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 - 177

Freedom of Expression and the Press in Turkey - 177

Atilla Taş released on probation; Fatih Polat appears in court on “insulting the president” charge; Bülent Şık’s trial for article series gets under way; appellate court acquits journalist İdris Yılmaz

Atilla Taş, a former singer and a columnist for the shuttered Meydan daily, who was sent to prison in November, was released on probation on 8 February.

Taş had been given 3 years 1 month and 15 days in prison for “knowingly and willingly aiding a terrorist organization without being part of its hierarchical structure” at the end of the trial publicly known as the “FETÖ media leg trial.”

On 22 October 2018, the 2nd Criminal Chamber of the Istanbul Regional Court of Justice upheld his sentence. Accordingly, on 9 November, Taş was imprisoned to serve the remainder of that sentence. Taş had remained in pretrial detention in Silivri for around 14 months as part of the case before being released on 24 October 2017 pending the conclusion of the trial.

Taş’s release brought the number of journalists and media workers in prison to at least 160.

Fatih Polat appears in court on “insulting the president” charge

Evrensel daily’s editor in chief Fatih Polat on 7 February appeared in the first hearing of a case where he is charged with “insulting the president” for an article that was published in the newspaper on 28 May 2017.

An Istanbul court had previously ordered the column, in which Polat, with a brief introduction, re-published a Malta Files article on an alleged offshore deal involving Erdoğan and his family, be removed from the Evrensel website. The newspaper’s lawyers objected to the court order, but their objection was rejected and the article was subsequently removed from the website. After the removal of the article, lawyers representing President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan filed a lawsuit against Polat for the column.

Polat and his lawyers as well as a lawyer representing the president were in attendance during the hearing at the Bakırköy 31st Criminal Court of First Instance.

P24 monitored the hearing, where Polat and his lawyers made their defense statement.

Polat submitted to the court a written defense statement, in which he said that he would continue asking questions, which constitutes the essence of journalism. 

Polat’s lawyer Devrim Avcı Özkurt said the news article Polat referred to in his column was published in at least seven different countries across Europe and that the original news story was still available online, however, one mention of the said article in Turkey has led to a court case against her client.

Özkurt said that any article that includes criticism against Erdoğan to face a court case was against the case law of the Constitutional Court of Turkey and the European Court of Human Rights.

Polat’s lawyer Gülşah Kaya also told the court that the website that is the source of the news was still open for access and the original news story was in Turkish.

Addressing the court following the defense, Erdoğan’s lawyer argued that Polat’s article “violated Erdoğan’s personal rights” and requested that the journalist be punished.

The next hearing in the case will be held on 14 May 2019. 

Bülent Şık appears in court for article series

Former academic Bülent Şık on 7 February appeared before an Istanbul court for the first hearing of his trial on the charges of “disclosing restricted information,” “procuring restricted information” and “disclosing confidential information obtained by virtue of duty.” The charges stem from an article series Şık penned for the Cumhuriyet daily in April 2018, in which he wrote about carcinogenic pesticides and other toxins found in food and water in Turkey.

Addressing the 2nd Criminal Court of First Instance of Istanbul for his defense statement during the hearing, Şık requested for his acquittal.

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

Appellate court acquits jailed journalist İdris Yılmaz 

A prison sentence of 1 year and 3 months given in July 2018 to jailed journalist İdris Yılmaz on the charge of “libel” was reversed by an appellate court.

Yılmaz was accused for his reporting based on footage showing a group of village guards in the eastern town of Erciş harassing a child.

In its verdict concerning Yılmaz’s appeal against the sentence, the 7th Criminal Chamber of the Erzurum Regional Court of Justice ruled that the elements of the “libel” offense were not present in Yılmaz’s reporting and that his coverage should be assessed as a part of the freedom of the press.

The appellate court said Yılmaz should have been acquitted by the trial court and unanimously ruled to reverse the journalist’s conviction without sending back the file to the trial court for retrial.

Yılmaz, who was given another jail term of 6 years and 3 months in January in a separate case where he was charged with “membership in a terrorist group,” is currently on remand in the Elazığ No. 1 Maximum Security Prison. 

Barış Yarkadaş given 10-month prison sentence for 2014 news story 

Barış Yarkadaş, a journalist and a former CHP MP, was given a 10-month prison sentence on the charge of “invasion of privacy” in a lawsuit launched upon a complaint by former Minister Erdoğan Bayraktar. 

The accusation stemmed from a news story published on 27 May 2014 on the news portal Gerçek Gündem, which was owned at the time by Yarkadaş. 

Addressing the Istanbul Anadolu 68th Criminal Court of First Instance during the final hearing on 7 February, Yarkadaş said the news story for which he was indicted was published by the Cumhuriyet daily before Gerçek Gündem posted it online. He said Gerçek Gündem made a reference to the original story and that the Gerçek Gündem editor at the time who posted the news story did stand trial for the story. Yarkadaş said he couldn't be held responsible because the editor was already held responsible for the story. He also said news websites were not subject to the Press Law, although the investigation for the lawsuit was conducted in accordance with the Press Law.

