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 - 198

Freedom of Expression and the Press in Turkey - 198

Mehmet Baransu ordered to remain behind bars; Hüseyin Aykol sent to prison to serve upheld sentence; Mehmet Gündem convicted of “membership in terrorist group”

The trial of the former executives of the shuttered daily Taraf and its reporter Mehmet Baransu resumed on 11 July 2019 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 two-day hearing, where Baransu, the only imprisoned defendant in the case, who is in pre-trial detention in the Silivri Prison, was in attendance to continue with his defense statement. Former Taraf executives Ahmet Altan, Yasemin Çongar and Yıldıray Oğur, who are exempt from personal appearance in court, did not attend. They were represented by their lawyers.

Following Baransu’s statement, Altan and Çongar’s lawyer Figen Albuga Çalıkuşu addressed the court, saying there was a mistaken opinion about the subject matter of the trial and that Baransu had been going on about the Balyoz documents in his defense statement although this is of no relation to the present case. “This trial is not about Taraf’s coverage of the Balyoz [sledgehammer] coup plan. The CD’s that included information about the Balyoz coup are unrelated to this case. This trial is about documents that were not among those which the trial at the 4th High Criminal Court was based on,” Çalıkuşu said.

“The document called ‘Egemen war plan’ was uncovered in 2008 among the Turkish Armed Forces’ [TSK] archives of classified documents. The allegation is that the said document was stolen from the archives and leaked to the Greek press. But the TSK has been asserting that this very document had been destroyed the same year. And Taraf’s coverage at the time did not include these documents,” she added.

Following the completion of statements by lawyers, the prosecutor requested the continuation of Baransu’s detention on remand.

Issuing an interim ruling at the end of the two-day hearing, the court ordered the continuation of Baransu’s detention. The court also ruled to separate the file against Baransu concerning the charge of “membership in a terrorist group” to be sent to a criminal court in Mersin, which is also overseeing another criminal case against Baransu. Also ruling to wait for the execution of the arrest warrant against Tuncay Opçin, the fifth defendant in the case, the court adjourned the trial until 27, 28, 29 August.

Ban on access to news story violates press freedom, top court rules

The Constitutional Court has found that an access ban targeting a news story published in the online edition of BirGün newspaper violated freedom of the press and freedom of expression.

An Ankara judgeship had imposed an access ban on the footage featured in the website, which showed a local man who was tied behind an armored police vehicle and dragged during operations in Şırnak in 2015. BirGün had filed an application with the top court concerning the access ban.

The Constitutional Court’s Plenary voted unanimously in favor of BirGün and also ruled to send a memo to the Gölbaşı Criminal Judgeship of Peace to lift the block on the news story.

Journalist Hüseyin Aykol sent to prison

Veteran journalist Hüseyin Aykol, the former co-editor-in-chief of the shuttered pro-Kurdish newspaper Özgür Gündem, was sent to prison on 11 July 2019 to serve a 3-year and 9-month sentence he was given in 2018.

Aykol was taken into custody at noon on 11 July at his home in Ankara and was taken to the Sincan Courthouse. After the completion of the procedures at the courthouse, Aykol was sent to the Sincan F Type Prison in Ankara.

Aykol was convicted of “disseminating propaganda for a terrorist organization” in January 2018 at the final hearing of a trial where his co-defendants included Mehmet Ali Çelebi and Ayşe Düzkan, who were among journalists who participated in the “substitute editor-in-chief” campaign for Özgür Gündem in 2016. The sentences given to Aykol and his co-defendants were upheld by the 3rd Criminal Chamber of the Istanbul Regional Court of Justice on 29 November 2018.

Aykol is currently a defendant in 63 separate trials, some of which are pending before appellate courts.

Necla Demir’s trial adjourned until October

The second hearing in the trial of Necla Demir, the former publisher of the online newspaper Gazete Karınca, took place on 11 July 2019 at the 33rd High Criminal Court of Istanbul.

Demir stands accused of “systematically disseminating propaganda for a terrorist organization” for the website’s coverage of Turkey’s 2018 military operation on Syria’s Afrin.

P24 monitored the hearing, where Demir was absent but her lawyer Sercan Korkmaz was in attendance. The presiding judge announced that the defense statements presented during the previous courtroom hearing were recorded via video-conferencing system SEGBİS but the tapes have yet to be transcribed. 

Lawyer Korkmaz informed the court that his client would be in attendance at the next hearing to make her defense statement in person. Issuing its interim ruling at the end of the hearing, the court adjourned the trial until 11 October 2019 for the delivery of Demir’s defense statement.

