifteen journalists tried in 13 separate lawsuits at criminal courts of first instance had to defend their freedom of press and expression not only before the judge, but also before a prosecutor. Just like in high criminal courts, they had to appear before prosecutors whose benches are at the same height with the judge’s bench…

9 journalists appeared in court for the first time this month

  • In September, the first hearings were held in trials against three journalists (İsmail Yıldız (Rawin Sterk), Fatih Portakal, İnan Ketenciler).

  • 6 journalists (Erdal Güven, Semin Sezerer, Onur Emre Yağan, Ali Açar, Can Uğur, Canan Coşkun), the first hearings of whose trials were postponed in March, April, May and June due to the coronavirus outbreak, appeared in court for the first time in their trials.

Right to a public trial violated at least 10 times

  • The coronavirus outbreak has affected journalists’ trials as well. In 9 trials concerning 13 journalists, the court did not allow observers in the courtroom on the pretext of the coronavirus outbreak. Only the journalists on trial and their lawyers were allowed to enter.

  • At the first hearing of journalist Mustafa Gökkılıç‘s trial (widely known as the ‘MİT Conspiracy Trial’), the court had closed the hearing to the public on the pretext that “the trial may reveal issues that could jeopardize public safety and national security.” The second hearing in September was likewise closed to the public.
    As such, 10 trials concerning 14 journalists were held without public oversight.

5 hearings under the supervision of police officers or security guards
In September, hearings against 5 journalists were held under the supervision of police officers or private security guards.

  • At the hearing of journalist İdris Sayılğan‘s trial for “spreading continuous propaganda for a terror organization via the media”, a police officer was in the courtroom throughout the session.

  • At the fifth hearing of Hayri Demir’s trial for “membership of an armed terror organization” and “spreading propaganda for a terror organization via the media”, the judge did not allow any observer in the courtroom on the pretext of the coronavirus outbreak. Six police officers -five of whom in plain clothes- waited at the door of the courtroom from before the hearing until its end.

  • Three plainclothes police officers were present in the courtroom where journalist Ferhat Parlak was tried on the charge of “membership of an armed terror organization”.

  • The fifth hearing of the trial against journalist Durket Süren on the charges of “membership of an armed terror organization” and “spreading propaganda for a terror organization” was likewise attended by two plainclothes police officers.

  • Prior to the first hearing of the trial against journalist Fatih Portakal for “damaging the reputation, prestige or assets of a bank”, private security guards were invited to the courtroom. The judge allowed only four journalists / observers to attend the hearing. However, the private security guards were in the courtroom throughout the hearing.

2 journalists presented their defense statements via SEGBİS

  • Journalists detained pending trial, İsmail Yıldız (Rawin Sterk) and Aziz Oruç attended the hearings from prison over SEGBİS. The system draws harsh criticism since it violates the principle of face-to-face trial in cases where important verdicts are reached concerning the freedoms of journalists. For instance, in a trial, Aziz Oruç was forced to present his defense statement over SEGBİS from prison and the court ruled for the continuation of his detention.

Panel of judges changed in at least 13 trials

  • In at least 13 of the 38 trials against journalists, the panel of judges was different from that of the previous hearing. It was observed that there were especially changes among the judges, but in two hearings the hearing prosecutor had also changed.

The panel of judges that oversaw the detained journalist Aziz Oruç’s trial changed completely compared to the previous hearing. Oruç attended the hearing from prison via SEGBİS and saw before him a completely different panel of judges, which ruled to keep him in prison.

2 journalists faced charges brought for the first time in two years
Two journalists presented their defense against charges that no journalist faced in the past two years.

  • Journalist Fatih Portakal is charged with “damaging the reputation, prestige or assets of a bank” as per the Banking Law, and now faces one to three years in prison as well as a judiciary fine of one to two thousand days.