Announcing its verdict at the end of the hearing, the court imposed on Yarkadaş a prison term of 1 year for “invasion of privacy” and reduced the sentence to 10 months for “good conduct” and deferred the sentence for five years. 

Cumhuriyet reporter Alican Uludağ given jail sentence

An Istanbul court gave Cumhuriyet reporter Alican Uludağ a prison sentence of 10 months on the charge of “breaching the confidentiality of a criminal investigation” for a news story he penned on 20 March 2017.

The 2nd Criminal Court of First Instance of Istanbul initially gave Uludağ a 1-year sentence, which it then reduced to 10 months. The court also deferred Uludağ’s sentence.

Azadiya Welat employee appears in court after 1 year in pre-trial detention

Çetin Kurşun, a former employee of the shuttered Kurdish-language newspaper Azadiya Welat, who has been in pre-trial detention since February 2018, appeared in the first hearing of his trial on 7 February. 

Kurşun was taken into custody along with his brother, Sedat, on 6 February 2018 during a police raid on their house in the Kızıltepe district of the Mardin province. The brothers were brought before a judge 13 days after their detention. The court released Sedat Kurşun while it jailed Çetin Kurşun pending trial and sent him to the Mardin Prison.

Çetin Kurşun is charged with “membership in a terrorist group” in the case, overseen by the Mardin 2nd High Criminal Court. Rejecting the accusation against him, Kurşun requested for his release pending trial.

Issuing an interim ruling at the end of the hearing, the court ordered the continuation of Çetin Kurşun’s detention and adjourned the trial until 30 April 2019.

“KCK İstanbul main trial” adjourned until May

The “KCK Istanbul main trial,” in which 205 Kurdish politicians and activists are standing trial on various charges, resumed on 7 February at the 3rd High Criminal Court of Istanbul. Publisher and human rights activist Ragıp Zarakolu, who has been living in Sweden since 2013, is among the defendants in the case, where he is charged with “aiding and abetting a terrorist organization” for a speech he gave at a Political Academy seminar organized by the now-defunct Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) in 2011. 

In July, the court had filed a request for an Interpol red notice to be issued against Zarakolu, seeking his provisional arrest for extradition to Turkey because he had not given his defense statement yet. 

Issuing an interim ruling at the end of the hearing, the court ruled to keep the arrest warrant and the red notice application for Zarakolu in place and ruled to await the execution of the arrest warrants for some of the defendants in the case who have yet to give their defense statements. The court adjourned the trial until 28 May.

Trial of jailed journalist Abdullah Kaya adjourned until May

The sixth hearing of a case where jailed journalist Abdullah Kaya, a former reporter for the shuttered news agency DİHA, is on trial on the charge of “aiding a terrorist organization without being its member,” took place on 7 February.

Kaya, who is in pre-trial detention in the Rize L Type Prison, is accused because of footage he recorded during a festival organized in 2014 on Mount Ararat.

Addressing the Ağrı 2nd High Criminal Court via the courtroom video-conferencing system SEGBİS for his defense statement, Kaya, rejected the accusation and said the event he covered as a journalist was organized with permission from the Governor’s Office. Kaya requested for his acquittal.

At the end of the hearing, the court adjourned the trial until 13 May.

Can Dündar’s file separated in “MİT trucks case”

A trial where the former editor-in-chief of the Cumhuriyet daily, Can Dündar, the newspaper’s former Ankara representative Erdem Gül, and main opposition CHP MP Enis Berberoğlu stand accused of “aiding a terrorist group without being its member” resumed on 6 February in Istanbul.

The accusation stems from the publication in Cumhuriyetof a news story about the alleged transfer of weapons to Syria on trucks operated by Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MİT).

Erdem Gül, his lawyer, and the lawyers representing Berberoğlu and Dündar were in attendance at the closed hearing overseen by the 14th High Criminal Court of Istanbul.

The court rejected a motion filed by Berberoğlu’s lawyers for the trial to be abated because Berberoğlu has been elected to the Parliament in the latest elections. His lawyer Yiğit Acar reiterated their previous demand for new witnesses to be heard in court, and requested for additional time in the event the court rejected that request. The lawyers representing Dündar and Gül also requested additional time for their defense statements. 

In its interim ruling, the court ruled to separate the file against Dündar. Rejecting the request by Berberoğlu’s lawyers for additional witnesses to be heard, the court adjourned the trial until 15 May, granting additional time for the defense statements.

The same day, the 14th High Criminal Court of Istanbul also heard a separate case against Dündar, where the journalist in on retrial on the charge of “disclosing confidential information for espionage purposes.”

