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.

Fırat Can Arslan

Fırat Can Arslan

Fırat Can Arslan, a reporter for Mezopotamya News Agency (MA), has stood trial twice on the charge of “marking a person assigned with the fight against terrorism as a target” under Article 6/1 of the Anti-Terror Law (TMK) due to his reporting. Arslan became the first journalist in Turkey to be jailed on this charge when he was imprisoned pending trial for sharing an excerpt from a decision by the Council of Judges and Prosecutors (HSK) concerning the relocations of a judge and a prosecutor on his social media account.

Arslan was detained in the Gölyazı village of the Cihanbeyli district of Konya on 13 October 2022 as he was covering the funeral of journalist and writer Nagihan Akarsel, who was killed in an armed attack in Sulaymaniyah in Iraqi Kurdistan. Arslan, who was detained along with JinNews reporter Dilan Babat, was released after his statement was taken about four hours later.

About four months later, on 22 February 2023, the Konya Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office filed an indictment against Arslan and Babat on the charge of “marking a person assigned with the fight against terrorism as a target.” The indictment listed the media outlets the journalists worked for, their participation in Akarsel’s funeral for reporting, the footage they recorded for news coverage and the live broadcast of the footage on JinNews’ social media accounts as evidence of the charge against the journalists. The prosecutor who issued the indictment did not mention that the journalists had been detained, despite them spending almost four hours in custody and giving a statement during this time. Instead, the indictment stated that the investigation against the journalists had been launched “upon identification that they were obtaining images of civilian personnel assigned with counter-terrorism as well as gendarmerie personnel and gendarmerie commando units in the field using video recorders and cameras and that they were broadcasting these images live on the Twitter account broadcasting under directions from the PKK/KCK armed terrorist organization and the Internet.” The indictment did not provide any evidence that JinNews or MA were “broadcasting under directions from the armed terrorist organization” but claimed that the journalists were covering the funeral with the intention of “producing so-called news against the Turkish state and institutions in line with the aims and ideology of the organization” and of “transforming the burial to a mass protest.” Claiming that during the live broadcast on JinNews, the video featured “close-ups of public officials assigned to the scene,” the prosecutor requested sentencing for the journalists.

The Konya 2nd High Criminal Court accepted the indictment. Arslan and Babat’s first hearing was held on 25 May 2023.

Both Arslan and Babat, who live in Ankara, attended the hearing through the judicial video-conferencing network SEGBİS. After the journalists and their lawyers made their defense statements, the prosecutor for the hearing presented their final opinion and asked the court to sentence both journalists as charged on grounds that “the defendants had acted in unity of action and will; had broadcast live on social media on the pretext of so-called reporting against the Turkish state and institutions in line with the aims and ideology of the organization during the funeral of Nagihan Akarsel, who had been convicted of membership of the armed PKK terrorist organization and an order for whose arrest had been issued; that they aimed to transform the funeral into a mass protest; that they had recorded footage depicting the faces of public workers assigned to the scene in close-ups during the live broadcasts.”

The second hearing of the trial was held on 5 July 2023. Babat attended the hearing from the Ankara Courthouse, while Arslan attended from the Sincan Type F Prison in Ankara, where he was being held in remand as part of a separate case, through SEGBİS. The prosecutor repeated their final opinion and requested sentencing for Arslan and Babat. Rendering its judgment at the end of the hearing, the court acquitted Arslan and Babat due to lack of credible evidence that they had committed the alleged offense.

Jailed on TMK 6/1 charge

On 18 July 2023, Arslan shared on his social media account an excerpt from a HSK circular concerning the relocations of a married public prosecutor and judge. The prosecutor had issued the indictment against 18 journalists, 16 of whom were arrested in June 2022, as part of an investigation run by the Diyarbakır Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office, while the judge was on the panel of the court overseeing the trial of the 18 journalists.

Upon a complaint by prosecutor M.K., who had prepared the indictment against the 18 journalists, and spouse S.K., the Diyarbakır Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office launched an investigation against Arslan and others who had re-posted Arslan’s post, on suspicion of “marking a person assigned with the fight against terrorism as a target.”

Arslan was detained in a police raid on his home in Ankara early on 25 July 2023. The journalist was taken to the Counter-Terrorism Branch of the Ankara Police Department and his phone and computer were confiscated. The journalist was jailed pending trial on the charge of “marking a person assigned with the fight against terrorism as a target” by the Diyarbakır 2nd Criminal Judgeship of Peace before which he appeared through SEGBİS the same day.

In its decision ordering Arslan’s imprisonment pending trial, the magistrate held that Arslan had “shared the names of the prosecutor assigned to the counter-terrorism office of the Diyarbakır Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office and the prosecutor’s judge spouse, the case on which the prosecutor worked … the prosecutor’s new place of duty” and that “judicial control measures would be inadequate due to [Arslan] presenting a high flight risk.”

Arslan, who was placed in the Sincan Type F Prison in Ankara, was placed in a solitary cell on the third day of his imprisonment due to his case file “not naming a terrorist organization.”

The indictment against Arslan was issued two months later, on 25 September 2023. The Diyarbakır Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office charged Arslan with “marking a person assigned with the fight against terrorism as a target.” The two-and-a-half pages long indictment described the prosecutor M.K. and judge S.K. as “victims.”

The prosecutor who issued the indictment requested sentencing for Arslan on the grounds that the content of his social media post featuring pages from the HSK circular dated 17 July 2023 “was aimed at creating perceptions for members and sympathizers of the PKK/KCK terrorist organization and openly stated the full name and new location of duty of the prosecutor who had served in the case reported as ‘Arrested Journalists’ by press organizations that operate in parallel with the terrorist organization, and the judge who had served during the trial process; that the suspect thus went beyond the aim of informing the public and caused public officials assigned with the fight against terrorism to become targets by providing information about the judge and the prosecutor assigned to the investigation and trial for members of the PKK/KCK armed terrorist organization subject to charges and allegations in the files the prosecutor and the judge oversaw.”

The Diyarbakır 4th High Criminal Court accepted the indictment and set the date of the first hearing as 31 October 2023.

In October 2023, P24 prepared an expert opinion on the case against Arslan at the request of his lawyer, Resul Temur. The expert opinion by lawyer Benan Molu was submitted to the court by Arslan’s lawyer one day before the hearing.

Acquittal and release at the first hearing

The first hearing of Arslan’s trial was held on 31 October 2023. P24 monitored the hearing, during which Arslan addressed the court from the Sincan No. 1 Type F Prison through SEGBİS.

Following defense statements by Arslan and his lawyers, the prosecutor presented their final opinion on the case. Arguing that Arslan had committed the alleged offense, the prosecutor asked the court to sentence the journalist as charged and the continuation of Arslan’s remand despite the charge against the journalist not being among serious crimes listed in Article 100/3 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CMK).

After hearing Arslan and his lawyers’ statements in response to the prosecutor’s final opinion, the court rendered its judgment and acquitted Arslan because the elements of the alleged offense were not present. The court ordered Arslan’s immediate release.