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 - 295

Freedom of Expression and the Press in Turkey - 295

Melis Alphan acquitted; Osman Kavala remains behind bars as Gezi trial resumes; Zaman columnist Ahmet Turan Alkan’s conviction reversed; ECtHR rules Öğreten and Kanaat’s detention violated right to liberty, freedom of expression


Osman Kavala remains behind bars as Gezi Park trial resumes


The “Gezi Park trial” got under way once again on 21 May 2021 at the Istanbul 30th High Criminal Court after the acquittals of nine defendants were reversed by a regional court of appeals in Januaıry and the file against seven other defendants -- whose files had been separated because they did not attend the hearings -- was merged again with the main case in April. All 16 defendants are accused of organizing and financing 2013’s nationwide Gezi protests.


P24 monitored the hearing, where jailed businessperson and civil society leader Osman Kavala, who has been imprisoned since November 2017, addressed the court from the Silivri Prison via the judicial video-conferencing network SEGBİS. His co-defendants Mücella Yapıcı, Can Atalay and Tayfun Kahraman and defense lawyers were in the courtroom. The “coup” case against Kavala and US academic Henri Barkey has also been merged with the Gezi trial.


The defendants in attendance rejected the regional court of appeals’s decision to reverse the acquittals in the Gezi trial and asked the court to once again rule for acquittal. Concerning the decisions to merge the “coup” case against Kavala and the “Çarşı trial,” recently remanded to its trial court by the Supreme Court of Appeals, with the Gezi trial, the defendants and their lawyers demanded that the court refuse merging unrelated case files in a single court case.


Issuing an interim ruling at the end of the hearing, the Istanbul 30th High Criminal Court decided to wait for the execution of the arrest warrants for defendants who have failed to attend hearings so far; to review the case file for the “Çarşı trial” to decide on whether to merge with the present case; and by a majority ordered the continuation of Kavala’s detention. The presiding judge gave a dissenting opinion concerning Kavala’s detention, saying he should be released pending trial because all evidence has been collected. The court set 6 August 2021 as the date for the next hearing.


Journalist Melis Alphan acquitted in “propaganda” trial


The second hearing of journalist Melis Alphan’s trial on the charge of “terrorism propaganda” under Article 7/2 of the Anti-Terror Law (TMK) was held on 21 May 2021 at the Istanbul 32nd High Criminal Court.


Reiterating the final opinion presented at the first hearing in April, the prosecutor asked the court to convict Alphan as charged. After hearing Alphan and her lawyers’ final defense statements, the court issued its judgment, unanimously ruling for Alphan’s acquittal because the elements of the alleged offense were not present.


Alphan was on trial for sharing a photo taken during the 2015 Newroz festivities in Diyarbakır on her Instagram account.


Journalist Kenan Kırkaya’s trial adjourned until September


A trial where journalist Kenan Kırkaya is among defendants charged with “membership in a terrorist organization” resumed on 21 May 2021 at the Ankara 14th High Criminal Court. The trial was adjourned until 28 September 2021.


Press card regulation amended


The press card regulation was amended by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan through a decision published in the Official Gazette on 21 May 2021.


Through the amendment, “not being convicted of the crimes of establishing an organization for the purpose of committing a crime, being a member of or aiding an illegal organization” was added to the list of conditions sought for the issuing of press cards.


Article 25 of the regulation was also amended to state that permanent press cards will be canceled in case the card holder “engages in activities that are clearly in breach of national security and public order or openly supports such acts; creates content that will encourage violence and terrorism and render the fight against all kinds of organizational crimes ineffective; incites or encourages crime or engages in acts that will render the fight against crime ineffective.”


Supreme Court of Appeals reverses Ahmet Turan Alkan’s conviction


The 16th Criminal Chamber of the Supreme Court of Appeals overturned its previous judgment upholding the conviction of former Zaman columnist Ahmet Turan Alkan on the charge of “membership in a terrorist organization.”


Ruling that Alkan should be charged with “aiding a terrorist organization without being part of its hierarchical structure,” the Chamber sent Alkan’s file to the Istanbul 13th High Criminal Court for a retrial.


