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.
In the last quarter of 2022 that was overshadowed by debates over “disinformation” law, 10 journalists were imprisoned pending trial; 173 journalists stood trial in 99 cases; 17 journalists were given a total prison sentence of 47 years and 8 months
Our eighth Freedom of Expression and the Press Agenda report, reviewing the situation of media freedom and freedom of speech in Turkey in the final quarter of 2022, has been published. The report is based on data gathered through our comprehensive monitoring of trials of journalists and monitoring of open sources of information.
According to the newly published report, in the fourth quarter of 2022, censorship threat on the society and media has increased with the changes publicly known as the “disinformation” law finally coming into force. Judicial crackdown on the media also continued in the form of imprisonments, ongoing trials and investigations targeting journalists. In the last three months of 2022, Turkish courts heard a total of 99 cases in which 173 journalists, six of whom were foreign nationals, appeared before judges as defendants. In 16 of the 29 cases that were finalized during the reporting period, courts sentenced a total of 25 journalists. Seventeen of the convicted journalists were handed a combined prison sentence of 47 years, 8 months and 1 day in prison, while eight journalists were handed a combined judicial fine of TL 82,040. Eleven new cases were filed against 15 journalists. Thirty-two journalists were arrested. At least nine journalists faced new investigations.
Following the imprisonment pending trial of nine journalists from the Mezopotamya News Agency and JinNews on 29 October, the number of imprisoned journalists went up to 75.
In June, 16 journalists working for Kurdish media outlets had been put in pre-trial detention in Diyarbakır. This means a total of 25 journalists from pro-Kurdish media outlets were put behind bars in just five months.
Most frequent charges used against journalists: “Terrorism” and “insult”
The most frequent charges used against journalists at trials were “insulting a public official,” “terrorism propaganda,” “membership in a terrorist organization” and “insulting the president.” They were followed by charges of “violating the Law on Meetings and Demonstrations,” “defamation,” “marking those involved in the fights against terrorism as targets,” “inciting the people to hatred and enmity,” “willingly aiding a terrorist organization without being its member,” “denigrating Turkish nation, state of the Republic of Turkey, Grand National Assembly of Turkey, the government and state’s legal bodies,” “obtaining and disseminating personal data,” “praising an offense or an offender” and “publishing statements made by terrorist organizations.”
At least 19 incidents of intervention, violence and threat against journalists
According to data compiled by Expression Interrupted using information available in open sources, in the last quarter of the year, journalists suffered at least 19 physical attacks, violent police interventions and/or threats. In the same period, one journalist was denied entry into Turkey while another journalist’s house was raided in a midnight operation based on a tip-off that later turned out to be baseless.
The trial against three police officers who attempted to violently detain journalist Beyza Kural in 2015 was concluded. The court sentenced three officers prosecuted in the case to pay a judicial fine of TL 6,000 on the charge of “violation of the freedom to work.” They will pay the fine in 10 installments.
The İstanbul Regional Administrative Court reversed an İstanbul Governor’s Office decision not permitting an investigation to be launched against police chief Hanifi Zengin, who is accused of threatening, assaulting and insulting journalists in several occasions. The court ruled that an investigation be launched against Zengin. Two criminal complaints had been filed against Zengin on behalf of Artı TV cameraman Bilal Meyveci and AFP photojournalist Bülent Kılıç.
Financial pressure on opposition media
The Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTÜK) continued to fine broadcasters for their content critical of government policies. Penalties imposed by RTÜK on broadcasters in the final three months of the year mainly targeted Halk TV, Tele 1 and KRT TV while a three-day overall broadcast ban that RTÜK imposed on Tele 1 was canceled by a court.
According to figures announced by RTÜK member İlhan Taşcı, in 2022, RTÜK imposed a total of 54 penalties on opposition broadcasters, with Halk TV receiving 23 penalties; Tele1 TV receiving 16; KRT TV receiving six; Fox TV receiving five; and Flash TV receiving four penalties. Among pro-government channels, RTÜK fined TGRT TV twice while Beyaz TV and ATV were each fined once throughout the year. The Council imposed no penalties on other pro-government channels, including A Haber, Ülke TV, Kanal 7, TV Net and TV 24.
The fines RTÜK imposed on Halk TV, Tele 1, KRT, Fox TV and Flash TV in 2022 amounted to a sum of TL 17,335,000, while the fines imposed on TGRT, Beyaz TV and ATV amounted to a sum of TL 1,674,000.
As for critical newspapers, the Press Advertising Agency (BİK) rejected objections filed by Evrensel newspaper against its decision earlier this year to permanently revoke the newspaper’s right to publish public ads and announcements. Separately, Yeni Asya newspaper, which has been suspended by BİK from receiving public ads since 28 January 2020, marked the 1000th day of the ban in the fourth quarter of 2022.
“Disinformation” law comes into force
During the reporting period, the Draft Law on the Amendment of the Press Law and Some Other Laws, publicly known as the “disinformation bill,” was enacted by the votes of ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) deputies. The legislation, which had long been in the making, raises widespread concerns over increasing censorship in the run-up to critical elections that are slated to take place in May.
The Law, which comprises 40 articles, came into force on 18 October 2022, when it was published in the Official Gazette. With the entry into force of Article 29 of the law, a new article (217/A) was added to the TCK, introducing a prison sentence of 1 to 3 years for the crime of “publicly disseminating information that is deceptive to the public.”
Under the new law, online news portals in Turkey are now also subject to the provisions of the Press Law, just like print media, and therefore are obliged to run corrections and clarifications.
Bitlis Journalists’ Association President Sinan Aygül became the first journalist to be imprisoned pursuant to the “disinformation” law when he was arrested after sharing on social media allegations that a child in Bitlis had been sexually assaulted. Aygül was placed in pre-trial detention on 14 December 2022 for “publicly disseminating misleading information” (TCK 217/A). He was released on 22 December.
Crackdown on rights defenders and civil society intensifies
In the last three months of 2022, the pressure on human rights defenders and the civil society also intensified with the arrest and pre-trial detention of Şebnem Korur Fincancı, the president of the Turkish Medical Association (TTB) Central Council and a prominent rights defender, for her statement that allegations that the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) had used chemical weapons against the PKK targets should be investigated. A separate investigation was reportedly launched against Fincancı and other TTB Central Council members on the allegation of “membership in a terrorist organization.”
The aggravated life sentence given to jailed businessperson Osman Kavala and the 18-year prison sentences given to seven other rights defenders in the “Gezi Trial” were upheld by an appellate court.
In another case targeting the civil society, the court released four of the 17 imprisoned defendants at the end of the first hearing of a trial targeting members and executives of the Migration Monitoring Association (GÖÇİZDER). In the “Büyükada Trial,” the Supreme Court of Appeals overturned the convictions of rights defenders Taner Kılıç, İdil Eser, Özlem Dalkıran and Günal Kurşun and ordered a retrial.
The full report is available here.