  • Journalist İnan Ketenciler is charged with “illegally obtaining or revealing private data” as per Turkish Penal Code, and faces two to four years of imprisonment. Although the trial began on this charge, the charge was changed in the course of the hearing to “unauthorized audio and video recording or transmission concerning investigation and prosecution procedures”.

Charges based on 5 different laws
In September, at least 64 journalists faced charges on the basis of 5 separate laws, namely Turkish Penal Code, Anti-Terror Law, MİT (National Intelligence Organization) Law, Banking Law, and Law on Meetings and Demonstrations. Some journalists faced charges based on multiple laws. * 54 journalists were charged as per various articles of Turkish Penal Code, and 45 journalists as per Anti-Terror Law. 43 journalists faced charges based on the articles of both Anti-Terror Law and Turkish Penal Code.

  • 7 journalists faced prison sentences on the basis of Turkish Penal Code and MİT Law.

  • 1 journalist was charged pursuant to Law on Meetings and Demonstrations and 1 journalist was charged pursuant to Banking Law.

  • 3 journalists stood trial in lawsuits for damages.

24 journalists charged with ‘membership of an armed terror organization’

  • In September, the largest number of journalists appeared in court to face the charge of “membership of an armed terror organization” as per Turkish Penal Code, Article 314/2 and Anti-Terror Law, Article 5.

  • Trials against 24 journalists on this charge continued in September. One journalist facing this charge (İsmail Yıldız (Rawin Sterk)) was under detention during the hearing.

21 journalists charged with ‘spreading propaganda for a terror organization’

  • In September, 21 journalists faced the charge of ‘spreading propaganda for a terror organization’ as per Anti-Terror Law, Article 7. In these trials, the prosecutor demanded that the prison sentence based on this charge be increased by half since the crime was committed via the media. Furthermore, the prosecutors claimed that six journalists committed this crime of “spreading propaganda for a terror organization via the media” in a “continuous manner”. As such, the prison sentences demanded were further increased by one-fourth to three fourths. In September, journalists had to plead against these requests of aggravated prison sentences.

15 journalists faced longer prison sentences

  • In September, a total of 15 journalists thus faced longer prison sentences on the pretext of committing a crime in a “continuous manner” or insulting a complainant “publicly”.
    _In this respect, as frequently underlined in Press in Arrest reports, 15 journalists had to defend the freedom of press against charges which have been virtually turned into “major crimes” with the claims of committing a crime “in a continuous manner”, “via the media” or “publicly”. _

A wide range of charges

  • On the other hand, in September, 7 journalists faced the charge of “revealing confidential information,” 6 journalists of “violating the MİT Law,” 5 journalists of “explicitly humiliating the military apparatus of the state,” 5 journalists of “publicly insulting a state official,” and 5 journalists of “willingly and knowingly aiding an armed terror organization without being a member”, in the courtroom.

Beyond data analysis, the Press in Arrest team reports the following from the hearings that it observed:

The court launched the procedure for seizing journalist Can Dündar’s property, claiming that he went overseas “to foil the investigation against him”…

  • Journalist Can Dündar stands trial for the news stories concerning the MİT trucks bound for Syria, and the 18th hearing was scheduled for February 18th, 2021. However, the hearing was brought forward to September 17th, 2020, and at the hearing, it was revealed that Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office had submitted a petition to the court on September 8th, 2020. The Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office requested in the petition that the court initiate the process to label Dündar as a fugitive. The court accepted the request of the prosecutor at the hearing which was brought forward. The court ruled to issue a call for Dündar, in the form of a newspaper announcement or an advertisement to be posted on the door of his residence, stating that if he did not appear in court within 15 days, all his property would be confiscated since he would be deemed a “fugitive”. Interestingly, the court verdict stated that Dündar went overseas “to foil the investigation against him”

Detained journalist imposed a judiciary fine that includes the cost of the newspaper ad for the verdict…

