At least 4 journalists face new investigations; Baransel Ağca charged with “insulting the president”; Constitutional Court rules Gökhan Biçici’s arrest during Gezi Park protests violated press freedom
Top court rules Gökhan Biçici’s arrest during Gezi Park protests violated press freedom
The Constitutional Court has ruled that the police brutality faced by dokuz8Haber Editor-in-Chief Gökhan Biçici while covering the Gezi Park protests in 2013 violated “prohibition of ill-treatment,” “freedom of expression” and “freedom of the press,” safeguarded in articles 17, 26 and 28 of the Turkish Constitution, respectively.
A copy of the top court’s judgment was sent to the Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office for “an effective investigation to be conducted in light of the judgment in order to remedy the violations.” The top court did not rule for compensation since Biçici did not seek compensation in his application.
Biçici was violently arrested by riot police as he was covering police intervention in 2013’s Gezi protests in Istanbul’s Şişli quarter. He was detained and cuffed behind his back despite showing his press card. During Biçici’s violent arrest, a police officer had ordered his team to “take him away, finish him off inside an apartment block.” An investigation launched against the police officers based on a complaint by Biçici yielded no results with the prosecutor’s office citing “lack of evidence” and “failure to identify the perpetrators.” The objection Biçici filed against the non-prosecution decision was also denied.
Journalist Oğuz Usluer released from prison
Oğuz Usluer, a former broadcast coordinator for Habertürk TV, was released from Silivri Prison on 2 September 2021 upon completing a 7.5-year sentence he was given in 2018 on the charge of “membership in a terrorist organization.”
Usluer was arrested in December 2016 on the allegation that he was part of the media leg of what the government calls the “Fetullahist Terrorist Organization” (FETÖ). At the final hearing of his trial, held in March 2018, Usluer was sentenced to 7 years and 6 months in prison for “FETÖ membership.” The court had ruled for the continuation of his detention. His sentence was upheld by the 16th Criminal Chamber of the Supreme Court of Appeals on 16 March 2020.
Journalist Celal Eren Çelik assaulted
Journalist Celal Eren Çelik was assaulted on 2 September 2021 as he was sitting in a cafe. Announcing the attack on his social media account, Çelik said he was fine. He said that an attacker punched him and ran away. Cafe employees tried to run after the attackers, who pointed a gun at them and then ran away in a car, Çelik said.
Fox TV reporter not admitted to AKP spokesperson’s press conference
FOX News reporter Barış Kaya was not admitted to a press conference held by Justice and Development Party (AKP) Spokesperson Ömer Çelik on 2 September 2021. Kaya was not allowed to cover the press conference upon Çelik’s orders due to a question the journalist was planning to ask the spokesperson about former Minister Erdoğan Bayraktar’s recent confessions regarding the 17-25 December corruption probes.
Journalist Şükrü Sak says he will surrender to prison
Journalist Şükrü Sak announced on his social media account on 2 September 2021 that he was to surrender to prison to serve a 2-month and 27-day sentence he was given for reporting on allegations by Emre Erciş regarding former Republican People’s Party (CHP) MP Eren Erdem. The public prosecutor delayed Sak’s surrender date by 20 days due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Sak is expected to surrender to prison later this month.
In the case filed by Erdem, Sak was initially sentenced to 14 months in prison by the Ankara 22nd Criminal Court of First Instance. Upon Sak’s appeal, a regional court of appeals reversed the sentence on procedural grounds and sentenced the journalist to 2 months and 15 days in prison.
AKP’s upcoming social media bill to target “organized acts of disinformation”
A new social media bill being drafted by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) will be targeting “organized” acts “aimed at spreading disinformation,” AKP sources told reporters this week.
The framework of the upcoming bill was expected to be discussed at a meeting chaired by AKP Group Deputy Chairman Mahir Ünal this week with the participation of representatives from the Ministries of Justice and Transport and Infrastructure and the Directorate of Communications. The government body that will be authorized to decide whether a social media post is disinformation and the criteria for this decision were expected to be discussed during the meeting. Citing AKP sources, BBC Turkish reported ahead of the meeting that the draft law will mainly target “disinformation if it is organized and aimed at a specific purpose.”
According to a report published in Hürriyet daily on 3 September, social media regulations in countries such as Germany and France were re-examined during the meeting as well as the penalties for social media users who disseminate disinformation and fake news in an organized manner.
