Expression Interrupted

Journalists and academics bear the brunt of the massive crackdown on freedom of expression in Turkey. Scores of them are currently subject to criminal investigations or behind bars. This website is dedicated to tracking the legal process against them.

Deniz Nazlım

Deniz Nazlım

Journalist Deniz Nazlım has faced two criminal cases over his professional activities during his employment by the Mezopotamya news agency (MA). Nazlım was among nine journalists from Mezopotamya news agency and JinNews who were arrested in October 2022 on the allegation of “membership in a terrorist organization” and who remained in pre-trial detention for seven months as part of the case before being released at their first hearing held in May 2023.

“Violating the Law on Meetings and Demonstrations” case

Nazlım was subjected to physical violence and detained with reverse handcuffs as he was on his way to join a press statement by the Dicle Fırat Journalists Association (DFG) and Mezopotamya Woman Journalists Platform (MKGP) in Ulus Square in Ankara on 5 July 2022 concerning 16 journalists arrested in Diyarbakır. Nazlım, who was detained along with journalists Sibel Yükler and Yıldız Tar, was released the same day after giving a statement at the police station.

In November 2022, Nazlım, Yükler and Tar filed a coomplaint with the Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office against the law enforcement officers who had assaulted them, alleging torture, insult, failure to report a crime, depriving a person of their liberty and causing bodily harm by exceeding the limit on the authority to use force. The prosecutor’s office decided not to prosecute on grounds of “lack of evidence to support adequate suspicion” in April 2023.

An investigation on suspicion of “violating the Law 2911 on Meetings and Demonstrations” was launched against Nazlım, Yükler and Tar, who had been assaulted and detained.

Completing its investigation on 8 June 2023, the Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office issued an indictment against Nazlım, Yükler and Tar on the charge of “attending illegal meetings and demonstrations unarmed and not dispersing voluntarily despite warnings.”

The prosecutor claimed in the indictment that the press statement regarding the arrested journalists was “illegal” because the Doğu Türkistan Araştırmaları Foundation and the Uygur Akademisi Foundation would be holding a press statement approved by the governor’s office at the same place and time. The prosecutor requested sentencing for Nazlım, Yükler and Tar on grounds that they had “insisted on not leaving” and “encouraged and provoked the people to illegal meetings and demonstrations.”

The Ankara 71st Criminal Court of First Instance accepted the indictment on 21 June 2023.

The first hearing of the trial took place on 9 January 2024.

P24 monitored the hearing, which was attended by Nazlım, Yükler, Tar and their lawyers.

During the hearing, a legal opinion prepared by P24 on the case against Nazlım was submitted to the court by Nazlım's lawyer, Gulan Çağın Kaleli. The legal opinion was penned by Benan Molu, a lawyer registered with the Istanbul Bar Association No. 1 and who specializes in European human rights law and the law of individual application to the Constitutional Court and the European Court of Human Rights. For further information, see this report.

Ruling to conduct further investigation in line with the defense lawyers’ requests, the court decided to inquire of the Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office about the criminal complaint filed by the journalists against the law enforcement officers, which resulted in the dismissal of charges; to inquire of the Ankara Police Department about the full camera footage of the incident; to have an expert examine the footage; to inquire of the Ankara Governor’s Office about whether protests, demonstrations, press statements etc. in Ulus Square were banned on 5 July 2022, and whether a notification had been made regarding the press statement mentioned in the indictment.

The court set 25 April 2024 as the date for the second hearing.

Imprisonment on “membership in a terrorist organization” charge

On 25 October 2022, homes of Mezopotamya news agency and JinNews reporters in nine provinces were simultaneously raided by the police as part of an investigation carried out by the Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office. Nazlım was among journalists detained as part of the raids alongside Diren Yurtsever, Öznur Değer, Berivan Altan, Zemo Ağgöz, Selman Güzelyüz, Habibe Eren, Hakan Yalçın, Emrullah Acar, Ceylan Şahinli and former MA intern Mehmet Günhan.

