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 – 231

Freedom of Expression and the Press in Turkey – 231

Director Veysi Altay, journalist Sultan Çoban sentenced on “propaganda” charge; journalist Faruk Arhan handed down sentence for “insult,” Barış Terkoğlu fined for “violation of privacy”


Veysi Altay handed down 15-month sentence, TL 6,000 fine

The trial of film director Veysi Altay on charges of “spreading terrorist group propaganda” and “publishing statements issued by terrorist groups” for participating in a campaign in support of Özgür Gündem newspaper concluded on 28 February 2020.

This was the 12th hearing of the trial, overseen by the 22nd High Criminal Court of Istanbul. Altay was represented by his lawyers Sercan Korkmaz and Özcan Kılıç.

Issuing its ruling at the end of the hearing, the court sentenced Altay to 1 year and 3 months in prison for “spreading propaganda for a terrorist group” and deferred the sentence for two years. The court sentenced Altay to another 10 months in prison for “publishing statements by terrorist groups” and commuted the sentence to a TL 6,000 fine. The court ruled by a majority vote, with the presiding judge writing a dissenting opinion, saying Altay should have been acquitted of both charges.

Turkey blocks access to social media after Idlib strike 

Access to social media platforms was restricted in Turkey following the death of 33 soldiers from the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) in an airstrike in Syria’s Idlib.

According to a report by Netblocks, an organization that monitors internet censorship, access to social media platforms Twitter, Facebook and Instagram was first cut by Türk Telekom at around 11:30 p.m. on 27 February, followed by Vodafone and Turkcell soon after. No official statement was issued concerning the access ban.

Investigation launched into social media posts about Idlib 

The Chief Public Prosecutor’s Offices of Ankara and Izmir have launched criminal investigations into “unrealistic and provocative” posts on social media concerning the attack on Turkish soldiers in Idlib. 

In separate statements issued on 28 February, the Ankara and Izmir Chief Public Prosecutor’s Offices said the investigations would be conducted on the allegations of “incitement to hatred and enmity or degrading the public,” “inciting the public to disobey laws” and “disseminating terrorist group propaganda.”

Journalist Sultan Çoban sentenced at first hearing

Freelance journalist Sultan Çoban appeared in a criminal court in the Central Anatolian province of Konya on 27 February 2020 for the first hearing of her trial on the charge of “disseminating propaganda for a terrorist group” over a post she had shared on social media.

Issuing its verdict at the end of the first hearing, the 8th High Criminal Court of Konya sentenced Çoban, a citizen of Denmark, to 1 year and 3 months in prison. The sentence was deferred. Çoban said she wasn’t aware of the investigation against her until after her arrest upon arriving at Istanbul Airport.

Pınar Gayıp and Semiha Şahin’s trial adjourned until May 

The eighth hearing in the trial of Etkin News Agency (ETHA) editor Semiha Şahin and reporter Pınar Gayıp on charges of “terrorist group membership” and “terrorist group propaganda” was held on 27 February 2020 at the 23rd High Criminal Court of Istanbul.

P24 monitored the hearing, which wasn’t attended by Şahin and Gayıp or their two co-defendants.

Defendants’ lawyer Gülvin Aydın requested that missing evidence in the file be collected. Ruling to wait for the completion of the file, the court adjourned the trial until 14 May 2020.

Request to wait for Constitutional Court ruling at BirGün trial 

The trial of BirGün daily’s editors Uğur Koç and Mustafa Kömüş and publisher İbrahim Aydın on the charge of “insulting a public official” over a news report published in June 2019 on the paper’s online edition resumed on 27 February 2020 at the Istanbul 2nd Criminal Court of First Instance. 

P24 monitored the second hearing. Koç, Kömüş and Aydın were in attendance along with their lawyer Sevgi Kalan. Plaintiff Berat Albayrak’s lawyer Ezgi Yelmen was also present. Informing the panel that the accused had submitted an application with the Constitutional Court on the grounds that blocking access to the news report in question was a violation of the right to a fair trial and freedom of expression, Kalan asked the court to wait until after the Constitutional Court’s judgment. Ruling to inquire of the Constitutional Court about whether or not the application had been received, the court adjourned the trial until 7 May.

Case filed by former Hürriyet journalists gets under way

lawsuit filed by 23 journalists who were fired from the pro-government newspaper Hürriyet in October 2019 “based on an executive board decision” got under way on 27 February 2020 at Bakırköy 6th Labor Court.

In one of the biggest media layoffs to date, Hürriyet had dismissed 45 journalists in late October, out of whom 43 were members of the Turkish Journalists’ Union (TGS), including the 23 who decided to take the decision to court.

Ruling to write to the Ministry of Labor, Social Services and Family, collect evidence and to make arrangements to hear witnesses, the court adjourned the trial until 17 April.

Access to online TV platform “KHK TV” blocked without court order

Access to KHK TV, a YouTube channel founded by those who were dismissed from public service through statutory decrees issued during Turkey’s 2016-2018 state of emergency, has been blocked without a court order. Announcing the news on Twitter, KHK TV said they would be taking the access restriction to court.

Journalist Faruk Arhan sentenced by regional court 

Faruk Arhan, who had been acquitted of “insulting the president” over posts he had shared on Twitter, was sentenced to 1 year, 2 months and 17 days in prison by a regional court of appeals on 26 February 2020. Arhan’s sentence was deferred.

The 3rd Criminal Chamber of the Istanbul Regional Court of Justice rendered its ruling at the end of the second appellate hearing. At the first hearing in January, the prosecutor had requested the court to reject the appeal by President Erdoğan’s lawyers.