This was the third hearing in the case, which is also closed to the public. In its interim ruling, the court ruled to wait for the outcome of the request filed with German authorities for the extradition of Dündar and set 15 May as the date for the next hearing. The court also ruled to merge two other case files against Dündar, overseen by the same court, with the ongoing case on the grounds of legal and de facto connection among the files.

Six more academics convicted for signing peace petition

Trials into academics who are charged with “disseminating propaganda for a terrorist group” for signing 2016’s petition by the Academics for Peace initiative continued throughout the week.

On 7 February, the 25th High Criminal Court of Istanbul convicted Alper Akyüz of “knowingly and willingly aiding a terrorist group without being part of its hierarchical structure” as per articles 314/2 and 220/7 of the Turkish Criminal code and Article 5/1 of the Law on the Fight against Terror. The court gave Akyüz a prison sentence of 2 years and 6 months and did not grant any reductions in the sentence. The court also did not defer the sentence because the sentence is above 2 years.

Also on 7 February, the 37th High Criminal Court of Istanbul convicted academic Huri Özdoğan of the “propaganda” charge and gave her a prison sentence of 1 year and 3 months. The sentence was deferred.

On 6 February, the 37th High Criminal Court of Istanbul convicted Sinem Aydınlı of the “propaganda” charge. Aydınlı was also given a prison term of 15 months and her sentence was deferred.

On 5 February, the 36th High Criminal Court of Istanbul held the fourth hearings in the cases of academics İnci Özkan Kerestecioğlu, Biriz Berksoy and Canay Şahin. The court convicted all three academics of “propaganda” and gave each academic a 15-month sentence. All three sentences were deferred.

Trial into former Taraf executives and reporter adjourned until March

The 11th hearing in a case against former executives of the shuttered Taraf daily and the newspaper’s reporter Mehmet Baransu was held on 4 February at the 13th High Criminal Court of Istanbul. 

The accusations in the case stem from the alleged publication of a document called “Egemen War Plan.”

P24 monitored the hearing. 

Baransu, the only imprisoned defendant in the case, who is in pre-trial detention in the Silivri Prison, was not in attendance due to health issues and was instead represented by his lawyer. His co-defendants Yasemin Çongar and Ahmet Altan, who are exempt from personal appearance in court, were represented by their lawyer Figen Albuga Çalıkuşu, and Yıldıray Oğur was represented by his lawyer Gülçin Avşar.

Ret. Admiral Hasan Hoşgit and Ret. Colonels Cemal Temizöz and Suat Aytın, who requested to join the lawsuit, were also in attendance. 

Lawyer Avşar requested that the court reject the motion for participation because the case file was not based on the “Balyoz” (Sledgehammer) coup plan documents, contrary to what is being claimed by the plaintiffs.

Lawyer Çalıkuşu also asserted that the indictment made clear that the investigation was not about the “Balyoz” documents, but instead about a document called the Egemen War Plan, which the newspaper did not report about. Çalıkuşu also reminded the court that the Constitutional Court held in its ruling concerning Mehmet Baransu’s individual application that his arrest was not based on the news stories published in Taraf.

Issuing an interim ruling at the end of the hearing, the court ruled for the continuation of Baransu’s pre-trial detention and decided to rule on the plaintiffs’ request for participation after the completion of the defense statements.

The court decided to hold the next hearing in the case in two sessions and set 22 March and 25 March as the dates for the hearing.

JinNews news director Alağaş faces new indictment

The second hearing of a trial where journalist Safiye Alağaş, the news director of the women’s news collective JinNews, stands accused of “disseminating propaganda for a terrorist group” was held on 5 February.

Alağaş did not attend the hearing at the 4th High Criminal Court of Diyarbakır, where she was represented by her lawyer Pirozhan Karali.

The chief judge of the court announced during the hearing that a newly drafted indictment by the Diyarbakır Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office, dated 16 January, and also accusing Alağaş of “propaganda” on account of news stories covered by JinNews, was merged with the ongoing trial. 

Alağaş’s lawyer Karali requested that the court hear Alağaş’s defense statement again because of the merging of the files. The court agreed and adjourned the trial until 23 May. 

Sertaç Kayar acquitted of “propaganda” charge

Journalist Sertaç Kayar on 5 February appeared in the second hearing of a trial where he was charged with “propaganda” for his social media posts. At the end of the hearing, the 4th High Criminal Court of Diyarbakır acquitted Kayar of the charge although the prosecution requested punishment for the journalist.

One arrested in Tekirdağ over social media posts

A person who goes by the initials A.Y. was arrested in Tekirdağ on the allegation that they “conducted propaganda for the PKK” and “insulted the president” on social media. Police took A.Y. into custody during a raid on A.Y.’s house in Çorlu.

List of journalists and media workers in prison  

As of 8 February 2019 at least 160 journalists and media workers are in prison in Turkey, either in pretrial detention or serving a sentence. 

You can access the full list here.