Regarded More Threatening Than The Virus, The Press Is Imprisoned And Muzzled!

March 2020 Press Freedom Report

April 3, 2020

A database and collective memory initiative that has been monitoring, documenting and reporting on hundreds of journalists’ trials for around two years, Press In Arrest has published its March report concerning journalists on trial.

The Covid-19 crisis is wreaking havoc across the world, as the virus challenges the well-established premises of political systems and social structures.

Governments wage a struggle against the virus on behalf of the public, trying to defend the establishment and the society against the effects of the crisis.

However, in Turkey, the current government does not view the questions or criticisms put forth as opportunities for a more effective struggle against the virus. It does not consider that the purpose of these questions and criticisms is to provide complete and accurate information to the society, which needs to be protected from the virus, but rather it views these as a threat against its political prospects.

As a result, the government resorts to its usual defense mechanisms:
www.pressinarrest.com/analizler/how-does-280-character-mechanism-work/

Those who share their criticisms and questions with their limited social media contacts are targeted, summoned by the police, and face a judiciary investigation.

According to the latest figures shared by Minister of Interior Süleyman Soylu on March 26th, 2020, the police identified 2551 individuals for their social media posts and launched an investigation against 449.

Faced with the same oppressive mechanism are journalists who pose questions and share their answers and critical perspectives with the society at large… At least 13 journalists were summoned by the police to testify about their coronavirus-related news stories or social media posts in March.

It is ignored that targeting, muzzling, investigating, trying or arresting journalists is more dangerous than the virus, and that this could aggravate the damage inflicted on social codes by the virus.

A database and collective memory initiative that has been monitoring, documenting and reporting on hundreds of journalists’ trials for around two years, Press In Arrest has published its March report concerning journalists on trial.

30 journalists stood trial in March, facing in total 3 aggravated life sentences, 1 life sentence, and prison sentences between at least 106 years 9 months and 295 years 53 months!

The hearings of 26 journalists were postponed, and the hearings of 10 journalists were deferred due to the coronavirus outbreak. 9 journalists were arrested and 6 were released from prison.

The full report:

IMPRISONED JOURNALISTS MUST BE RELEASED IMMEDIATELY!

Due to the Covid19 outbreak, all courtroom trials have been postponed until end-April, except those involving detained defendants and urgent matters.

The demand for the release of journalists under arrest has been raised louder owing to the Covid19 outbreak. Lawyers have reiterated their demands for the release of journalists under arrest, calls of “freedom to imprisoned journalists” have been voiced across the social media, and petition campaigns are under way.

The coronavirus epidemic, which has engulfed the globe in around 3 months, is employed by authoritarian governments in particular as a new opportunity to put pressure on journalists and restrict the freedom of the press.

As a human right, the freedom of press becomes a matter of life and death in periods of crises - especially under authoritarian regimes. Regimes use crises as a pretext to increase the pressure on journalists, thus limiting the right of the populace to access news.

Authoritarian regimes try to manage the crisis through public diplomacy based on secrecy and information restraint. Under these conditions, they prefers to muzzle the journalists who ask questions, try to complete missing information and help voice criticisms concerning shortcomings in the struggle against the virus.

On the other hand, detained journalists, already deprived of their liberty, are now facing a lethal threat due to the coronavirus outbreak encompassing the entire world. Imprisoned for political reasons, about 100 journalists in prison are now seeing their rights to live violated.

Journalists are kept in prisons, which constitute the weakest link amidst the coronavirus outbreak since the necessary measures cannot be properly implemented there, and thus are left to stare death in the face.

Now more than ever, it is necessary to demand unconditional release for all journalists.

This demand must be met immediately, free of any political motives.

Just as these demands are being voiced, the government has submitted to the Turkish parliament a bill concerning judiciary reforms, and another bill on the execution of prison sentences, which it has been keeping on the public agenda for a while now -also known by the general public as the “amnesty” bill.

THE “AMNESTY” BILL DOES NOT COVER MOST JOURNALISTS!

On the last day of March, the government submitted to the parliament a bill that will facilitate the release of certain detainees and convicts. The bill concerns thousand of inmates awaiting release for the coronavirus, yet excludes those in prison for “sex offenses, drug-related crimes, murder in the first degree, violence towards women and terror-related crimes”. An estimated 90 thousand inmates may be released once the bill is passed into law.

However, many journalists in Turkey stand trial pursuant to the Anti-Terror Law (TMK). Journalists are tried and sentenced under the scope of the said law for crimes that they allegedly committed via the media.