Journalist Baransel Ağca charged with “insulting the president,” faces new investigation
Journalist Baransel Ağca will stand trial on the charge of “insulting the president” under Article 299 of the Turkish Penal Code (TCK) for a social media post he shared in 2016. The indictment against Ağca was accepted on 2 September 2021 by the Istanbul 2nd Criminal Court of First Instance. Announcing the new trial against him on Twitter, Ağca wrote that the case was aimed at punishing journalism due to his recent reporting on the suspicious death of Kazakh student Yeldana Kaharman.
In a separate development this week, a new investigation was launched against Ağca due to his coverage of Kaharman’s suspicious death in 2019. Ağca, who gave his statement within the scope of the new investigation on 1 September 2021, said the latest investigation was based on a complaint filed by AKP MP Tolga Ağar.
Ağca is already facing an investigation on the allegation of “illegally obtaining and publishing personal data” for publishing Kaharman’s autopsy report. That investigation was launched in July by the Elazığ Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office.
Request for Osman Kavala’s release pending trial rejected once again
The Istanbul 13th High Criminal Court, which is currently overseeing the Gezi Park trial after it was merged with the Çarşı trial, rejected a request filed by the lawyers representing jailed businessperson Osman Kavala for his release pending trial on 1 September 2021.
The court cited “the nature of the allegations, the current stage of the proceedings, the presence of concrete evidence suggesting strong suspicion of crime, the upper limit of the penalty stipulated for the alleged offenses, and the insufficiency of judicial control measures” as the grounds for its decision.
The next hearing of the merged cases will be held on 8 October 2021 at the Istanbul 13th High Criminal Court. Kavala has been behind bars since November 2017.
Journalist Mustafa Hoş faces new investigation
The Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office Press Crimes Investigation Bureau launched an investigation against journalist Mustafa Hoş for his remarks during a broadcast he appeared on KRT TV on 4 July 2021. Hoş was summoned to give his statement within the scope of the investigation launched upon a complaint filed by Fatma Seniha Nükhet Hotar, the rector of Izmir’s Dokuz Eylül University. Hoş announced the investigation against him on social media on 1 September 2021.
JinNews reporter Öznur Değer faces investigation
An investigation was launched against JinNews Ankara correspondent Öznur Değer on the allegation of “inciting the people to hatred and hostility or insult.” Değer, who gave her statement this week at the Mardin Kızıltepe Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office, was asked about her social media posts regarding the murder of seven members of the Dedeoğulları family on 30 July in the Meram district of Konya.
Journalist Emre Orman faces new investigation
An investigation has been launched against journalist Emre Orman on the allegation of “inciting the people to hatred and hostility or insult” because of the news posts he shared on social media about a recent racist attack on Syrians in Ankara’s Altındağ district. Announcing the investigation against him on Twitter, Orman said he gave his statement at the Istanbul Police Department on 31 August 2021.
European Court: “Propaganda” sentence violated Üçdağ’s freedom of expression
The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) ruled on 31 August 2021 that a prison sentence given in 2017 to Resul Üçdağ, an imam based in Diyarbakır, on the charge of “terrorism propaganda” (TMK 7/2) and the rejection of his application to the Constitutional Court violated Article 6/1 (right of access to a tribunal) and Article 10 (freedom of expression) of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).
The Strasbourg Court ordered Turkey to pay Üçdağ 5,000 euros in non-pecuniary damages. Üçdağ was sentenced to 1 year, 6 months and 22 days in prison in 2017 for two photos he had shared on Facebook in 2015 and 2016 on the grounds that the photos had amounted to propaganda for the PKK.
RTÜK launches investigation against Halk TV
The Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTÜK) launched an investigation against Halk TV due to journalist İsmail Saymaz’s comments during a live broadcast in which he criticized the aggressive behavior of a local woman in Çorum province against main opposition CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu. In a post shared on 29 August 2021 on Twitter, RTÜK President Ebubekir Şahin wrote that Saymaz’s comments “pushed the limits of kindness and conscience.”
More than 38,000 “insulting the president” cases launched in 6 years
A total of 38,581 criminal cases on the charge of “insulting the president” were launched between 2014 and 2020 in Turkey, during President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s first six years in office, according to a recent report by the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP).
The report, issued last week, revealed that in 2018, of the 6,270 individuals who stood trial on this charge, 2,775 were sentenced. In 2019, 13,990 people stood trial for allegedly “insulting” Erdoğan and among them 4,291 have been convicted. Last year, Turkish courts sentenced 3,655 individuals for “insulting” the president. They were among 9,773 people indicted.
At least 60 journalists and media workers in prison
Following the release of Oğuz Usluer, as of 3 September 2021, at least 60 journalists and media workers are still in prison in Turkey, either in pre-trial detention or serving a sentence.
The full list can be accessed here.