The reversal decision was issued after the Office of the General Prosecutor of the Supreme Court of Appeals, based on an objection by Alkan’s lawyer, sent the file to the Chamber on 12 February 2021, requesting a correction of the judgment, stating that Alkan had criticized the “FETÖ armed terrorist organization” on many occasions; that he did not have any administrative duties in the Zaman newspaper; and that there was no evidence in the file showing that he was a “member” of the organization other than the articles he wrote. The Chamber subsequently decided on 18 March 2021 to reverse its previous judgment on the grounds of misjudgment due to an incorrect assessment of the evidence.


For details see this report.


Vice News trial postponed until November


British journalists Jake Hanrahan and Philip Pendlebury and their Iraqi translator Mohammed Ismael Rasool’s trial in absentia on terrorism-related charges resumed on 20 May 2021 at the Diyarbakır 8th High Criminal Court.

This was the 11th hearing of the trial, where all three defendants are charged with “Breaching the Law on the Prevention of the Financing of Terrorism,” “membership by willingly aiding a terrorist organization” and “terrorism propaganda.” Hanrahan, Pendlebury and Rasool were arrested in Diyarbakır in 2015 while they were shooting a news story for Vice News. All three were subsequently released.


The court adjourned the trial until 23 November 2021, awaiting response to letters rogatory for the journalists' statements to be taken abroad.


Dismissed schoolteacher taken into custody over social media posts


Sümeyya Avcı, a teacher who was dismissed in 2016 through a statutory decree, was taken into custody in Antalya on 19 May 2021.


Avcı, who made headlines recently when she criticized the government’s policies in a street interview, announced the arrest on her Twitter account. Another post shared on Avcı’s account by a family member later that day said that Avcı was arrested due to her social media posts; that the arrest was made by four police officers in plain clothes from the anti-terror branch of the Antalya Police Department; and that she was to remain in detention for 24 hours before appearing in court. Avcı was released by court on 20 May under judicial control measures.


Press Advertising Agency imposes 5-day ban on Evrensel


The Press Advertising Agency (BİK) imposed a five-day public ad ban on Evrensel newspaper this week for an article penned by columnist Ceren Sözeri on 14 March 2021. The grounds for the ban was the word “attack” in Sözeri’s article about police brutality, titled “Vatan destan yazmış halk nefes alamıyor” (Motherland makes history but people are unable to breathe).


BİK argued in its decision that Evrensel “has gone beyond the limits of the duty of the press to inform the public and freedom of expression” and that they “violated the Press Ethics Code.”


The latest decision brought the public ad bans imposed on Evrensel to a total of 103 days. The newspaper is already embargoed from running public ads.


ECtHR: Öğreten and Kanaat’s detention violated right to liberty, freedom of expression


The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) issued its judgment concerning the applications of journalist Tunca Öğreten and BirGün staff member Mahir Kanaat on 18 May 2021, finding multiple violations, including the right to liberty and security and freedom of expression.


In its Chamber judgment, the European Court unanimously ruled that Öğreten and Kanaat’s pre-trial detention for almost a year in 2017 as part of the “RedHack trial” violated their right to liberty and security (Article 5/1 of the European Convention on Human Rights), right to access the investigation file (Article 5/4) and freedom of expression (Article 10).


Öğreten, who was then an editor with the news portal, and BirGün’s Kanaat were arrested in December 2016 on the charge of “membership in a terrorist organization.” The accusation stemmed from their respective news outlets’ coverage of former Energy Minister Berat Albayrak’s emails which were allegedly hacked in 2016 by the group RedHack and were subsequently published on Wikileaks in December 2016.


The Court ruled for a payment of 5,750 euros to Öğreten in respect of pecuniary damages, an additional 14,000 euros to each applicant in respect of non-pecuniary damages, and 2,250 euros each in costs and expenses.


For details, see this report.


Journalist Pınar Gayıp’s house arrest lifted


The house arrest imposed on Etkin News Agency (ETHA) reporter Pınar Gayıp was lifted. Gayıp was under house arrest since mid-January, when she was taken into custody as part of an investigation against the Socialist Party of the Oppressed (ESP), conducted by the Izmir Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office.


The investigation file against Gayıp had been sent to Istanbul to be merged with a case file pending before the 26th High Criminal Court after the Izmir Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office issued a non-jurisdiction decision. Upon receiving the file, the Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office decided that the file was a duplicate and dropped the investigation, thus lifting Gayıp’s house arrest after five months.


At least 68 journalists and media workers in prison


As of 21 May 2021, at least 68 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.