Public ad ban on BirGün daily lifted 

The Press Advertisement Agency (BİK), the government body that distributes public ads among newspapers, has lifted the advertisement ban it had imposed on BirGün newspaper. BirGün had announced on 11 December 2019 that BİK had decided to indefinitely cut advertisements to the newspaper.

Journalist Barış Terkoğlu fined for “violation of privacy”

Odatv News Director Barış Terkoğlu was fined TL 6,080 for “violating the confidentiality of an investigation” by Istanbul’s Anadolu 16th Criminal Court of First Instance on 26 February 2020. Terkoğlu was on trial over a report about a child abuse incident in Elazığ. Access to Terkoğlu’s report had also been banned by the Elazığ 1st Criminal Judgeship of Peace.

Journalist Can Ataklı faces “insulting the president” allegation

Journalist Can Ataklı is facing a criminal investigation over remarks he made during a news show he hosts on the TV channel Tele1. Ataklı faces the allegation of “insulting the president” in the investigation, launched by the Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office.

Trial of journalists arrested during raid on Özgür Gündem adjourned

The sixth hearing in the trial of 22 journalists and media workers who were arrested during a raid on the Özgür Gündem offices in 2016 took place on 25 February 2020 at Istanbul’s 5th Criminal Court of First Instance.

The journalists stand accused of “insulting a public official” and “resisting a public officer to prevent them from performing their duty.”

The defendants’ lawyers were in attendance in the courtroom. The presiding judge told those in attendance that the court had received a response concerning the confiscated digital equipment. The Police Station in Taksim had written that Kemal Bozkurt and Davut Uçar’s confiscated mobile phones, SIM cards and memory cards had been lost.

The defense requested the return of the confiscated equipment, which contained footage of the cops assaulting the journalists during the raid, in order to be examined in relation to the investigation.

Ruling to wait for the execution of the arrest warrants issued against defendants Amine Demirkıran, Günay Aksoy, Bayram Balcı and Ersin Çaksu, the court adjourned the trial until 2 June.

“KCK Press trial” adjourned once again 

The “KCK Press Trial,” in which 46 journalists and media workers face terrorism-related charges, resumed on 25 February 2020 at the 3rd High Criminal Court of Istanbul.

P24 monitored the hearing, which was the 18th in the long-running trial. Defendants Yüksel Genç and Hüseyin Deniz were in attendance along with defense lawyers. Genç delivered his defense statement in relation to his file before the 14th High Criminal Court that had recently been merged with the ongoing case. He said the indictment had listed  “technical and physical surveillance” as evidence against him, even though he was imprisoned as part of the “KCK Trial” at the time. Genç rejected the allegations leveled against him.

Genç’s lawyer Özcan Kılıç requested the court to determine whether or not Democratic Society Congress (DTK) was an illegal formation. Kılıç also asked the court to hear photojournalist Mustafa Özer, who turned out to be a National Intelligence Agency (MİT) agent, as a witness.

Rejecting the requests, the court decided to wait for the execution of the arrest warrant against İsmet Kayhan and postponed the trial until 2 July.

Meşale Tolu’s trial adjourned until July 

The 11th hearing in the trial of Meşale Tolu, a reporter and interpreter for Etkin News Agency (ETHA), and 26 others on the charges of “terrorist group membership” and “terrorist group propaganda” took place on 25 February 2020 at the 29th High Criminal Court of Istanbul. 

P24 monitored the hearing, which was attended by the defendants’ lawyers.

The prosecutor requested time until the next hearing to present his final opinion. Addressing the court, Tolu’s lawyer Keleş Öztürk requested the missing evidence to be added to the file and the expansion of the investigation. Kader Tonç, another lawyer representing Tolu, asked the panel to hear secret witness Eylül Kızılbaş in court.

Ruling to rule on the requests to expand the investigation in between hearings and to send the file to the prosecution in case the requests by the defense are rejected, the court adjourned the trial until 14 July.

Court issues judgment in writing in Gezi Park trial, seeks new charges for acquitted defendants

The 30th High Criminal Court of Istanbul has issued its judgment in writing in the Gezi Park trial, which concluded on 18 February 2020. 

The court panel wrote in the 318-page document that nine defendants who were acquitted at the end of the trial (Mücella Yapıcı, Can Atalay, Tayfun Kahraman, Ali Hakan Altınay, Osman Kavala, Yiğit Aksakoğlu, Yiğit Ali Ekmekçi, Çiğdem Mater and Mine Özerden) had “engaged in acts that threatened law enforcement and security forces [by way of] … illegal demonstrations and rallies which they’d organized and managed […]” and based on “strong indication of crime,” complaints would be filed against all nine on charges not leveled in the indictment for the Gezi Park trial.

The court also wrote that the files of six defendants, including actor Memet Ali Alabora, were separated on the grounds that they had “laid the groundworks for the Gezi Park protests” and that there were “serious allegations concerning ties with Otpor-CANVAS.”

Yetkin Yıldız acquitted of “encouraging suicide”

A trial where imprisoned journalist Yetkin Yıldız was accused of “encouraging suicide” under Article 20 of the Press Law over a news story published in 2015 in the news portal Aktif Haber resumed on 24 February 2020 at Aksaray’s 2nd Criminal Court of First Instance.

Yıldız, who is imprisoned in the Silivri Prison in Istanbul as part of another case, did not attend the hearing. He was represented by his lawyer Melike Polat.

Issuing its verdict at the end of the hearing, the court acquitted Yıldız of all charges.

List of journalists and media workers in prison

As of 28 February 2020, at least 98 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.