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.

Freedom of Expression and the Press in Turkey - 156 

Freedom of Expression and the Press in Turkey - 156 

Özgürlükçü Demokrasi and ETHA journos appear in court on “terrorism” charges; former publisher, editor of Evrensel fined for “insulting the president”; Austrian journalist taken into custody in Ankara


The trial into the owner and employees of the pro-Kurdish newspaper Özgürlükçü Demokrasi, which was closed down in July through an emergency decree, got under way on 12 September in Istanbul.

Fourteen employees of the newspaper are facing “terrorism-related charges in the indictment. Six of them have been in detention on remand since April.

At the end of the hearing, the 23rd High Criminal Court of Istanbul ordered that Pınar Tarlak, one of the six jailed defendants, be released, while ordering the continuation of the detention of the remaining five newspaper employees on trial and set 6 December 2018 as the date for the next hearing.

A report about the hearing, monitored by P24, can be accessed here.

“RedHack trial” into 6 journalists adjourned 

On 13 September, the latest hearing took place in the trial into journalists Tunca Öğreten, Mahir Kanaat, Ömer Çelik, Metin Yoksu, Derya Okatan and Eray Sargın on account of their coverage of Minister Berat Albayrak’s emails that were leaked by the hacker group Redhack.

P24 monitored the hearing at the 29th High Criminal Court of Istanbul, where Öğreten, Kanaat, Okatan and Sargın and their lawyers were in attendance. Çelik and Yoksu did not attend.

Addressing the court during the hearing, Öğreten requested for his computer and his mobile phone that had been confiscated during the investigation to be returned. He also requested for his international travel ban to be lifted.

Kanaat and Okatan also requested that their digital material be returned while Sargın requested that the judicial control measures imposed on him be lifted.

Okatan’s lawyer Ali Koç told the court that the investigation on digital equipment should be conducted via forensic images rather than the equipment itself. Koç also demanded that Okatan’s international travel ban is lifted.

Defense lawyer Sevgi Kalan Güvercin, who is representing Öğreten and Kanaat, also demanded that the judicial control measures imposed on the defendants be lifted.

Noting that his client is an amateur stage actor, Sargın’s lawyer Erman Öztürk said the travel ban imposed on his client prevented him from taking part in overseas performances by his company, and demanded the lifting of the ban.

The prosecutor said it was not clear in the case file whether forensic images from digital equipment have been taken or not, and demanded that the court reject those requests.

Announcing its interim decision after a brief recess, the court rejected the defendants’ requests and ordered that Yoksu and Çelik be forcibly brought before the court for the next hearing and adjourned the trial until 8 January 2019.

Trial against Evrensel editor in chief Fatih Polat resumes

Evrensel editor-in-chief Fatih Polat on 13 September appeared before an Istanbul court for the second hearing of a trial concerning a news story published in Evrensel on 22 February 2010, when Polat was the newspaper’s responsible managing editor.

Polat stands accused of “disclosing the private communication between two individuals” in the case, launched more than five years ago upon a complaint filed by Melih Gökçek, who was the mayor of Ankara at the time.

The accusation stems from the newspaper’s 22 February 2010 coverage of the leaked recording of an alleged phone conversation between Gökçek and former AKP MP Burhan Kuzu.

The trial had been put on hold in 2012, but resumed because Polat had “committed another offense in the three years that followed.”

Giving his defense statement during Thursday’s hearing, Polat told the 2nd Criminal Court of First Instance of Istanbul that the information in the said news story had already become public a day before Evrensel ran a piece on it. Noting that the alleged recording was covered extensively by Turkish media at the time, and that Akşam daily had already run a news story about it a day before Evrensel, Polat said: “A journalist will cover the communication between two people if those people are two public officials and the topic of the conversation is a matter of public interest.” Rejecting the accusations, Polat requested his acquittal.

Polat’s lawyer Devrim Avcı requested that the court inquire whether any criminal investigation had been launched into Akşam’s issue dated 21 February 2018.