Journalist Mehmet Ali Çelebi released

Mehmet Ali Çelebi, an editor for the shuttered Özgürlükçü Demokrasi newspaper, who had been in pre-trial detention in the Silivri Prison since April 2018, was released on 9 July 2019.

The court overseeing the trial of Özgürlükçü Demokrasi staff members had convicted Çelebi of “aiding a terrorist group without being its member” and sentenced him to 3 years and 9 months in prison at the final hearing of the case on 28 June 2019. The court had also ruled for Çelebi’s release, but the journalist remained behind bars, although his co-defendants were freed. His continued detention was due to a previous conviction on the charge of “disseminating propaganda for a terrorist group” in last year’s “Özgür Gündem solidarity trial.”

Journalist Mehmet Gündem given 6-year jail term

The final hearing of jailed journalist Mehmet Gündem’s trial on the charge of “membership in a terrorist organization” was held on 9 July 2019 at the 35th High Criminal Court of Istanbul.

Issuing its verdict at the end of the hearing, the court convicted Gündem of “membership in a terrorist group” and sentenced him to 6 years, 10 months and 15 days in prison. The court also ruled to release Gündem pending the appeal process.

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

Insult case against jailed journalist Yetkin Yıldız adjourned

A lawsuit against jailed journalist Yetkin Yıldız, launched in 2015 upon a complaint by former Interior Minister Efkan Ala, resumed on 9 July 2019 at Bakırköy 31st Criminal Court of First Instance. Yıldız is accused of “libel” and “insult” in the long-running trial.

The court adjourned the trial until 17 December 2019, awaiting the completion of the case file.

Compensation case against Çiğdem Toker adjourned 

The third hearing in a lawsuit against journalist Çiğdem Toker, filed by the mining company Şenbay Inc., was held on 9 July 2019 at the Ankara 13th Civil Court of First Instance.

The mining company is seeking a record TL 1.55 million in non-pecuniary damages over an article Toker penned for Cumhuriyet daily in October 2017.

The court accepted the request of the lawyer representing Şenbay Inc. for the official records of the tender Toker wrote about in her column to be examined and adjourned the trial until 17 October 2019.

Activist Temel Demirer’s trial adjourned until October 

The second hearing of writer and activist Temel Demirer’s trial on the charge of “praising crime or a criminal,” which was supposed to take place on 9 July 2019 at Istanbul’s 33rd Criminal Court of First Instance, has been postponed.

Demirer is accused because of his remarks during a speech he delivered in 2017 during a demonstration in Kadıköy, Istanbul, in memory of those killed in the Suruç bombing in 2015. Demirer’s trial has been postponed until 15 October 2019 because the judge has recently been appointed to another court.

Journalist Ferhat Parlak released after 15 months in pre-trial detention

The first hearing of journalist Ferhat Parlak’s trial on the charge of “membership in a terrorist group” was held on 8 July 2019 at the 11th High Criminal Court of Diyarbakır.

Parlak, who has been in pre-trial detention since April 2018, was in attendance with his lawyer. Reiterating the statements he made during the time of his arrest, Parlak denied the accusations and asserted that he is a journalist.

The prosecutor requested the continuation of Parlak’s detention. Parlak’s lawyer Mehdi Özdemir told the court that the secret witness accounts against Parlak were contradictory and the allegations leveled against his client lie within the scope of journalistic activities. Özdemir pointed out that his client has already been tried and acquitted over the same allegations by the 4th High Criminal Court of Diyarbakır and that the current file was a repetition of the previous file. He requested Parlak’s release and acquittal.

At the end of the hearing, the court announced its interim decision. Taking into consideration that most of the evidence has been collected and the time Parlak has spent in pre-trial detention, the court ruled to immediately release Parlak under an international travel ban. The court adjourned the trial until 6 November 2019.

Kars Mayor Ayhan Bilgen faces Özgür Gündem indictment 

The Press Crimes Investigation Bureau of the Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office has issued an indictment against Kars Mayor Ayhan Bilgen and sent it to a criminal court in Istanbul to be merged with the ongoing Özgür Gündem main trial, where former executives and members of the advisory board of the shuttered newspaper are on trial.

The indictment, dated 18 June 2019, accuses Bilgen of “disrupting the unity and integrity of the state,” “membership in a terrorist organization,” “disseminating propaganda for a terrorist organization,” “membership in an organization established for the purpose of committing crimes.” The indictment says that in 2016 an investigation had been launched against Bilgen, who was also on Özgür Gündem’s editorial advisory board, but his file was separated because he was a lawmaker at the time.

The 23rd High Criminal Court of Istanbul, which oversees the Özgür Gündem trial, is expected to decide on whether or not to merge Bİlgen’s file with the ongoing trial.

List of journalists and media workers in prison 

As of 12 July 2019, at least 138 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.