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 - 318

Freedom of Expression and the Press in Turkey - 318

Journalist Perihan Kaya, poet Yılmaz Odabaşı sentenced for “insulting the president”; writer Erdal Yıldırım sentenced for “propaganda”; retrial of former Özgürlükçü Demokrasi editors, staff members begins


Journalist Sibel Hürtaş to stand trial for “resisting police officers”


A new case has been filed against journalist Sibel Hürtaş upon a complaint by four police officers who violently detained the journalist as she was covering a protest in Ankara in 2020 against the draft law for the establishment of multiple bar associations.


Hürtaş is charged with “resisting [police] to prevent them from performing their duty” under Article 265 of the Turkish Penal Code (TCK) in the new trial, which is set to get under way at the Ankara 37th Criminal Court of First Instance on 9 November 2021.


A complaint Hürtaş had filed against the officers was dismissed by the Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office.


Research assistant jailed pending trial for social media post


Hifzullah Kutum, a research assistant at the Faculty of Economics and Administrative Sciences at Elazığ Fırat University, was taken into custody on 5 November 2021 for a social media post in which he wrote “Long live Kurdistan.” Kutum was also suspended by the university for “making terror propaganda.”


Following procedures at the Police Department, Kutum was brought to the Elazığ Courthouse on 6 November 2021. There he gave his statement to a prosecutor, who referred Kutum to court for imprisonment pending trial. Kutum was jailed by the court.


Istanbul-based Syrian journalist sent to deportation center


Syrian journalist Majed Shamaa was taken into custody in Istanbul on 30 October 2021 based on a criminal complaint against him due to a satirical video he shot on the recent “banana eaters” videos on social media. The “banana” videos were made in reaction to a Turkish citizen who claimed in a recent street interview that he could not afford bananas, but Syrians in Turkey could. Shamaa, who was released after giving his statement to a prosecutor on allegations of “incitement to hatred” and “insulting the Turkish nation,” was sent to the Gaziantep Deportation Center on 4 November 2021 based on an administrative decision.


Court rejects Devrim Ayık’s request to be released pending trial


The sixth hearing of a case in which former Özgür Halk magazine employee Devrim Ayık is charged with “membership in a terrorist organization” was held at the Izmir 2nd High Criminal Court on  4 November 2021.


Ayık, who is suffering from a critical illness, attended the hearing from the Eskişehir H Type Prison via the judicial video-conferencing network SEGBİS.


The court heard seven witnesses who testified via SEGBİS. One of the witnesses, who previously testified against Ayık, said he withdrew the testimony he gave at the police department and told the court that he would not testify against Ayık. The rest of the witnesses testified in relation to another defendant.


The court then heard Ayık’s statement. Stating that his medical condition has worsened, Ayık requested to be released pending trial. In its interim ruling, the court rejected Ayık’s request and adjourned the trial until 25 January 2022. The prosecutor is expected to present their final opinion during the next hearing.


Writer Erdal Yıldırım sentenced for “terrorism propaganda”


Writer Erdal Yıldırım, a former executive for the Pir Sultan Abdal Cultural Association, appeared before the Istanbul 14th High Criminal Court on 4 November 2021 for the second hearing of his trial on the charge of “terrorism propaganda” over five social media posts he shared between 2015 and 2018..


Making his defense statement during the hearing, Yıldırım said his posts were within the scope of freedom of expression and that he neither mentioned any terrorist organizations nor made a call for violence in his posts.


After hearing Yıldırım and his lawyers’ statements, the court issued its judgment, sentencing Yıldırım to 1 year, 6 months and 22 days in prison. The court did not suspend the sentence.


Poet Yılmaz Odabaşı sentenced for “insulting the president”


Poet and writer Yılmaz Odabaşı appeared before the Yalova 2nd Criminal Court of First Instance on 3 November 2021 for the second hearing of his trial on the charge of “insulting the president” (TCK 299) due to a Twitter post he shared in May 2018. In his post, Odabaşı wrote: “Turkey is holding elections so that Erdoğan can say, ‘I am not a dictator, I was elected by the will of the people.’ I don’t think there is any other reason.”