In its interim decision, the court ordered an expert investigation on whether Evrensel reported about the recording before the date of the said news story. The court also decided to inquire about the Akşam newspaper and adjourned the trial until 6 December 2018.

Nasuhbeyoğlu and Koşar fined for “insulting the president” 

Also on 13 September, Evrensel’s former responsible managing editor Vural Nasuhbeyoğlu and former owner Arif Koşar were convicted of “insulting the president” and sentenced to a fine of TL 7,000 each.

Nasuhbeyoğlu and Koşar did not attend the hearing at the 2nd Istanbul Criminal Court of First Instance, where they were represented by their lawyers Devrim Avcı and Mustafa Söğütlü.

Following the completion of the defense statements, the court announced its verdict, sentencing Nasuhbeyoğlu and Koşar to 1 year and 2 months each for “insulting the president.” The court then reduced the sentences to 11 months and 20 days “in consideration of the defendants’ good behavior during proceedings,” and then commuted each sentence to TL 7,000 fine.

The defense lawyers said they would appeal the verdict.

Fatih Portakal faces investigation for “insulting the president” on social media

A criminal investigation was launched into FOX TV anchorman Fatih Portakal on the charge of “insulting the president.” Portakal gave a statement before a prosecutor in the Istanbul Anadolu Courthouse on 13 September as part of the investigation.

The allegation is based on Portakal’s social media posts concerning a stage play by Barış Atay titled Sadece Diktatör (only a dictator), which was banned in several Turkish provinces earlier this year.

Portakal told the prosecutor that his Twitter posts did not insult the president, but constituted his exercising of his right to freedom of expression.

Austrian journalist Max Zirngast taken into custody in Ankara

Turkey-based Austrian journalist Max Zirngast was taken into custody on 12 September by Ankara police during an early morning raid.

The German-based periodical Re:volt, for which Zirngast is a correspondent, announced the journalist’s detention on Twitter. The periodical said Zirngast’s detention was based on “terrorism-related charges” and “most probably on account of his reporting on political matters.”

Austrian Government Spokesperson Peter Launsky-Tieffenthal issued a statement following the news of Zirngast’s arrest, and called on Turkey to either make an official explanation as to the grounds for Zirngast’s arrest, or release the journalist immediately. The spokesperson also said that the Austrian Embassy in Ankara was offering support to Zirngast.

Prosecutor seeks lengthy jail term for Seda Taşkın

The third hearing of the trial against jailed Mezopotamya news agency (MA) reporter Seda Taşkın was held on 12 September in the eastern province of Muş.

The prosecutor submitted his final opinion of the case during the hearing, asking for Taşkın’s conviction on the charges of “membership in a terrorist organization” and “conducting continuous propaganda for a terrorist organization.”

The 2nd High Criminal Court of Muş adjourned the trial until 10 October 2018 to allow time for defense lawyers to prepare their statements in response to the prosecutor’s final opinion and ordered the continuation of Taşkın’s detention on remand.

A report about the hearing, monitored by P24 in the courtroom, can be accessed here.

ETHA journalists Şahin and Gayıp remain behind bars after 1st hearing

Etkin news agency (ETHA) editor Semiha Şahin and reporter Pınar Gayıp appeared before an Istanbul court on 10 September after five months in pretrial detention.

The 23rd High Criminal Court of Istanbul, which oversees the trial, ruled to keep all four defendants, including Şahin and Gayıp, in detention on remand.

The court adjourned the trial until 5 December 2018.

Şahin and Gayıp are indicted for “membership in a terrorist organization” and “conducting propaganda for a terrorist organization” while their two co-defendants are only charged with “terrorism propaganda.”

A report about the hearing, monitored by P24 and English PEN, can be accessed here.

Salih Erbekler released after nearly 2 years in pretrial detention without indictment

Salih Erbekler, a former employee of the Urfa-based Radio Karacadağ, was released from prison on 10 September after spending 23 months in pretrial detention without an indictment.

Shortly after the local radio station was closed down on 30 September 2016 through an emergency decree, its executive board director Sadık Demir and employees Salih Erbekler and Mizgin Çay were taken into custody. All three were jailed pending trial on the charge of “membership in a terrorist organization.” The songs the radio station played and the programs it aired were held as evidence against the three.

