Yıldız and Dükel sentenced; appellate court reverses judgments in Özgürlükçü Demokrasi trial; three journalists sentenced for “terrorism propaganda”; Levent Gültekin assaulted
Committee of Ministers to examine Kavala’s situation at each meeting
The Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, which supervises the execution of European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) judgments, once again called on Turkey to release jailed businessperson and civil society leader Osman Kavala, who has been behind bars since November 2017 on “coup” and “espionage” charges.
At the Committee’s latest meeting held on 9-11 March 2021 in Strasbourg, the Deputies decided to examine Kavala’s situation at each regular and human rights meeting of the Committee until he is released.
Concerning the case of jailed Kurdish politician Selahattin Demirtaş, the Deputies said that Turkey’s argument that Demirtaş’s current detention was outside the scope of the Grand Chamber judgment of December 2020 has already been examined and rejected by the ECtHR. Underlining the ECtHR’s conclusion that the continuation of Demirtaş’s pre-trial detention would entail a prolongation of the violation of his rights as well as a breach of Turkey’s obligation to abide by the European Court’s judgment, the Committee urged Turkish authorities to ensure his immediate release.
For details, see this report.
Convictions, acquittals in Özgürlükçü Demokrasi trial reversed
A regional court of appeals in Istanbul has reversed the prison sentences given in 2019 to former Özgürlükçü Demokrasi newspaper editors Hicran Urun, Mehmet Ali Çelebi, Reyhan Hacıoğlu and İshak Yasul and publisher İhsan Yaşar and the acquittals of the shuttered newspaper’s former employees Mizgin Fendik and Pınar Tarlak, Turkish media reported on 11 March 2021. The case file has been remanded to the trial court for a retrial.
The pro-Kurdish Özgürlükçü Demokrasi newspaper was closed down in 2018 through a statutory decree after being appointed a trustee by the government. Fourteen staff members of the newspaper stood trial on the charges of “membership in a terrorist organization,” “publishing statements by terrorist groups” and “terrorism propaganda.” At the final hearing of the trial, held in June 2019, the Istanbul 23rd High Criminal Court convicted Urun, Çelebi, Hacıoğlu and Yasul of “aiding a terrorist organization without being its member” (Article 220/7 of the Turkish Penal Code [TCK]). Yasul was given an additional prison sentence of 1.5 years for “terrorism propaganda” under Article 7/2 of the Anti-Terror Law (TMK).
Prosecutor seeks sentence for Seyhan Avşar and Necdet Önemli
The third hearing of a trial where Cumhuriyet reporter Seyhan Avşar and Sözcü newspaper’s Responsible Managing Editor Necdet Önemli are charged with “marking those involved in the fight against terrorism as target” was held on 11 March 2021 at the Istanbul 29th High Criminal Court.
Submitting their final opinion, the prosecutor requested the court to convict Avşar and Önemli of “disclosing the identities of public officials involved in the fight against terrorism” under Article 6 of the Anti-Terror Law (TMK). The final hearing will be held on 16 March.
A report on the hearing, monitored by P24, can be accessed here.
Women arrested over slogans chanted during Women’s Day march
Thirteen women who took part in this year’s Feminist Night March in Istanbul’s Beyoğlu district to mark the International Women’s Day were arrested on 10 March 2021 during midnight police raids on their homes.
They were among 18 women investigated by the Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office for allegedly “insulting the president” in slogans chanted during the demonstration. A total of 17 women, including 13 who got arrested on 10 March, appeared before the prosecutor on 11 March. The court they were referred to released all 17 under judicial control measures.
Prosecutor seeks sentence for Hakkı Boltan in “insult” case
The sixth hearing in journalist Hakkı Boltan’s trial on the charges of “insulting the president” (TCK 299) and “insulting a state official” (TCK 125) was held on 11 March 2021 at the Diyarbakır 12th High Criminal Court.
Boltan is on trial over his remarks in a press statement he made in Kurdish in 2016 concerning the murder of Kurdish newspaper Azadiya Welat’s former Managing Editor Rohat Aktaş in a basement in Cizre during a military operation.
Boltan’s lawyer Resul Tamur was in attendance at the hearing. Presenting their final opinion, the prosecutor asked the court to convict Boltan as charged. Granting Tamur a continuance for the preparation of the final defense statement, the court adjourned the trial until 29 June.
Prosecutor requests merging of two indictments against Şerife Oruç
The 16th hearing of former Dicle news agency (DİHA) reporter Şerife Oruç’s trial on the charge of “membership in a terrorist organization” was held on 11 March 2021 at the Batman 2nd High Criminal Court. Oruç did not attend the hearing, where her lawyer Mesut Aydın was in attendance.