In his defense statement, Odabaşı said his post did not constitute a criminal act. Odabaşı also reminded the court that the European Court of Human Rights had ordered Turkey to pay 11,000 euros in his application against a previous “insult” case.


After hearing Odabaşı and his lawyer’s statements, the court issued its judgment, sentencing him to 11 months and 20 days in prison. If the sentence is upheld, Odabaşı will have to go to prison. Odabaşı was also sentenced to 1 year and 8 months in prison for “insulting” President Erdoğan in an article he wrote in 2015.


Court upholds sentence given to Evrensel columnist Yusuf Karataş


A regional court of justice has upheld a prison sentence of 10.5 years given in September 2020 to Evrensel columnist and Labour Party (EMEP) executive Yusuf Karataş on the charge of “membership in a terrorist organization.”


Karataş was charged with “establishing and leading a terrorist organization” in the indictment. The accusation stemmed from his participation in panels and workshops organized by the Democratic Society Congress (DTK). At his final hearing, held at the Diyarbakır 9th High Criminal Court on 21 September 2020, Karataş was sentenced to 10 years and 6 months in prison for “membership in a terrorist organization.” The court also ruled for Karataş’s international travel ban to remain in place.


Karataş’s lawyers appealed the judgment. The 2nd Criminal Chamber of the Regional Court of Justice rejected the appeal, thus upholding the sentence. The court also ruled for the continuation of the travel ban imposed on Karataş.


Retrial of former Özgürlükçü Demokrasi editors, staff begins


The retrial of the former publisher, editors and staff members of the pro-Kurdish newspaper Özgürlükçü Demokrasi on “terror” charges got underway at the Istanbul 23rd High Criminal Court on 3 November 2021.


The prison sentences given in 2019 to the newspaper's former editors Hicran Urun, Mehmet Ali Çelebi, Reyhan Hacıoğlu and İshak Yasul and publisher İhsan Yaşar, and the acquittals of staffers Mizgin Fendik and Pınar Tarlak were reversed in March 2021 by a regional court of justice, which also ordered a retrial.

Hacıoğlu, Urun, Yasul, Çelebi, Yaşar and Tarlak attended the first hearing of the retrial. They were accompanied by their lawyers Özcan Kılıç and Sercan Korkmaz. Citing the Covid-19 pandemic, the court did not allow spectators in the courtroom.


In an interim ruling, the court decided to comply with the appellate court’s reversal judgment and granted the defendants exemption from appearing in court. Ruling for the continuation of the travel ban imposed on the defendants, the court set 17 February 2022 as the date for the second hearing.


A report on the hearing can be accessed here.


Trial against Özgür Gündem’s Aykol and Çapan adjourned until February


A trial in which former Özgür Gündem Co-Editor-in-Chief Hüseyin Aykol, Responsible Editor Reyhan Çapan and several columnists of the shuttered newspaper are charged with “terrorism propaganda” (TMK 7/2) and “praising a criminal offense or an offender” (TCK 215) resumed at the Istanbul 13th High Criminal Court on 3 November 2021.


The hearing marked the 21st since the beginning of the case. Çapan and Aykol’s lawyer Özcan Kılıç submitted a letter of excuse. Accepting Kılıç’s excuse and ruling to wait for the execution of the arrest warrants issued for defendants Kemal Yakut and Hasan Başak, the court adjourned the trial until 23 February 2022.


Investigation against Oktay Candemir dismissed


An investigation launched last month against journalist Oktay Candemir on the allegations of “insult” (TCK 125) and “disturbing a person’s peace and harmony” (TCK 123) due to a Twitter post in which he commented on Habertürk columnist Çetiner Çetin being on the executive board of the football club Vanspor has been dismissed by the chief public prosecutor’s office. The investigation was launched following a complaint by Çetin.


