Press freedom in January 2021: Two journalists appeared before a judge per day

Feb. 5, 2021

In Turkey, the developments concerning press freedom and journalists’ trials in January 2021 constituted a sort of “handbook for prosecuting journalists”. During the month, at least 43 journalists appeared before a judge in various trials across 10 cities. In other words, two journalists were tried every day.

According to Press In Arrest statistics, at least five journalists were detained, and one journalist was arrested and imprisoned in January.

Journalist Melis Alphan was sued for a Newroz celebration message she posted on social media six years ago.

Three journalists were interrogated by the police and / or prosecutors under various investigations.

In these trials, six journalists were acquitted, two journalists’ trials were dropped, and two journalists were sentenced to 3 years, 22 days in prison, in total.

European Court of Human Rights ruled that Turkey had violated the rights of writer and singer Atilla Taş.

Advertisement bans, news access bans, and other attacks on journalists remained on the agenda in January.

The details of the report are below:

In January in Turkey, 3 Journalists Summoned to Testify

Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office initiated an investigation against Deutsche Welle’s (DW) Turkey correspondent Pelin Ünker and news manager Peter Limbourg for a news story titled “Accusation from US banks: Aktif Bank mediates dubious transactions”. Under the investigation, Ünker testified at Istanbul Police Department on January 8th, 2021.

Diyarbakır Public Prosecutor’s Office initiated an investigation against Dicle Fırat Journalists Association’s (DFG) Co-Chair and Mezopotamya Agency news editor Dicle Müftüoğlu for allegedly “spreading propaganda for a terror organization”, citing the news stories she posted on her social media accounts. Under the investigation, Müftüoğlu, accompanied by her lawyer, went to Diyarbakır Police Department to testify on January 13rd, 2021.

Van Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office initiated an investigation against journalist Ruşen Takva. Takva went to Van Police Department’s Security Bureau on January 10th, 2021 to testify under the investigation. He is charged with allegedly “violating Law no. 2911”.

5 Journalists Detained: One Placed in House Arrest, One in Prison

Mezopotamya Agency’s Istanbul reporter Mehmet Aslan was detained at his Istanbul home on January 5th, 2021, under an investigation initiated by Antalya Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office.

Aslan was arrested on January 8th, 2021 by Antalya Criminal Court of Peace, for alleged “membership of a terror organization”.

Aslan was placed in Antalya L-Type Closed Prison.

Jin News employees Habibe Eren and Öznur Değer, and journalist Eylül Deniz Yaşar were detained by the police while following a news story in Ankara. They were released on the same day. (January 5th, 2021)

Upon an investigation launched by İzmir Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office, Etkin News Agency (ETHA) Reporter Pınar Gayıp was detained on January 14th, 2021 at a raid on her Istanbul home. She was released on January 18th, 2021, but placed in house arrest.

Journalist Alphan Sued for Newroz Message 6 Years On

A lawsuit was filed against journalist Melis Alphan for allegedly “spreading propaganda for a terror organization”, by sharing on her social media account a photo from the Newroz 2015 celebrations, with the caption “Newroz Pîroz Be” (Happy Newroz). Alphan faces a prison sentence of up to 7.5 years, and will be tried at Istanbul 32. High Criminal Court.

43 Journalists Appeared Before a Judge

Between January 1st-31st, 2021, at least 43 journalists appeared before a judge at 29 different trials in 10 different cities (Istanbul, Diyarbakır, Ankara, Adıyaman, İzmir, Muğla, Van, Batman, Edirne, Antalya). 25 of these trials were adjourned.

2 Journalists Sentenced to Three Years in Prison

Adıyaman 2. High Criminal Court sentenced Özgür Boğatekin, Intelligence Chief of Gerger Fırat Newspaper, to 1 year, 6 months and 22 days in prison for allegedly “spreading propaganda for a terror organization in a continuous manner via the media”.

Journalist İdris Yılmaz was acquitted from the charge of “publicly inciting the population to hatred and enmity”, by Erciş 1. Criminal Court of First Instance.

Anadolu 14. Civil Court of First Instance rejected the lawsuit filed by businessman Mehmet Cengiz against reporter Hazal Ocak for her news story “Luxurious appurtenances with a view over Bosphorus” published in Cumhuriyet.

Özgür Boğatekin, Intelligence Chief of Gerger Fırat Newspaper was acquitted by Adıyaman 3. Criminal Court of First Instance from the charge of insulting the Adıyaman Province Chair of the public sector trade unions Eğitim Bir Sendikası and Memur Sen.

The investigation launched by Cizre Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office against Mezopotamya Agency (MA) reporter Zeynep Durgut on October 8th, 2020 for allegedly “seizing or disseminating personal data in an illicit manner” resulted in a decision of non-prosecution.

The trial where employees of Van TV, shuttered with an executive decree, are tried for allegedly “spreading propaganda for a terror organization”, continued at Van 4. High Criminal Court. The court acquitted Van TV presenters Serdar Altan, Gülsün Altan, Kadir Cesur and Sibel Eres, and dropped Koçali Özipek’s case.

Presenter Nahide Aslan, however, was sentenced to 1 year 6 months in prison for “spreading propaganda for a terror organization in a continuous manner”.

Journalist Attacked

Yeniçağ Newspaper’s Ankara Representative and columnist Orhan Uğuroğlu, who had criticized AK Party in an article, was attacked in front of his house. 3 people attacked Uğuroğlu from behind as he was getting into his car. Uğuroğlu gave his testimony to the police about the attack.

Evrensel Newspaper Deprived of Public Ads

The Press Bulletin Authority (BİK) sanctioned Evrensel newspaper, depriving it of public advertisements for 3 days, for citing the President of Communications Fahrettin Altun in a news story “Cumhuriyet summoned to testify for news story on illegal villa construction”, published on May 1st, 2020.

ECHR Rules in the Atilla Taş Case

European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled that Atilla Taş’s rights of “security and liberty” and “freedom of expression” were violated during the so-called “Media Organization” trial, also involving Zaman Newspaper’s columnists and reporters. Taş had been sentenced to prison under the said trial, and imprisoned for 14 months.

Turkey is the second worst violator of European Convention of Human Rights in 2020

As of end-2020, 11 thousand 750 applications were filed against Turkey at the European Court of Human Rights in total. According to the 2020 statistics released by the court, Turkey is the second worst violator of the European Human Rights Convention with 97 rulings and 82 violation rulings in total.

As in 2017, 2018 and 2019, Turkey became the worst violator of the freedom of expression among Council of Europe member states in 2020, with 31 violations.

Turkey is also the country against which ECHR has issued the highest number of rulings, with 3 thousand 742 rulings between 1959 and 2020. With 3,309 violation rulings, it is the country that violates the Convention most frequently.

Turkey is the worst violator among Council of Europe member states with 953 violations of the right to fair trial, 387 violations of freedom of expression, and 108 violations of freedom of assembly and association.


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