The prosecutor asked the court to merge a new investigation conducted by the Batman Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office against Oruç on the charge of “Disrupting the unity of the state” (TCK 302) with the ongoing trial.
Ruling to inquire of the Batman Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office about the investigation against Oruç, the court decided to hear witnesses Devran Çakır and Abdulgafur Ağır in the next hearing and adjourned the trial until 26 June.
Oruç was arrested in Batman province on 5 July 2016. She was released pending trial on 9 July 2018.
Public ad authority imposes two-day ban on BirGün
The Public Advertisement Authority (BİK) imposed a two-day ban on running public ads and announcements on BirGün daily over a news article published in the newspaper on 17 January 2021. The report was about a previous indictment against a regional administrator of the Turkish Wushu Federation. BİK General Director Rıdvan Duran is also serving on the Turkish Wushu Federation’s executive board.
Columnist Nagehan Alçı’s trial adjourned until 31 March
The third hearing of HaberTürk columnist Nagehan Alçı’s trial on the charge of “insult by means of an audio, written or visual message” (TCK 125) was held on 10 March 2021 at the Istanbul 2nd Criminal Court of First Instance.
P24 monitored the hearing, where Alçı did not attend. The plaintiff judge Hakkı Yalçınkaya and lawyers representing the parties were in attendance.
Since the prosecutor overseeing the trial could not attend the hearing, the court adjourned the trial until 31 March, granting the prosecutor time to prepare their final opinion.
Sözcü columnist Yılmaz Özdil faces new investigation
Sözcü newspaper columnist Yılmaz Özdil is accused of “insult” and “insulting religious values” in a new investigation. The allegations stem from a recent article Özdil wrote in response to a social media post about him by Ebubekir Sifil, an academic with Yalova University’s Islamic Studies Faculty. The investigation was launched upon a complaint by Sifil. Özdil gave his statement at the Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office on 10 March 2021.
Three journalists sentenced for “terrorism propaganda”
The 11th hearing of a trial where Mücadele Birliği newspaper Editor-in-Chief Süleyman Acar, reporter Serpil Ünal and Önsöz magazine Editor-in-Chief Songül Yücel faced terrorism-related charges over their social media posts on Turkey’s military operation on Syria’s Afrin was held on 9 March 2021 at the Istanbul 36th High Criminal Court.
The court acquitted all defendants of “membership in a terrorist organization” but sentenced Acar, Yücel and Ünal to 1 year, 6 months and 22 days in prison each for “terrorism propaganda.” Yücel and Ünal’s sentences were deferred. Acar’s sentence was not deferred due to a previous conviction.
A report on the hearing, monitored by P24, can be accessed here.
Trial against Sadiye Eser and Sadık Topaloğlu adjourned until June
The third hearing of Mezopotamya news agency reporters Sadiye Eser and Sadık Topaloğlu on the charge of “membership in a terrorist organization” was held on 9 March 2021 at the Istanbul 22nd High Criminal Court.
P24 monitored the hearing. Eser and Topaloğlu were in attendance, accompanied by their lawyers. Topaloğlu’s lawyer Ayşe Acinikli asked the court to lift her client’s travel ban because he needs to travel to Switzerland to seek cure for a health condition.
In its interim ruling, the court refused to lift the judicial control measure imposed on Topaloğlu, on the grounds that it is a proportionate measure. Deciding to issue a summons to hear a witness who had testified against Eser and Topaloğlu the court adjourned the trial until 8 June.
Erk Acarer and Hakan Dirik’s trial postponed
A trial where journalists Hakan Dirik an Erk Acarer are charged with “defamation through the press or broadcasting” (TCK 267/1) over two reports published in October 2015 in Cumhuriyet and BirGün newspapers was set to resume on 9 March 2021 at the Istanbul 2nd Criminal Court of First Instance. Accepting letters of excuse submitted by lawyers representing the parties, the court postponed the trial until a later date.
The case was launched upon a complaint by former Justice Minister Bekir Bozdağ. Dirik ve Acarer are accused because they reported on claims that “an investigation conducted by the Adana Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office concerning allegations that Turkey shipped substances used in chemical weapons to jihadists in Syria was dismissed upon [political] interference.”
Prosecutor seeks conviction for journalist Hakan Aygün
The fifth hearing of journalist Hakan Aygün’s trial over five social media posts he allegedly shared in March 2020 and April 2020 was held on 9 March in Bodrum. Aygün is charged with “inciting hatred and hostility” (TCK 216/1) and “insulting religious values” (216/3).
Submitting their final opinion, the prosecutor asked the court to convict Aygün of “insulting religious values” for a Twitter post dated 31 March 2020; to increase the penalty by half, pursuant to TCK 218/1, on the grounds that the offense was committed through the media; and to acquit Aygün of “inciting hatred and hostility” on the grounds that the elements of the offense did not occur.