  • Journalist Müyesser Yıldız is imprisoned pending trial for a lawsuit and had to spend about three months in prison before an indictment was drafted against her. Yıldız was sentenced to 20 thousand TL for moral compensation in a separate lawsuit filed by Hulusi Akar, former Chief of General Staff and current Minister of Defense. Yıldız did not attend the hearing, as upon returning to prison, she would have to pass 14 days in the quarantine ward set up due to the coronavirus outbreak. Yıldız had filed a countersuit against Akar as well. The court sentenced Yıldız to pay moral compensation, but did not sentence Akar to any fine. The court also ruled that the verdict against Yıldız would be published in a newspaper with a high circulation, and that the ad cost would be covered by Yıldız, who is still in prison.

Turkish flag in the SEGBİS room

  • Journalist İsmail Yıldız (Rawin Sterk) appeared in court for a lawsuit where he is detained pending trial. The trial was held in İstanbul and Yıldız attended the hearing from the Ankara prison where he is held, over SEGBİS. It was seen that a Turkish flag was hanged in the room of the Sincan Prison where Yıldız connected to SEGBİS. The Turkish flag placed behind Yıldız drew the attention of the observers in the courtroom in Istanbul. As such, for the first time a Turkish flag was seen behind a defendant in a SEGBİS room.

Prosecutor asked journalist her “press card”

  • At the second hearing of the trial against Sabiha Temizkan for “spreading propaganda for a terror organization via the media”, the hearing prosecutor asked Temizkan whether she had a press card or not. Temizkan presented to the court her press card issued by International Federation of Journalists (IFJ). The judge asked Temizkan what her profession was. Temizkan said, “I am a freelance journalist.” The judge responded, “What is freelance journalism, what does that mean?” Temizkan indicated that she was paid a copyright per news story.

Judge refused to lift travel ban citing Can Dündar’s trial

  • Journalists Havva Cuştan and İsminaz Temel attended the 10th hearing of their trial for “membership of an armed terror organization”. In response to İsminaz Temel’s lawyer’s request that the overseas travel ban be lifted, the judge responded by giving an example from journalist Can Dündar’s trial: “Investigations are launched against judges lifting the probation and overseas travel ban in terror-related cases. As such, we do not lift the overseas travel ban in such cases. In the highly publicized Dündar case, Dündar could leave the country because the panel of judges lifted the ban.”

Trial continues although the complaint was withdrawn

  • In the second hearing of the trial where journalist Onur Emre Yağan stands trial for “publicly insulting the President in a continuous manner”, President Tayyip Erdoğan withdrew his complaint. Nonetheless, the court did not reach a verdict and instead gave the defense lawyer extra time to draft his defense statement.

One journalist, one book, and three separate trials in a single day…

  • Journalist and writer Ahmet Sever, who used to serve as ex-President Abdullah Gül’s advisor, faced three separate trials for his book “Letting it Out / Memoirs”. President Tayyip Erdoğan, Turkish Parliament’s Speaker Mustafa Şentop, and Minister of Industry and Technology Mustafa Varank filed separate complaints about Sever. All three politicians claimed that the journalist insulted them in his book. The trials were held at the same court on the same day, and then adjourned. In total, Sever faces a prison sentence of three years, nine months, 15 days to 11 years, one month.

Aside from these hearings, in September,

At least 11 journalists were detained or summoned to testify; faced lawsuits, investigations and/or criminal complaints.

  • Journalist Oktay Candemir was taken into custody in Van for a critical social media post about the TV series “Resurrection: Ertuğrul” broadcast on TRT. He was charged with “defaming a deceased person’s memory” as per Turkish Penal Code, Article 130. According to the Press In Arrest database, this is the first time that a journalist faces this charge. Candemir was detained for one night, and then released with an overseas travel ban and probation, namely giving signature at a police station once a week. According to TPC Article 130, this is an offense prosecutable on complaint; however, there are no complainants registered in Candemir’s file. Journalist Candemir and his lawyer talked to Press in Arrest about the incident.