According to Press In Arrest’s database, at least 223 journalists currently stand trial or have stood trial in the past 2 years pursuant to the Anti-Terror Law (TMK):

• 130 journalists are being or have been tried as per Article 5, “extending prison sentences by one half in terror-related offenses”.
• 102 journalists are being or have been tried as per Article 7/2, “spreading propaganda for a terrorist organization”.
• 16 journalists are being or have been tried as per Article 6/1, “targeting officers who play a role in anti-terrorism efforts”.
• 12 journalists are being or have been tried as per Article 6/2, “publishing and disseminating the publications of a terror organization”.
(In a single case, a journalist may stand trial on charges based on multiple articles. - 31.03.2020)

Press In Arrest has confirmed that as of March 31st, there are at least 47 journalists in prison pending trial pursuant to the Anti-Terror Law…

Since the indictment concerning the detained journalists Aydın Keser, Barış Pehlivan, Barış Terkoğlu, Ferhat Çelik, Hülya Kılınç, Murat Ağırel, İsmail Yıldız/Rawin Sterk and Tülay Canpolat have yet to be completed by the prosecutors, the charges leveled against them are not known.

On the other hand, within the scope of the first judiciary reform package passed in October 2019, journalists whose prison sentences of less than five years were upheld by courts of appeal were granted the right to file another appeal with the Court of Cassation, and at least 5 journalists were thus released.

Another phrase in the reform package amended Anti-Terror Law’s Article 7 on propaganda-related offenses, stating “expressions of thought that do not exceed the limits of journalism or criticism do not constitute a crime.”

As the first judiciary reform package came into force, journalists and lawyers in ongoing trials pointed out to the package in their defenses, demanding release and acquittal in this context.

IN MARCH

At least 14 journalists faced a police investigation or were summoned to give a statement!
Police investigations were launched against journalists who penned news articles or social media posts about a “MİT (National Intelligence Agency) officer’s funeral” and coronavirus outbreak.

At least 20 journalists were taken under custody!
Journalists who covered the “MİT officer’s funeral”, a 600 million Euro-yacht belonging to a sheikh from Dubai, and coronavirus outbreak were taken under custody. In addition, at least 10 journalists in Pazarkule, Edirne following refugees’ passage to Europe were detained.

Lawsuits were filed against 2 journalists!
For their social media posts.

9 journalists were arrested!
Alptekin Dursunoğlu of Yakın Doğu Haber; Barış Terkoğlu, Barış Pehlivan, Hülya Kılınç of Oda TV; Murat Ağırel of Yeniçağ, Ferhat Çelik, Aydın Keser of Yeni Yaşam; İsmail Yıldız/Rawin Sterk, İdris Sayılğan of Rudaw were arrested.

30 journalists stood trial!
30 journalists stood trial in March, facing in total 3 aggravated life sentences, 1 life sentence, and prison sentences from at least 106 years 9 months to 295 years 53 months.

1 newspaper stood trial!
Ex-Member of Parliament from AKP, and member of Turkish Presidency Legal Policies Committee Prof. Burhan Kuzu filed a lawsuit against the newspaper Cumhuriyet for publishing his photos with Naci Şerifi Zindaşti, claiming 3 kurush for non-pecuniary damages; however, the case was dismissed by court. Kuzu filed the lawsuit against not the reporter penning the article but the newspaper.

26 journalists’ hearings were postponed!
One hearing was postponed since the judge was on maternal leave, and the hearings of 10 journalists were postponed due to the coronavirus outbreak

1 journalist was acquitted!
For the first time in Turkey, an Instagram post was presented as “grounds” for a lawsuit.

3 journalists were sentenced!
Of the three journalists sentenced, one journalist was handed down a prison sentence of 2 years, 1 month, one journalist a prison sentence of 50 days (then converted to one thousand TL in judiciary fine) and one journalist a judiciary fine of 7080 TL.

6 journalists were released from prison!
Of these six journalists released, one journalist was released from prison as he received a sentence at the end of his trial, one journalist was released by the Court of Cassation in consideration of the time he spent in prison pending trial, and one journalist taken under custody while following a news story was released upon the request of his lawyers. The remaining three journalists were released at the first hearing and continue to stand trial.

Three journalists presented their defense from prison over the judiciary videoconferencing system SEGBİS, due to measures against COVID-19.

JUDICIARY NEWS…

• Ali Akkuş, who had been sentenced to prison for “taking part in FETÖ’s media organization”, was released by the Court of Cassation in consideration of the time he spent in prison. Akkuş spent 740 days in prison, and 18 other journalists are still in prison for the same case.

• On the 23rd day of journalist Murat Ağırel’s imprisonment, his lawyers filed his individual application with the Constitutional Court. In the application, the lawyers demanded their client’s release, for violation of “his personal safety and liberties” and “freedom of expression”.

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