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 - 193

Freedom of Expression and the Press in Turkey - 193

Journalist İbrahim Varlık jailed pending trial; Kadri Gürsel sent back to prison, freed on probation; Mehmet Gündem ordered to remain behind bars


Ferhat Tunç’s trial on “insulting the president” charge adjourned

The fifth hearing in the trial of musician and activist Ferhat Tunç on the charge of “insulting the president” on account of his social media posts took place on 31 May 2019 at Istanbul’s Büyükçekmece 14th Criminal Court of First Instance.

Tunç, who currently lives abroad, did not attend the hearing, where he was represented by his lawyer Damla Koç. At the beginning of the hearing, the court agreed to merge another file against Tunç on similar accusations that was previously overseen by the Büyükçekmece 7th Criminal Court of First Instance with the ongoing case; the latter had ruled in April to send over that case file to the 14th Criminal Court of First Instance to be merged with the ongoing case.

Tunç’s lawyer then submitted to court Tunç’s current address in Germany for his defense statement to be taken there. Issuing an interim decision, the court ruled to commence the process for Tunç’s statement to be taken in Germany and adjourned the trial until 18 September 2019.

Bülent Şık’s request for acquittal rejected, trial adjourned 

The second hearing in the trial of academic Bülent Şık was held on 30 May 2019 at the 14th High Criminal Court of Istanbul. Şık stands accused of “disclosing restricted information,” “procuring restricted information” and “disclosing confidential information obtained by virtue of duty” over a 2018 article series, in which he wrote about the findings of a cancer research conducted by the Ministry of Health. Şık faces up to 12 years in prison if convicted.

In addition to P24, the second hearing in the trial was monitored by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) Turkey Representative Erol Önderoğlu, Academics for Peace, representatives from the Istanbul, Ankara, Antalya, Kırklareli, Tekirdağ and Kocaeli Bar Associations and several journalists. Şık and his lawyers were in attendance.

Şık’s lawyer Can Atalay spoke first and said the expert report confirmed that the information in question was not disclosed by Şık but that it had been made available to the public before Şık’s series was published. Atalay requested Şık’s immediate acquittal.

Then Şık addressed the court. Noting that his statement was based on the principle of “Prevention is more important than treatment,” Şık said: “It has been determined in the expert opinion prepared upon the court’s request that similar news stories have been published before the publication of my article series.”

Addressing the court once again, Atalay asked for additional time to prepare their final defense statement. The court refused the request for immediate acquittal and the request to inquire of the Health Ministry on the precautions they took in response to the findings in the report. Granting additional time for the preparation of Şık’s final defense statement, the court adjourned the trial until 26 September.

Çetin Kurşun convicted of “propaganda” and released

Çetin Kurşun, a former employee of the shuttered Kurdish newspaper Azadiya Welat, was sentenced to 3 years in prison and released at the final hearing of his trial on 30 May by the 2nd High Criminal Court of Mardin.

Kurşun had been in pre-trial detention on the charges of “membership in a terrorist organization” and “disseminating propaganda for a terrorist organization.”

Kurşun, who was taken into custody with his brother, Sedat Kurşun, in February 2018, was later jailed pending trial while his brother was released pending trial.

Kurşun and his brother was in attendance at the hearing. The prosecution presented their final opinion, requesting Sedat Kurşun’s acquittal and Çetin Kurşun’s conviction on the “terrorist group membership” and “propaganda” charges. The Kurşun brothers told that they had nothing to say against the final opinion. Their lawyers requested their clients to be acquitted.

Announcing its verdict after the completion of the defense statements, the court acquitted Sedat Kurşun while it sentenced Çetin Kurşun to 3 years in prison on the charge of “systematically disseminating terrorist propaganda” over his alleged reporting on the website “ciwannews.” The court dropped the “membership in a terrorist organization” charge. Taking into consideration the amount of time Çetin Kurşun already spent in jail, the court ruled to release him.

