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 - 165

Freedom of Expression and the Press in Turkey - 165

Thirteen arrested in sweeping operation targeting civil society; reporter Sedat Sur going to prison for news coverage; Zaman columnist Ali Ünal given 19.5-year jail term on “leading a terrorist organization” charge

Betül Tanbay, an academic from the Mathematics Department of Istanbul’s Boğaziçi University, and Turgut Tarhanlı, the dean of Faculty of Law at Bilgi Üniversitesi were among 13 people arrested on 16 November during early morning police raids in a sweeping operation chiefly targeting members of a civil society organization.

The operation was part of an ongoing investigation into Anadolu Kültür Inc., whose Executive Board Chairman Osman Kavala is currently jailed on remand without an indictment. Those who were taken into custody on Friday were accused of “cooperating, in a hierarchical manner, with Kavala in attempting to expand the scope of the Gezi Park protests.”

In addition to Tanbay and Tarhanlı, Anadolu Kültür Executive Board Deputy Chair Yiğit Ekmekçi, executive board member Ali Hakan Altınay, General Coordinator of Anadolu Kültür Asena Günal, Co-Director of Hafıza Merkezi (Truth Justice Memory Center) Meltem Aslan; Bora Sarı from Anadolu Kültür, Ayşegül Güzel, Filiz Telek, Yiğit Aksakoğlu, Yusuf Cıvır, Hande Özhabeş and producer Çiğdem Mater were also taken into custody during Friday’s raids, Bianet reported.

Turgut Tarhanlı, Meltem Aslan Çelikkan, Asena Günal and Hande Özhabeş were released later in the day, after giving their statements. Betül Tanbay was released on 17 November after giving her statement. Yiğit Ekmekçi, Yiğit Aksakoğlu and Bora Sarı were still in custody as of 17 November morning despite having given their statements.

Aksakoğlu was jailed pending trial later on 17 November while others still in custody were released under judicial control measures.

Arrest warrants were issued for a total of 20 people as part of the investigation, reports said, and the warrants for seven people who were not among those detained on Friday are still in place.

Lawyers said their access to the investigation file was restricted.

Sedat Sur going to prison for news coverage

Sedat Sur, a reporter for the online media outlet Özgürü, who was given an 11-month jail term last week for his news coverage and social media posts concerning the government-appointed trustees of the Mardin Municipality, is going to prison on 19 November to serve that sentence.

An investigation was launched into the journalist in 2017 following his report, which was about corruption allegations concerning the municipality. Upon the investigation’s completion, the Mardin Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office issued an indictment against the journalist, accusing Sur of “making the trustees a target,” “insult” and “disseminating propaganda for a terrorist organization.” At the final hearing of that court case last week on 9 November, the trial court convicted Sur of the “propaganda” charge and gave him a jail term of 11 months and 20 days. The court did not defer the sentence because of a previous conviction.

Sur is now headed to prison. Since his jail term is less than a year, normally Sur will have to be freed, but the journalist will still have to remain behind bars until his papers are formally submitted to the prison management.

Speaking to the online news portal Gazete Karınca about his looming imprisonment, Sur said: “Journalists are supposed to cover the news. If there are errors in a news report, then the journalist runs a correction. But my coverage has still not been denied.”

Trial into Selman Keleş and Arif Aslan adjourned 

The latest hearing in a trial where the shuttered Dicle Medya News Agency (Dihaber) reporter Selman Keleş and journalist Arif Aslan are charged with “membership in a terrorist organization” was held on  15 November in the eastern province of Van. The 5th High Criminal Court of Van adjourned the trial until 21 March 2019.

Keleş and Aslan were jailed pending trial in Van and released at the end of their first hearing on 21 November 2017, after spending eight months in pretrial detention.

Ali Ünal acquitted of coup charge, given 19.5 years for “leading terrorist group”

Ali Ünal, a former columnist for the shuttered daily Zaman, appeared before a court in the Uşak province on 14 November for the final hearing of his trial on “coup” and terrorism-related charges, facing two aggravated life sentences and an additional prison sentence of up to 29.5 years.

