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 - 180

Freedom of Expression and the Press in Turkey - 180

Eren Erdem and Turan Ababey sentenced to 4 years in prison in Karşı newspaper trial; Pelin Ünker and Orhan Erinç ordered to pay compensation to Binali Yıldırım and sons; 40 former TRT employees handed down prison terms

The court overseeing the trial into the now-defunct Karşınewspaper on 1 March rendered its verdict in the case where Eren Erdem, a former main opposition CHP lawmaker, was among the defendants on account of his time as the daily’s one-time editor-in-chief.

The 23rd High Criminal Court of Istanbul convicted Erdem, who has been jailed pending trial as part of the case since last summer, and the newspaper’s publisher Turan Ababey of “aiding a terrorist organization without being its member” and sentenced each to 4 years and 2 months in prison. The court acquitted Erdem of “violating the confidentiality of an investigation” and “disclosing the identity of an anonymous witness.” The court also ordered the continuation of Erdem’s detention on remand.

Journalists Kutlu Esendemir and Mehmet Bozkurt, who were also accused of “aiding a terrorist group without being its member,” were both acquitted.

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

Court acquits Alayumat and Akman, rules for new charges to be filed

On 1 March, the court overseeing the trial against journalists Erdoğan Alayumat and Nuri Akman on the charges of “espionage” and “terrorist group membership” acquitted both journalists of the charges against them. 

Alayumat and Akman, former reporters for the shuttered Dicle media news agency (Dihaber), were represented in the hearing by their lawyer, Tugay Bek.

The 2nd High Criminal Court of Hatay had inquired of the Turkish General Staff and the National Intelligence Organization (MİT) about the photographs on which the charges against the journalists are based. In their recent response to the inquiry, the Turkish General Staff said the location photographed by Alayumat was not categorized as “restricted.”

The prosecution then requested Alayumat and Akman’s acquittal of the “espionage” charge. The prosecution however requested that Alayumat be convicted of “membership in a terrorist group.”

In its verdict, the Hatay 2nd High Criminal Court acquitted both Alayumat and Akman of both charges. The court however ruled to file new charges against both journalists — on the allegation of “unauthorized photography of restricted military area” against Alayumat; and on the allegation of “disseminating propaganda for a terrorist group” against Akman, on account of his social media posts.

Ünker, Erinç ordered to pay compensation for “Paradise Papers” coverage

On 28 February, the Anadolu 24th Civil Court of First Instance found journalists Pelin Ünker and Orhan Erinç guilty in a lawsuit filed by former Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım and his sons and ordered they pay the Yıldırıms a sum of TL 30,000 in compensation.

Yıldırım and his sons had been seeking TL 500,000 in non-pecuniary damages in the lawsuit, claiming that two news stories about the “Paradise Papers” leaks that were published in the Cumhuriyet daily “violated their personal rights.”

Ünker is a former finance desk editor for Cumhuriyet and Erinç was the former Executive Board Chairman of the Cumhuriyet Foundation.

In September, the Anadolu 24th Civil Court of First Instance had ruled to adjourn the lawsuit indefinitely, awaiting the outcome of a separate case overseen by a criminal court of first instance in relation to the same coverage. In January, the 2nd Criminal Court of First Instance of Istanbul sentenced Ünker to a prison term of 13 months and 15 days for “libel” and also fined the journalist TL 8,660 in non-pecuniary damages for the “insult” charge in that case. 

The Anadolu 24th Civil Court of First Instance went on to issue its verdict in the compensation case without waiting for a higher court’s review of the verdict rendered by the criminal court of first instance. 

Prosecution seeks prison terms in Özgür Gündem solidarity trial 

The latest hearing in the trial of Reporters Without Borders’ (RSF) Turkey representative Erol Önderoğlu, academic Şebnem Korur-Fincancı and journalist and writer Ahmet Nesin for their participation in a campaign for solidarity with the shuttered Özgür Gündem newspaper in the summer of 2016 was held on 27 February at the Istanbul 13th High Criminal Court.

Submitting their final opinion on the case, the prosecution requested that all three defendants be given prison sentences on the charges of “spreading propaganda for a terrorist organization” under Article 7/2 of the Law on the Fight against Terrorism (TMK), “incitement to commit crime” under Article 214/1 of the Turkish Criminal Code (TCK) and “praising crime and criminals” under TCK Article 215/1. 

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

Lawyers appeal Regional Court’s ruling in Cumhuriyet trial

Lawyers representing the defendants in the Cumhuriyet newspaper trial this week appealed a recent verdict by the 3rd Criminal Chamber of the Istanbul Regional Court of Justice, which upheld the sentences given by the trial court. 

The lawyers filed a 208-page petition with the 16th Criminal Chamber of the Supreme Court of Appeals, which will oversee the second phase in the appeal process. In the final hearing of the case on 25 April 2018, the trial court convicted 14 former columnists and executives of the Cumhuriyet daily. 

The lawyers assert in their petition that “the convictions in the case should be overturned because they are manifestly unlawful.” The lawyers also requested for those sentences under five years to be also eligible for further appeal and demanded for those sentences to be postponed.