Granting Aygün time to prepare his defense statement in response to the prosecutor’s final opinion, the Bodrum 3rd Criminal Court of First Instance adjourned the trial until 16 March.
“Insult” case against Mustafa Sönmez adjourned until April
The second hearing of economist and journalist Mustafa Sönmez’s trial on the charge of “insulting the president” was held on 9 March 2021 at the Anadolu 26th Criminal Court of First Instance in Istanbul. Sönmez is accused on account of three Twitter posts he shared in 2015 and 2016. The next hearing of Sönmez’s trial is scheduled for 13 April.
Journalist Selda Manduz’s trial to continue in April
Demokrat Haber news portal editor Selda Manduz appeared before the Kars 2nd High Criminal Court on 9 March 2021 for the second hearing of her trial on the charge of “membership in a terrorist organization.” Ruling to wait for the submission of the digital forensics report, the court adjourned the trial until 8 April.
Manduz was taken into custody on 1 October 2020 as part of an investigation conducted by the Kars Chief Public Prosecutor's Office. She was released three days later under judicial control measures. Manduz is accused based on testimony by two secret witnesses and three phone calls she made, two of which were with fellow journalists.
Kibriye Evren’s trial to continue in June
The 12th hearing of JinNews reporter Kibriye Evren’s trial on the charges of “membership in a terrorist organization” and “terrorism propaganda” was held on 9 March 2021 at the Diyarbakır 5th High Criminal Court.
Evren and her lawyers were in attendance. Addressing the court for her defense statement, Evren said the testimony of the witness who had testified against her was baseless, Evren requested to be acquitted. She also asked the court to hear Gül Tanrıverdi as a witness and to merge another trial against her filed with the Mersin 2nd High Criminal Court to be merged with the ongoing case.
Ruling to decide on the request to merge the cases in between courtroom hearings and to inquire of the Diyarbakır Police Department on whether any investigations have been launched against the witnesses, the court adjourned the trial until 24 June.
Halk TV commentator Levent Gültekin assaulted
Columnist and political commentator Levent Gültekin was attacked by a group of about 25 people on 8 March 2021 during evening hours as he was heading to Halk TV studios in Istanbul, where he co-hosts a political commentary show with fellow journalist Murat Sabuncu.
Security camera footage showed a large group of unidentified men punching and kicking Gültekin as he fell on the ground. Gültekin's fingers were broken during the assault. Gültekin, who is also a columnist for Diken news portal, said after the attack that he had recently been receiving threats on social media and high ranking politicians from the political party allied with the government were among those threatening and insulting him. The Bakırköy Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office has launched an investigation into the attack.
Yıldız and Dükel sentenced for “disclosing restricted information”
The final hearing of Odatv news portal’s Ankara News Director Müyesser Yıldız and Tele1 TV Ankara Representative İsmail Dükel’s trial on charges stemming from their phone calls with a news source, a non-commissioned officer, took place 8 March 2021 at the Ankara 26th High Criminal Court.
After hearing the final defense statements, the court issued its verdict, sentencing Yıldız to a combined jail term of 3 years, 7 months and 10 days for "obtaining restricted information" (TCK 334) and "disclosing restricted information" (TCK 336). Dükel was sentenced to 1 year and 15 days for "obtaining restricted information." The court ordered the continuation of the travel ban imposed on Yıldız while lifting the ban on Dükel.
Both journalists were arrested in June 2020 on the allegation of "military espionage" (TCK 328). After remaining in custody for three days, Yıldız and her source Erdal Baran were jailed pending trial while Dükel was released under judicial control measures. Yıldız was released at the first hearing of the trial, held in November. The indictment initially accused all three of “Disclosing information that must be kept confidential for reasons relating to the security, or domestic or foreign political interests of the state” (TCK 329). A second indictment accusing all three of “Securing information that must be kept confidential for reasons relating to the security, or domestic or foreign political interests of the state” (TCK 327) was issued midway through the trial and merged with the case.
Journalist Muhammet Sait Kuloğlu freed
Journalist Muhammet Sait Kuloğlu, the owner and former chief editor of the now-defunct news portal Subuhaber, who had been jailed since 2016 as part of the “FETÖ media trial,” was released under probation on 5 March 2021 after completing a 7.5-year sentence he was given in 2018 on the charge of “membership in a terrorist organization.”
Kuloğlu was among 26 journalists in the case, who stood trial on alleged ties with the Fethullah Gülen network.
The convictions of Kuloğlu and 16 other journalists in the case were upheld on 16 March 2020 by the Supreme Court of Appeals.
At least 79 journalists and media workers in prison
Following the release of Muhammet Sait Kuloğlu, as of 12 March 2021, at least 79 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.