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.

Food safety expert Bülent Şık given 15-month sentence

Food safety expert Bülent Şık given 15-month sentence

Şık was on trial over a 2018 article about the findings of a study concerning carcinogenic toxins found in agricultural products and the environment


The third and final hearing in the trial of food safety expert Bülent Şık on the charges of “disclosing restricted information,” “procuring restricted information” and “disclosing confidential information obtained by virtue of duty” took place on 26 September 2019 at the Istanbul 2nd Criminal Court of First Instance. Şık faced a combined prison sentence of up to 12 years in prison on all three charges.

Şık, an assistant professor dismissed from Akdeniz University for being among the signatories of 2016’s Academics for Peace petition, was on trial on account of an article series he penned in 2018 for Cumhuriyet daily, in which he wrote about the findings of a Health Ministry-led study concerning the link between toxic chemicals found in agricultural products and the environment and the increasing rate of cancer in Turkey. The study had revealed that toxic chemicals in soil, water, air and groundwater pose serious threats to public health and the larger public was unaware of the dangers. The ministry filed a complaint against Şık, who is also a regular contributor to several newspapers and news websites, after the article series was published.

P24 monitored Şık’s third hearing. Due to the small capacity of the Istanbul 2nd Criminal Court of First Instance, the hearing was held in the courtroom of the 23rd High Criminal Court of Istanbul and so had to begin half an hour later than scheduled. Şık and his lawyers were in attendance.

In addition to P24, Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) Deputies Oya Ersoy and Ahmet Şık, Republican People’s Party (CHP) Deputy Sezgin Tanrıkulu, the Turkey Representative of Reporters Without Borders (RSF) Erol Önderoğlu and Academics for Peace monitored the hearing.

The hearing began with Şık delivering his final defense statement. He explained how environmental factors were the cause of many health problems such as cancer, infertility, hormonal imbalance and improper functioning of vital organs. Şık asserted that children were under greater risk from exposure to toxins.

Telling the court that 250,000 tons of plastic trash was imported to Turkey in 2018, Şık questioned the methods of storing and processing such vast amounts of trash, considering the fact that only about 9 percent of the world’s trash is being recycled. “Along with the plastic trash containing various toxic chemicals, cancer is being imported to our country,” Şık asserted.

Noting that public institutions were tasked with taking the necessary preventive measures in order to combat the serious health risks posed by toxic and carcinogenic chemicals, Şık said, “Not fulfilling this duty should be regarded criminal offense of consciously putting people at risk -- although I do not know if such a crime exists in the Penal Code. But I am not the one who has committed such a crime.” Şık asked to be acquitted.

Şık's defense statement (in Turkish) can be accessed here. 

Addressing the court following Şık, his lawyer Can Atalay said the responsibility of the state was not to prosecute a scientist who is trying to prevent people from getting cancer but to protect its people. “Article 26 of the Turkish Penal Code stipulates that a person cannot be punished for using his/her rights. Bülent Şık has used his right to inform the public. Therefore we request the court to acquit our client,” Atalay said.

Tora Pekin, another lawyer representing Şık, pointed out that Şık could have spent the time he lost while having to deal with this trial on scientific research. Noting that the information in Şık’s article had already been revealed to the public by the media before the series was published, Pekin said the only thing his client had done was to provide a scientific analysis of the findings. He said that his client was accused over his right to inform, which goes against European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) rulings. Pekin lastly expressed his expectation for the court to rule in favor of freedom of expression, considering recent decisions. Pekin also submitted to the court an expert opinion drafted by Article 19 concerning the case and asked the court to acquit his client.

Lawyers from the Antalya and Ankara Bar Associations also requested Şık to be acquitted.

Announcing its verdict after a five-minute recess, the court acquitted Şık of “acquiring confidential information” and “disclosing confidential information” but convicted him of “disclosing confidential information obtained by virtue of duty.” “Taking into account the intention and consequences of the offense,” the court initially sentenced Şık to 1 year and 6 months in prison. The court then reduced the sentence to 1 year and 3 months, based on Şık’s “good behavior throughout the trial.”

The sentence was not deferred. The verdict will now be reviewed by an appellate court.