“Propaganda” trial against Ahmet Kanbal adjourned  

The second hearing of a lawsuit where Mezopotamya news agency reporter Ahmet Kanbal stands accused of “disseminating propaganda for a terrorist group” over his social media posts took place on 26 February in Izmir.

P24 monitored the hearing at the 2nd High Criminal Court of Izmir. Kanbal addressed the court via the courtroom video-conferencing system SEGBİS. Kanbal and his lawyer Erdal Kuzu requested for the prosecution’s final opinion of the case to be uploaded on the UYAP system so that they can work on their final defense statement.

The court granted additional time for the defense statement and adjourned the trial until 19 March.

7 more academics convicted for signing peace petition

More academics who have been standing trial on the charge of “disseminating propaganda for a terrorist group” for signing 2016’s Academics for Peace petition were convicted by courts this week.

On 27 February, the 37th High Criminal Court of Istanbul convicted Besime Şen and S.S. of the “propaganda” charge as per Article 7/2 of the Law on the Fight against Terrorism (TMK) and gave each academic a 15-month sentence. Both sentences were deferred.

On 26 February, different courts overseeing the trials against academics Özlem Beyarslan, Evren Erlevent, Z.S. and İpek Yürekli also convicted all four academics of the “propaganda” charge and gave each of the academics a 15-month prison sentence. All four sentences were deferred.

Also on 26 February, the 33rd High Criminal Court of Istanbul gave academic Candan Badem a prison sentence of 1 year, 10 months and 15 days and deferred the sentence. One of the judges on the panel gave a dissenting opinion, saying that Badem should have been acquitted.

Rojhat Doğru released pending trial in second hearing

Jailed journalist Rojhat Doğru appeared before a court on 26 February for the second hearing of his case on the charges of “attempting to destroy the unity of the state” and “willful injury.” 

The 8th High Criminal Court of Diyarbakır ruled at the end of the hearing to release Doğru pending the conclusion of the trial because the collection of evidence has mostly been completed and based on the possibility of a different accusation being brought against the journalist. The court imposed on Doğru an international travel ban and a judicial control measure in the form of reporting to the nearest police station weekly to give his signature. 

40 former TRT employees convicted of “membership in terrorist group”

An Ankara court overseeing the case against 42 former employees of the public broadcaster TRT on the charge of “membership in an armed terrorist group” convicted 40 of the defendants in the case on 25 February.

The defendants were standing trial because of their alleged links with the Fethullah Gülen network, which the government bills as a terrorist organization and accuses of being the perpetrators behind the 2016 coup attempt. 

The 22nd High Criminal Court of Ankara imposed prison sentences of various length -- between 6 years and 3 months and 8 years and 9 months -- on 39 of the defendants. One defendant who asked to benefit from effective remorse provisions, Murat Kaban, was given a prison sentence of 18 months and 22 days and the sentence was deferred. Safiye Tokgöz was acquitted and the file against Sedat Turhan was separated. 

The court also ruled to release four of the jailed defendants in the case pending the outcome of the appeal process considering the time they spent in detention: Cumali Çaygeç, Sezai Yavaş, Tuğrul Çakır and Serkan Canbaz.

Defendants Ahmet Özdemir, Ali Hancı, Ahmet Çat, Beşir Elmas, Abdullah Yeldan, Enes Bora, Evren Kara, Koray Demirci, Selçuk Çelik, Şaban Harman, Özkan Püsküllü, Hüseyin Arslan, Özgür Aksoy, Salih Üzer, Mehmet Kuş, Ali Suat Günek, Emrah Timuçin Yazıcı, Kubilay Süslü, Ertan Rıdha, Murat Karaca, Hamza Günerigök and Ali Fuat Ayhan were each sentenced to 6 years and 3 months in prison.

Cumali Çaygeç, Ayhan Baykara, İbrahim Öztürk, Sinan Güneş, Sezai Yavaş, Tuğrul Çakır, Serkan Canbaz, Yunus Ayhan, Şefik Cürebal, Hakan Karaca, Nurdan Ayşe Coşkun were each sentenced to 6 years, 10 months and 15 days. 

Eşref Üzüm, Orhan Tokmak, Osman Taha Sirkeci and Niyazi Özkan were each sentenced to 7 years and 6 months while Mehmet Akif Öztürk and Eyüp Keser were each given 8 years and 9 months.

The court also ruled to keep defendants Orhan Tokmak, Osman Taha Sirkeci, Niyazi Özkan, Hamza Günerigök, Mehmet Akif Öztürk and Eyüp Keser behind bars pending the outcome of the appeal.

Journalist-artist Zehra Doğan freed from prison

Journalist and artist Zehra Doğan was released from prison on 24 February upon having served her term in full.

Doğan was sent to the Diyarbakır Prison on 12 June 2017 after an appellate court upheld the sentence she had been given in March 2017 on the charge of “disseminating propaganda for a terrorist group.” The trial court had sentenced Doğan to 2 years 9 months and 22 days in prison. 

In October 2018, Doğan was transferred -- against her wish -- to the Tarsus Prison in Mersin. She was released from the Tarsus prison after remaining behind bars for a total of 20 months.

List of journalists and media workers in prison

As of 1 March 2019, at least 150 journalists and media workers are in prison in Turkey, either in pre-trial detention or serving a sentence.

The full list can be accessed here.