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 – 254

Freedom of Expression and the Press in Turkey – 254

Newspaper owner in Batman faces charges over reports on sexual assault incident; new Covid-19 cases reported in prisons but no official data released for weeks


Newspaper owner faces investigation over sexual assault reports

İdris Yayla, the publisher of local newspaper Jiyan Haber in the southeastern province of Batman, faces a criminal investigation for the newspaper’s coverage of an incident involving a suicide attempt by a young woman after being sexually assaulted by a military officer.

The incident was widely covered locally and nationally by the independent media outlets after the victim of the attack, identified as İ.E., attempted suicide in Batman. Specialist sergeant Musa O. was detained as the suspected perpetrator after a Forensics report confirmed İ.E. had been raped. But Musa O. was released after being questioned. The Batman Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office subsequently launched an investigation against Jiyan Haber publisher İdris Yayla for news reports covering the incident on the charge of “inciting the public to hatred and enmity” under Article 216 of the Turkish Criminal Code.

According to a news report by Mezopotamya News Agency, the charge against Yayla was based on three articles published in Jiyan Haber covering the incident. Yayla was questioned by the police at the Batman Provincial Police Directorate on 4 August 2020 as part of the investigation.

Commenting on the investigation, Yayla said it was curious that the law enforcement chose to harass journalists while a young woman was fighting for her life at hospital. “We were not the first or only outlet to report on the incident. We published statements of the Human Rights Association’s Batman Office, the Batman Bar Association and the Siirt Bar Association. How can reporting these be inciting people to hatred and enmity? he asked.

Journalist Gökhan Özbek’s home raided by police

Journalist Gökhan Özbek’s home in Istanbul was raided and searched by police teams at 4 a.m. on 5 August 2020. Özbek announced the raid on his Twitter account and wrote he had been told by the police that there was a tip-off. He, however, was not given any further information on what the tip-off involved or whether the raid was part of a criminal investigation against Özbek.

Jailed journalist reports Covid-19 cases at Tarsus Prison

Imprisoned journalist İsmail Çoban reported that there were five new Covid-19 cases among prisoners held at Tarsus T-Type Prison No. 3 in the southern province of Mersin. Çoban, the former managing editor of the now-defunct Kurdish newspaper Azadiye Welat who has been held at the Tarsus T-Type Prison No. 3, told his family during a telephone call on 3 August 2020 that the five prisoners who tested positive for Covid-19 were not given medical treatment.

Çoban said the prisoners were in critical condition and that they were not receiving medical treatment even though they were seriously ill for the past couple of weeks. “Our health is at serious risk. We are subject to grave rights violations. We me even lose our phone calls,” he told the family.

In April, a government-backed bill to amend the law on execution of sentences and pave the way for early release of up to 100,000 prisoners was passed in Parliament but the law excluded journalists, rights defenders, politicians and other political prisoners. On August 6, Amnesty International published a briefing, highlighting the “hypocrisy of governments including Egypt, India, Iran and Turkey, who have left prisoners of conscience to languish in appalling conditions despite widely publicized prisoner release programmes.”

“It is plain to see that the Turkish government still fears criticism more than the pandemic,” said the organization, noting that the excluded prisoners include journalist and writer Ahmet Altan, Kurdish politician Selahattin Demirtaş an businessman and civil society figure Osman Kavala, who are at increased risk from Covid-19 due to their ages and/or underlying health conditions.

Data on Covid-19 in prisons kept from public

An opposition lawmaker has criticized the authorities for not releasing updated information on the situation in prisons regarding the Covid-19 outbreak. Gamze Akkuş İlgezdi, a deputy chairperson of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), said in a statement on 4 August 2020 that the Justice Ministry has not shared with the public any information on the Covid-19 cases in prisons for 48 days. Noting that the number of prisoners testing positive for Covid-19 had increased by 606 percent just in 15 days in April, İlgezdi complained that there was no updated information as to how many prisoners were infected now. She said an information request she made to the relevant department of the Justice Ministry was responded by a brief statement saying that this information was provided on 17 June.

“There is a growing risk at prisons but the Ministry, instead of fighting the spread of the disease, is busy with hiding cases by keeping data from the public and the press. We see numerous reports that the prisoners testing positive are not given medical treatment. These claims must be investigated immediately and the authorities must make sure that all ill prisoners have access to medical care,” İlgezdi said in her statement.

List of journalists and media workers in prison

As of 7 August 2020, at least 92 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.