In its announcement regarding the operation, the Ankara Police Department said that the 11 journalists had been arrested for “producing news with content that provoked the people to hatred and enmity.” The police statement read: “As part of the Ankara-based investigation, orders for the arrest of 14 suspects in nine provinces was issued and 11 suspects were caught and detained, and many organizational documents and digital equipments were confiscated as a result of the simultaneous operations at identified addresses at 06:00 hours on 25 October 2022 to detain suspects and capture criminal equipment.”

One of the detained journalists, Zemo Ağgöz, was released on 26 October 2022 under house arrest. Ten journalists, including Nazlım, were referred to a criminal judgeship of peace after their interrogation at the prosecutor’s office. The investigating prosecutor requested the arrest of nine journalists on the charge of “membership in a terrorist organization” with the exception of Mehmet Günhan, whose release under judicial control measures was requested. The Ankara 8th Criminal Judgeship of Peace issued an order for the arrest of the nine journalists, including Nazlım, on 28 October 2022 on grounds that there was “strong suspicion” that they had committed the crime of “membership in a terrorist organization.”

On 8 February 2023, the Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office filed an indictment against the detained journalists on the charge of “membership in an armed terrorist organization.”

The prosecutor completed the 210-page long indictment on the 102nd day of remand of the arrested journalists. Testimony by anonymous and open witnesses, the media outlets where the journalists worked, the editorial policy of these media outlets, some 129 news items published by the MA and Fırat News Agency (ANF), the journalistic language employed in the news items, posts shared on social media accounts used by the journalists or accounts allegedly belonging to them, books and magazines that were allegedly banned, which were confiscated during home raids, events journalists had attended for news coverage, phone conversations they had with colleagues and sources, and financial reports obtained from the Financial Crimes Investigation Board (MASAK) were held as evidence for the charges brought against the journalists. The Ankara 4th High Criminal Court accepted the indictment.

Release at first hearing

The first hearing of the trial was held at the Ankara 4th High Criminal Court on 16 May 2023. Nazlım, other defendant journalists and Hamdullah Bayram, whose case file had been merged with the case against Nazlım and others in between hearings, were present in the courtroom.

In his defense statement, Nazlım said that his phone had been tapped for seven months as part of the investigation and yet the recordings contained no element of crime. “Those running this investigation told me that they had followed me 24/7, that I wasn’t an organization member and that I should settle with them. The indictment, which talks of secrecy, calls us ‘so-called journalists.’ According to the indictment, I’m a ‘so-called’ journalist. So it must be that I have fooled my family, my lecturers, my colleagues but I couldn’t fool those who prepared the indictment.”

Pointing out the severity of his remand conditions, Nazlım requested his release.

Issuing its interim orders at the end of the hearing, the court ruled to release the nine journalists, including Nazlım, under judicial control measures consisting of an obligation to sign their name and a ban on traveling abroad.

The second hearing of the trial was held on 5 July 2023. P24 monitored the hearing, during which the court heard the anonymous witness K8Ç4B3L1T5, who claimed that he/she had worked for the Kurdish press on behalf of the state. The witness repeated information about journalists on trial that were publicly available in open sources.

The third hearing of the trial was held on 26 October 2023. Open witness Hüseyin Durudeniz testified at the hearing. Durudeniz, who attended the hearing from the prison where he was serving a sentence for “membership in a terrorist organization” through the judicial video-conferencing network SEGBİS, stated that he did not know whether the news agencies which the indictment claimed “were acting under instructions from the terrorist organization” were connected with the organization. Durudeniz said that he was made to sign his statement at the police station at a later date and also said that he did not know the real names of the journalists.

The court issued an order for open witness Özgür Baran, who did not attend the hearing, to be brought in by force. The court also ruled to issue a writ to the police department for open witness Durudeniz to identify the journalists and rejected the request for the return of the digital equipment belonging to journalists. The next hearing of the trial is scheduled for 18 January 2024.