Issuing its verdict at the end of the hearing, the 2nd High Criminal Court of Uşak acquitted Ünal of the “coup” charge but convicted him of “establishing and leading an armed terrorist organization” and imposed on Ünal a prison sentence of 19 years and 6 months.

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

Atılım editor in chief Deniz Bakır released from jail

Deniz Bakır, the jailed editor in chief of the Atılım newspaper, was released from prison under judicial control measures on 14 November at the end of the second hearing of his trial.

Bakır had been jailed pending trial for the past nine months on account of his critical statements concerning Turkey’s military operation targeting the Syrian city of Afrin. He is standing trial alongside M. Bedran Çoğaltay and Bedirhan Karayer, two members of the Socialist Party of the Oppressed (ESP).

Bakır is accused of “membership in a terrorist group.”

The 27th High Criminal Court of Istanbul, which oversees the case, set 7 February 2019 as the date for he next hearing.

Appellate court quashes prison sentence given to Ayla Albayrak

An appellate court in Gaziantep on 13 November quashed a prison sentence given to journalist Ayla Albayrak, the former Turkey correspondent of The Wall Street Journal.

In October 2017, a High Criminal Court in Cizre had sentenced Albayrak to a prison term of 2 years and 1 month on the charge of “disseminating propaganda for the PKK” in an article published in the WSJ.

The appellate court overturned the trial court’s verdict for procedural reasons on the grounds that the legislation concerning the statute of limitations for opening a lawsuit had been overlooked. The appellate court did not render judgment as to the merits of the case. editor Ali Ergin Demirhan briefly detained

Police on 13 November took editor Ali Ergin Demirhan into custody at the Istanbul office of the news portal. Demirhan was detained because the Diyarbakır Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office wanted to take Demirhan’s statement as part of an investigation. The grounds for the investigation were a campaign song used by the Peoples’ Democratic party (HDP) for the 16 April referendum, and a cartoon depicting the President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to be posted on Demirhan was released the same day after giving his statement.

Indictment into jailed reporter Kibriye Evren accepted 

The Diyarbakır 5th High Criminal Court this week accepted an indictment into Kibriye Evren, a reporter for Jin News, who was jailed pending trial in October as part of a sweeping operation launched in Diyarbakır. The first hearing of Evren’s trial is set to take place on 6 December 2018.

The indictment accuses Evren of “membership in a terrorist organization” and “disseminating propaganda for a terrorist organization.” The accusations in the 25-page indictment are based on testimony by secret witnesses and tip-offs. Evren’s social media posts and her international travels are held as evidence against Evren, as well as membership of the Democratic Society Congress (DTK).

Journalist Deniz Nazlım gives statement as part of investigation 

Deniz Nazlım, a reporter for the Mezopotamya news agency (MA), on 12 November reported to the Ankara Courthouse to give his statement as part of an investigation where he faced an arrest warrant.

Nazlım’s house was raided by police on 9 November as part of an operation in the Turkish capital, during which police took academic Cenk Yiğiter and several others into custody. Nazlım’s house was raided by police during the same operation.

MA reported that the prosecutor asked Nazlım questions about his phone conversations with his sources and the agency headquarters, as well as his social media posts. Nazlım was released after giving his statement.

Actress appears before court for social media post

Actress Berna Laçin on 13 November appeared before an Istanbul court for the first hearing of a case in which she is accused of “publicly insulting religious beliefs held by a part of the society” in a Twitter post.

Laçin and her lawyers were in attendance at the Istanbul Anadolu 59th Criminal Court of First Instance for the hearing. In her defense statement, Laçin rejected the accusations in the indictment and requested for her acquittal.

The court adjourned the trial for defense lawyers to submit their statement in written form.

The indictment seeks up to 1 year imprisonment for the actress.

List of journalists and media workers in prison 

After Deniz Bakır’s release from prison during the week, by mid-November, at least 174 journalists and media workers are in prison in Turkey, either in pretrial detention or serving a sentence.

The full list can be accessed here.