Jailed journalist Filiz Zeyrek released in first hearing

Journalist Filiz Zeyrek, a former reporter for the shuttered Jin News Agency (JINHA), appeared before the 13th High Criminal Court of Adana on 30 May for the first hearing of her trial on the charges of “terrorist organization membership” and “disseminating terrorist propaganda.”

On trial for reporting about the funeral of YPG militant Şemdin Eye, Zeyrek is the only jailed defendant in the case. Eye’s parents are among Zeyrek’s 19 co-defendants. Zeyrek was caught in Greece on 22 February 2019 and she was delivered to Turkey, where she was arrested by a court.

In her defense statement, Zeyrek said that she covered the funeral as a journalist. Rejecting the accusations, Zeyrek requested to be acquitted. 

Announcing its interim decision at the end of the hearing, the court ruled to release Zeyrek pending trial and set 24 September as the date for the next hearing.

Sedef Kabaş convicted of “insulting the president”

An Istanbul court convicted journalist Sedef Kabaş of “insulting the president” on 30 May. Kabaş was given a prison sentence of 11 months and 20 days. Kabaş announced the trial court’s verdict via her Twitter account.

Kadri Gürsel released on probation after being sent back to prison

Veteran journalist Kadri Gürsel, who is also the Turkey representative of the International Press Institute (IPI), was sent to prison on 29 May 2019 to serve the remainder of his sentence upheld by an appellate court in February.

Immediately after Gürsel’s admission to Metris Prison in Istanbul, his lawyers filed a petition with the Bakırköy Judge of Execution, requesting Gürsel’s release on probation. After spending 5 hours in prison, Gürsel was freed later that day.

A report about Gürsel’s imprisonment and subsequent release can be found here.

Journalist Mehmet Gündem remains behind bars

Jailed journalist Mehmet Gündem appeared in the sixth hearing of his trial on the charge of “terrorist group membership” on 29 May at the 35th High Criminal Court of Istanbul.

P24 monitored the hearing. Gündem, who was brought to court from the Silivri Prison by gendarmerie, and his lawyers were in attendance.

The presiding judge said that the court had yet to receive a digital forensic expert’s report concerning the examination of digital evidence. The prosecution reiterated their final opinion and requested the continuation of Gündem’s detention on remand. The presiding judge asked if Gündem had anything else to add to his defense and Gündem requested to be acquitted.

Gündem’s lawyer Mecit Ceylan pointed out that Gündem has been in pre-trial detention for a lengthy period of time and requested his client’s release. Ömer Faik Çetiner, another lawyer representing Gündem, also asked for Gündem to be released because the case file and collection of evidence have been completed. He said the trial might drag on when the expert opinion is finally submitted.

Ruling for the continuation of Gündem’s detention on remand, the court adjourned the trial until 9 July.

Writer and publisher released after brief detention

Writer Abdullah Şevki Yurtvermez and publisher Alaattin Topçu were taken into custody on 28 May in Ankara based on a complaint filed by the Culture and Tourism Ministry, which accused both the writer and the publisher of “legitimizing child molestation” in a novel called Zümrüt Apartmanı. The ministry filed the complaint following public backlash after an excerpt from the book was shared on social media. Yurtvermez and Topçu were referred to a court on 29 May on the charge of “obscenity.” The court released both under judicial control measures.

On 31 May, Sözcü newspaper reported online that an indictment has been drafted against Yurtvermez and Topçu, seeking prison sentences up to 5 years for the book’s author and up to 10 years for the publisher on the charge of “obscenity.”

Journalist İbrahim Varlık jailed pending trial

İbrahim Varlık, a former correspondent for the shuttered Cihan news agency, has been jailed pending trial. Journalist Ahmet Dönmez announced the news of Varlık’s arrest on 28 May via his Twitter account. No information was available as to the grounds for Varlık’s arrest or the prison he has been placed.

ETHA reporter Ali Sönmez Kayar’s trial adjourned

The fourth hearing in the trial of Ali Sönmez Kayar, a reporter for the Etkin news agency (ETHA), and eight others on the charge of “membership in a terrorist group” took place on 28 May at the 32nd High Criminal Court of Istanbul.

