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 - 182

Freedom of Expression and the Press in Turkey - 182

Mehmet Gündem ordered to remain behind bars in 4th hearing; court convicts 7 defendants in Gün Matbaacılık case; Sözcü trial adjourned until April 

The trial of nine executives and employees of Sözcü newspaper on terrorism-related charges resumed on 15 March at the 37th High Criminal Court of Istanbul.

A recent indictment that accuses Sözcü columnists Emin Çölaşan and Necati Doğru, the newspaper’s Editor-in-Chief Metin Yılmaz, website news coordinator Yücel Arı and website editor Mustafa Çetin of “aiding the terrorist organization ‘FETÖ’ without being part of its hierarchical structure” was merged in January  with the ongoing case into the daily’s former website news director Mediha Olgun, Financial Affairs Manager Yonca Yücekaleli, Izmir correspondent Gökmen Ulu and former publisher Burak Akbay on the charges of “leading an armed terror organization,” “spreading propaganda for a terrorist organization” and “aiding FETÖ while not being its members.” An arrest warrant is still in place for Akbay, who is abroad.

This was the first courtroom hearing in the case after the two files were merged. 

P24 monitored the hearing, where Metin Yılmaz, Mustafa Çetin, Necati Doğru, Yücel Arı, Gökmen Ulu, Mediha Olgun and Yonca Yücekaleli were in attendance, as well as defense lawyers. Emin Çölaşan addressed the court via the courtroom video-conferencing system SEGBİS from Ankara.

At the end of the previous hearing, the court had ruled to hand over the case file to the prosecutor for the final opinion to be prepared. The prosecution requested additional time for their final opinion because of the vast extent of the file.

The defendants then told the court that they would not make any statements at this point. Mediha Olgun asked to be acquitted.

Defense lawyers requested that the court ask for a new expert opinion, which the court rejected. The lawyers also requested the expansion of the investigation and said the submission of the final opinion without the completion of the case file would lead to violations of the right to defense and the right to a fair trial.

Burak Akbay’s lawyer requested the lifting of the arrest warrant against her client.

The prosecution requested that the court reject all requests and the continuation of the arrest warrant for Akbay.

Issuing its interim ruling following a brief recess, the court rejected the defense lawyers’ requests. The court agreed to grant additional time to the prosecution for their final opinion and adjourned the trial until 18 April.

Mehmet Gündem ordered to remain behind bars

Jailed journalist and columnist Mehmet Gündem appeared in an Istanbul court on 14 March for the fourth hearing of his trial on the charge of “membership in a terrorist group.”

P24 monitored the hearing, where Gündem and his lawyers were in attendance.

Addressing the court for his defense statement, Gündem rejected the accusations and requested to be released.

Noting that Gündem has been in pre-trial detention for 17 months, his lawyers told the court that their client’s lengthy detention amounted to the execution of a sentence rather than a preventive measure and requested Gündem’s release without waiting further for the completion of the forensic examination of digital material seized from Gündem.

The prosecution however requested the continuation of Gündem’s detention.

Issuing an interim ruling at the end of the hearing, the court ordered the continuation of Gündem’s detention on remand and set 8 May 2019 as the date for the next hearing.

The indictment claims that Gündem used ByLock, an encrypted messaging application purported to be exclusively used by the members of the Fethullah Gülen network; deposited money in his Bank Asya account under orders from Gülen; and had acquaintances among “high profile” members of the Fethullah Gülen organization. The government accuses the Gülen network of orchestrating the failed coup attempt of 2016.

Nine more academics convicted for signing peace petition

Courts in Istanbul this week continued handing down prison sentences to academics standing trial on the charge of “spreading propaganda for a terrorist group” for signing a 2016 petition by the Academics for Peace initiative.

On 14 March, the 28th High Criminal Court of Istanbul found Çare Olgun Çalışkan guilty of the “propaganda” charge under Article 7/2 of the Law on Fight against Terrorism and gave the academic a prison sentence of 2 years and 3 months. The court neither granted reduction nor deferred the sentence. The same day, the 36th High Criminal Court of Istanbul convicted Ferdan Ergut at the end of the first hearing of the academic’s trial, giving Ergut a prison term of 15 months. The sentence was deferred.

On 13 March, the 37th High Criminal Court gave Feryal Delfin Saygılıgil a prison sentence of 1 year and 6 months and deferred the sentence. The same day, the 26th and 32nd high criminal courts also convicted two more academics of the “propaganda” charge, handing down 15-month prison terms. Both sentences were deferred.

On 12 March, academics Aslı Takanay, Ayfer Bartu Candan, Tansel Korkmaz were each given a 15-month sentence by different courts while Osman Erden was sentenced to 1 year and 6 months in prison. Takanay will be subject to probation for two years. The sentences imposed on the other academics were deferred.

Turkey ordered to pay compensation in Özgür Gündem case

The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has found that Turkey violated the right to freedom of expression in the application concerning the pro-Kurdish newspaper Özgür Gündem, which was shut down in 2016.

In its unanimous Chamber judgment dated 12 March 2019, the Strasbourg court ordered that Turkey pay the former publisher of the newspaper Ali Gürbüz 3,500 euros in compensation.

The court  found that criminal proceedings against Gürbüz and the newspaper had been systematically opened, regardless of the actual content of the articles published in the newspaper. 

The Court explained that “enforcement measures automatically taken against media professionals, without considering their intentions or the public’s right to be informed of other views on a conflict situation, could not be reconciled with the freedom to receive or impart information or ideas.”

Printing company owner, 6 employees convicted

Seven employees of Gün Matbaacılık, the company that printed the shuttered pro-Kurdish newspaper Özgürlükçü Demokrasi, were handed down prison sentences on 11 March, at the end of their trial on terrorism-related charges.

The 26th High Criminal Court of Istanbul convicted the printing company’s owner Kasım Zengin and employees Erdoğan Zamur, İrfan Karaca, Mahmut Abay and İhsan Sinmiş of “membership in a terrorist group” and imposed on each defendant a 7 year and 6 month prison sentence. The court also ruled for their release pending appeal. All five had been jailed pending trial since March 2018.

The court also convicted two other printing house employees, Musa Kaya and Mehmet Emin Sümeli, who were both released in the previous hearings of the case, of “aiding a terrorist organization” and sentenced them to 3 years and 9 months in prison.

The rest of the defendants were acquitted.

Twenty of the 21 defendants in the case were initially jailed pending trial in the aftermath of a police raid on the printing house in March 2018 in connection with an investigation into the shuttered daily Özgürlükçü Demokrasi.

Kemal Özer’s trial adjourned until 27 March

The sixth hearing of the trial of Evrensel daily’s Tunceli correspondent Kemal Özer on the charge of “membership in a terrorist group” took place on 11 March at the 1st High Criminal Court of Tunceli.

Özer’s lawyer Fatma Kalsen requested the lifting of the judicial control measures imposed on Özer. The court rejected Kalsen’s request and set 27 March as the date for the final hearing in the case.

Özer remained in pre-trial detention for 16 months as part of this case before being released by the court on 21 January.

List of journalists and media workers in prison 

As of 15 March 2019, there are at least 145 journalists and media workers in Turkey’s prisons, either in pre-trial detention or serving a sentence.

The full list can be accessed here.