  • Journalist Alican Uludağ was summoned to testify for a tweet criticizing Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor Yüksel Kocaman who got married and then visited the President together with his wife. Uludağ was imposed an overseas travel ban and a probation measure of giving signature at a police station. The day after Uludağ testified, Sabah newspaper, known for its pro-government editorial line, reported that Uludağ was taken under custody. Turkey Journalists’ Union denied the claim.

  • TELE1 TV’s Editor-in-Chief and BirGün Newspaper columnist Merdan Yanardağ was summoned to testify in the investigation into the news stories concerning Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor Yüksel Kocaman, who got married and then paid a visit to President Erdoğan. The court imposed two probation measures on Yanardağ: overseas travel ban, and signature at a police station.

  • It was revealed that Fatih Nurullah, the leader of the “Uşşaki” religious sect in Akyazı, Sakarya had sexually abused a 12-year-old girl, and he was arrested. Later on, an investigation was launched against Oda TV, which reported on the child’s statements, the sound recordings where Nurullah confessed to the abuse, and the repercussions of the incident within the sect. Journalist Sami Menteş penned the news story. First, a court blocked access to the news story in question. Then, it imposed a gag order on all web sites, which would publish this news. However, the incident was discussed for days on end in Turkey, and all media outlets covered it.

  • Berat Albayrak, the Minister of Treasury and Finance, and son-in-law of President Erdoğan, filed a criminal complaint against journalist Barış Terkoğlu. In the petition of complaint, it was claimed that Terkoğlu’s article published in OdaTV, titled “Which president did Erdoğan summon to the palace for a rebuke?” had “insulted” the Minister Albayrak, and attempted to “provoke the population against Albayrak”.

  • Journalist Özgür Boğatekin, who shared on his social media account the attack on seasonal agricultural workers from Mardin who went to Sakarya Karasu to harvest hazelnuts, was summoned to testify on the charge of “inciting the public to hatred and hostility”.

  • An investigation was launched against Cumhuriyet newspaper’s columnist Işıl Özgentürk for her article about the women of Batman.

  • Journalist Sinan Aygül was detained to testify under a trial which continues at Bitlis 2. High Criminal Court.

  • Journalist Gökhan Altay testified under an investigation into his social media posts between 2014 and 2018, on the charge of “spreading propaganda for a terror organization”.

  • Under an investigation into the social media account dubbed “Movement of the Nameless”, journalists Zeynep Kuray and Hakan Gülseven were taken into custody. They were released after testifying. Gülseven stated that he was investigated on the charge of “insulting the President”

New lawsuits were filed against at least 3 journalists:

  • The indictment against journalist Müyesser Yıldız, in prison for about 4 months, has been completed. In the indictment, journalists Müyesser Yıldız and İsmail Dükel are charged with “disclosing confidential information about the state’s security and political interests in a continuous manner”, pursuant to Turkish Penal Code, Articles 329/1 and 43. Both journalists face sentences of 6 years, 4 months to 17 years, 6 months. The first hearing has yet to be scheduled.

  • It was stated that another indictment was being drafted against the journalist Fatih Portakal on the charge of “insulting the President” in a social media post. Portakal already stands trial for violating the Banking Law with this post.

5 journalists released

  • Journalist İsmail Yıldız (Rawin Sterk), jailed pending trial, was released in the first hearing.

  • A verdict was reached in the trial where journalists Barış Pehlivan, Hülya Kılınç and Murat Ağırel were jailed pending trial. Journalists Barış Pehlivan and Hülya Kılınç were sentenced to 4 years, 6 months and journalist Murat Ağırel to 4 years, 8 months, 7 days in prison; they were released upon the announcement of the verdict.