Erbekler was released after a new prosecutor replaced the former investigating prosecutor, who was recently appoinıted to another post. The new prosecutor ordered Erbekler’s release after examining the investigation file, on which a confidentiality order has been in place.

Odatv news director Barış Terkoğlu briefly detained 

Odatv news director Barış Terkoğlu was taken into custody on 10 September in Istanbul on grounds of an arrest warrant. Terkoğlu was released the same day after giving his statement at the courthouse. The arrest warrant had been issued as part of an ongoing case against Terkoğlu concerning a news story published on the Odatv news website about the Beşiktaş Municipality.

Academics for Peace trials adjourned 

Trials into academics who signed 2016’s Academic for Peace declaration continued this week at the Istanbul Courthouse in Çağlayan. Academics who signed the declaration are charged with “conducting propaganda for a terrorist organization.”

On 11 September, the 25th High Criminal Court of Istanbul held the first hearing of the trials into Bilgi University academics Bülent Bilmez and Süreyya Topaloğlu, and an academic with the initials T.E., from the University of Pennsylvania. None of the three academics, all of whom work abroad, were in attendance. The trials were adjourned until 12 February 2019, 11 October 2018, and 26 February 2019, respectively.

On 13 September, the 24th High Criminal Court of Istanbul held the second hearing of the trial into Aylin Ünaldı from Boğaziçi University. Ünaldı did not give her full defense statement during the hearing but she told the court that signing the petition was an exercising of her right to freedom of expression and requested to be acquitted. Ünaldı also requested that the trial be adjourned in the event the court rejects her request for acquittal. In its interim decision, the court rejected the academic’s request for acquittal and also rejected the lawyers’ requests that the file be merged with other files before the same court or with those overseen by the 13th High Criminal Court and adjourned the trial until 11 December.

Singer Mabel Matiz faces investigation “for dollar bill footage” in video

Singer Mabel Matiz testified before a prosecutor on 11 September at the Istanbul Courthouse as part of an investigation concerning a video for one of his songs. The accusation is that Matiz “supported FETÖ through the use of footage featuring 1 US dollar bills in the video.” FETÖ is the acronym used by the government for the Fethullah Gülen network, which Turkish authorities claim to be the perpetrators behind the failed coup attempt in 2016. The investigation was launched following a complaint filed by a citizen. Matiz told the prosecutor that the video was shot by his producer and that he had no intention of supporting the Gülen network through the video.

Hürriyet ends Taha Akyol, Mehmet Y. Yılmaz columns 

Hürriyet daily has decided to terminate Taha Akyol’s regular column as of 14 September. Akyol had been a columnist for Hürriyet since October 2011. Hürriyet, along with other newspapers and TV networks under the Doğan media group, was taken over by the pro-government Demirören media group earlier this year. A weekly news show Akyol hosted on CNN Türk before the takeover was also canceled after Demirören’s acquisition of companies under Doğan media.

Also on 14 September, news broke that the newspaper was going to end longtime columnist Mehmet Y. Yılmaz’s articles as of next week. Yılmaz had been writing for Hürriyet for the past 13 years.

Erdoğan files compensation case against Kılıçdaroğlu

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has filed a lawsuit against the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) chairman Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, seeking TL 250,000 in non-pecuniary damages for Kılıçdaroğlu’s remarks that “violated his personal rights” during a provincial directors meeting of the CHP. Erdoğan’s lawyers also filed for a separate investigation with the Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor on grounds that Kılıçdaoğlu “insulted the president” in the same remarks.

List of jailed journalists and media workers updated 

P24 has updated its list of Jailed Journalists and Media Workers, compiled using information available in open sources.

Following Radyo Karacadağ employee Salih Erbekler and Özgürlükçü Demokrasi employee Pınar Tarlak’s release from pretrial detention during the week, at least 183 journalists and media workers still remain behind bars in Turkey’s prisons, either in pretrial detention or serving a sentence.

The full list can be accessed here.