P24 monitored the hearing, where Sıtkı Güngör, a member of the central executive committee of the Socialist Party of the Oppressed (ESP), was the only defendant in attendance. The presiding judge informed those in attendance that a secret witness who uses the alias “Zafer Atılım” and another witness whom the court was supposed to hear during this hearing were not present in court.

Defense lawyers requested the court to lift the international travel ban imposed on the defendants.

In its interim decision, the court ruled to hear the two witnesses in connection with Kayar’s file at a later date and issued a warning that charges would be pressed against the witnesses in case they fail to appear in court. The court rejected the request to lift the judicial control measures imposed on the defendants and adjourned the trial until 31 October.

“KCK Istanbul main trial” adjourned until December 

The “KCK Istanbul main trial,” in which 205 activists and politicians are standing trial on various terrorism-related charges, resumed on 28 May 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 in 2011 by the now-defunct Peace and Democracy Party (BDP). Professor Büşra Ersanlı and author-translator Ayşe Berktay are among Zarakolu’s co-defendants in the case.

P24 monitored the 38th hearing, where 12 defendants, including Berktay, and defense lawyers were in attendance. Berktay addressed the court about the restriction on her passport. In response, the presiding judge said the court had already informed relevant authorities about the matter and that there was no further action to be taken by the court.

Issuing an interim decision at the end of the hearing, the panel ruled to wait for Sweden’s response to Turkey’s request for Zarakolu’s extradition and adjourned the trial until 24 December 2019.

Berzan Güneş’s trial adjourned until October

A trial in which journalist Berzan Güneş is charged with “membership in a terrorist organization” resumed on 28 May at Istanbul’s Anadolu 2nd High Criminal Court. Another case file against Güneş, overseen by a criminal court in Iğdır, had recently been merged with this case. The court ruled to hand over the case file to the prosecution for the drafting of their final opinion and adjourned the trial until 8 October.

Ziya Ataman ordered to remain behind bars

A trial where former Dicle news agency (DİHA) reporter Ziya Ataman is among nine jailed defendants resumed on 28 May at the 1st High Criminal Court of Şırnak.

This was the seventh hearing in the case, where a total of 19 defendants face eight different charges, including “disrupting the unity and integrity of the state,” “attempting to intentionally kill with premeditation a civil servant because of the performance of a public duty” and “attempting to premeditated murder.”

Ataman, who has been jailed pending trial since 11 April 2016, addressed the court via the courtroom video-conferencing system SEGBİS. Making his defense statement in Kurdish via an interpreter, Ataman denied the accusations.

Some of the witnesses in the case testified during the hearing. Some witnesses said their previous testimonies were taken under pressure while some witnesses withdrew the identifications they’ve made.

The panel went on to issue an interim decision without hearing the prosecutor’s final opinion of the case. The court ruled to keep all detained defendants behind bars and adjourned the trial until 4 July.

Journalist Levent Gültekin faces “FETÖ” investigation

A criminal investigation has been launched against journalist Levent Gültekin. The journalist is being investigated over a column he penned in October 2016, in which he wrote about individuals persecuted over alleged ties with the Fethullah Gülen network, which is labeled by the government as “FETÖ -- or the ‘Fetullahist’ Terrorist Organization.” Gültekin was recently summoned to the Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office to give his statement as part of the investigation, launched in response to an anonymous complaint.

Five journalists targeted by assailants in two weeks

Odatv web portal columnist Sabahattin Önkibar was attacked by a group of assailants on 25 May in Ankara. Önkibar became the fifth journalist in Turkey to be targeted by assailants in two weeks.

A report about the recent attacks on journalists in Turkey can be accessed here.

Writer Faik Bulut briefly detained in Istanbul

Author and Middle East expert Faik Bulut was taken into custody by the police on 25 May in Istanbul. Bulut was taken to the Firuzköy Police Station in the Avcılar district for his statement to be taken. The grounds for his arrest was Bulut’s participation in a gathering organized by the Democratic Society Congress (DTK). Bulut was released later that day after his statement.

List of journalists and media workers in prison 

As of 31 May 2019, at least 147 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.