  • The Court of Cassation overturned the prison sentence of 7 years, 6 months handed down to journalist Mümtazer Türköne, who was arrested after the coup attempt of July 15th, 2016 and imprisoned in August 2016, on the charge of “membership of an armed terror organization”. As a result, Türköne has been released from prison after spending over four years in prison. Just before the verdict, Devlet Bahçeli, leader of the Nationalist Action Party (MHP), stated that he had known Türköne since his student years, and said, “I hope that any injustice in his case will be remedied immediately”. The Court of Cassation’s decision to overturn the prison sentence created a debate on Bahçeli’s statements. In 2018, Nationalist Action Party had begun to pave the way for the “criminal enforcement law” which was to enter into force in April 2020. With this law, approximately 90 thousand prisoners convicted of various crimes were released from prison. However, the law -defended by Bahçeli and his party- excluded terror-related offenses from this amnesty, and thus Türköne could not be released at the time.

2 journalists arrested

  • Faruk Bostan,the concessionaire of Kocaeli Halk Newspaper published in Kocaeli, and its editor-in-chief Bülent Karagöz, were arrested on charges of “slander”. The investigation was based on “news stories about an alleged case of sexual abuse in the Kartepe district”. In the news stories, sexual abuse allegations were brought against certain individuals whose real names were changed, but political positions were mentioned. The prosecutor’s office issued a statement stating, “our investigation has confirmed that the individuals named in the news story are unconnected to the incident.”

4 journalists acquitted

  • Journalist Barış Terkoğlu faced eight to 19 years in prison on the charges of “publishing, disseminating and disclosing information and documents regarding the operations of the National Intelligence Organization” and “revealing confidential information concerning the state’s security and its domestic or international political interests”. During the legal proceedings, the prosecutor’s office claimed that the offense was committed “in a continuous manner” and demanded that the prison sentence be increased to eight years, nine months to 25 years, nine months. Terkoğlu was eventually acquitted.

  • Journalists Erdal Güven and Semin Sezerer were charged with “knowingly and willingly aiding an armed terror organization without being a member”. They faced 7 years 6 months to 15 years in prison. Güven and Sezerer were eventually acquitted.

  • Journalist Zehra Özdilek faced 1 to 3 years in prison on the charge of “targeting state officials who played a role in anti-terrorism efforts”. Özdilek was acquitted.

5 journalists handed down a total prison sentence of 21 years, 6 months

  • Journalists Aydın Keser, Barış Pehlivan, Ferhat Çelik, Hülya Kılınç and Murat Ağırel were sentenced to prison for violating the MİT Law. It was claimed that they committed the offense of “publishing, disseminating and disclosing information and documents regarding the operations of the National Intelligence Organization” in a “continuous manner”. The sentences were duly increased. The journalists were handed down a total sentence of 21 years, 6 months, 21 days in prison.

In the lawsuit for damages filed by Minister of National Defense Hulusi Akar against journalist Müyesser Yıldız, the latter was fined 20 thousand TL in moral compensation.

The freedom of press and expression violated across the world as pressure mounts on journalists

  • Belarus Association of Journalists (BAJ) announced that journalists following the incidents in Freedom and Independence Square in the capital city Minsk were detained. BAJ stated that 4 journalists were prosecuted and 1 journalist was deported. Belarus Ministry of Interior stated that the journalists were neither detained nor arrested. The ministry claimed that the journalists were taken to a police station in the capital to verify whether they had a valid accreditation or not, and those who had the right documents were released. According to the ministry, at the police station, the journalists were released after the footage on their cell phones were erased, while the phones of those journalists refusing to unlock their phones were seized.

  • The Chinese journalist Chen Qiushi, who engaged in freelance journalism over the social media, had disappeared in February after reporting on the coronavirus outbreak. It turned out that he was under custody. According to The Guardian, Chen Qiushi’s friend Xu Xiaodong indicated on a livestreamed video that Chen was “in good health” but was still under supervision by a government department in the city of Qindao.

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