“Insult and libel” case against Yetkin Yıldız adjourned until February


The 19th hearing of journalist Yetkin Yıldız’s trial on charges of “insult” (TCK 125) and “libel” (TCK 267) over an article published on 23 July 2015 on the news portal Aktif Haber was held on 2 November 2021. Yıldız was in attendance.


The trial, overseen by the Bakırköy 31st Criminal Court of First Instance, was launched in 2016 based on a complaint filed by former Interior Minister Efkan Ala. The accusations stem from a news article titled “Fuat Avni Suruç patlaması ile ilgili Twitter’dan çarpıcı mesajlar paylaştı” (striking remarks by Fuat Avni concerning the Suruç bombing).


Based on a previous decision by the Bakırköy court, the sentence Yıldız was given in 2018 in the case publicly known as the “FETÖ media trial” is a prejudicial question in this case. The sentence Yıldız was given in that trial has been reversed by the Supreme Court of Appeals and his retrial is ongoing. The Bakırköy court decided to wait for Yıldız’s retrial to be concluded and set 22 February 2022 as the date for the next hearing.


Journalist Perihan Kaya sentenced for “insulting the president”


The second hearing of a case filed against journalist Perihan Kaya on the charge of “insulting the president” was held at the Diyarbakır 3rd Criminal Court of First Instance on 2 November 2021.


Kaya’s lawyer Resul Temur told the court that there was no definitive evidence in the case file showing that the social media account in question belonged to his client. Temur added: “Law enforcement has formed an opinion that the social media account belonged to my client based on an assumption. There is no verification through a matching phone number or IMEI code. Also, the provision regarding ‘insulting the president’ in the Turkish Penal Code is clearly contrary to Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, as can be seen in the European Court’s Vedat Şorli v. Turkey judgment. Therefore, a verdict of acquittal should be rendered for my client.”


Issuing its judgment at the end of the hearing, the court sentenced Kaya to 1 year and 20 days in prison. The court deferred the sentence. Accordingly, Kaya will be subject to probation for one year.


Trial against Can Dündar and İnan Kızılkaya adjourned until March


The 18th hearing of a trial in which Can Dündar, the former editor-in-chief of Cumhuriyet daily, and İnan Kızılkaya, the former responsible managing editor of the now-defunct Özgür Gündem newspaper, are charged with “insulting a public official” (TCK 125) was held at the Istanbul 2nd Criminal Court of First Instance on 2 November 2021.



P24 monitored the hearing. Ruling to wait for the execution of the arrest warrant for Dündar, the court set 24 March 2022 as the date for the next hearing.


Dündar and Kızılkaya are on trial for an article published on 22 June 2016, the day on which Dündar symbolically edited Özgür Gündem as part of that year’s “Editor-in-Chief on Duty” campaign. The article was about judgments rendered by Bekir Altun, the former judge of the Istanbul 1st Criminal Judgeship of Peace.


Professor Ali Nesin acquitted of “insulting the president”


The final hearing of a case in which Professor Ali Nesin was charged with “insulting the president” (TCK 299) on social media was held last week at the Izmir Selçuk Criminal Court of First Instance.


According to a 2 November 2021 report published in BirGün daily, the court held that Nesin’s post was within the scope of freedom of expression and ruled for his acquittal. The case was launched following a complaint filed with the Presidency’s Communication Center (CİMER).


Trial of journalist Abdullah Kaya adjourned once again


Former Dicle news agency (DİHA) reporter Abdullah Kaya appeared before the Ağrı 2nd High Criminal Court on 2 November 2021 for the 16th hearing of his trial on charges of “membership in a terrorist organization” and “terrorism propaganda.” Kaya is on trial over his social media posts and news footage he recorded during a festival held in September 2014 on Mount Ararat.


Kaya attended the hearing. Reiterating his previous defense statements, Kaya said he attended the festival as a journalist and that journalism was put on trial in the case. Kaya also reminded the court that his technical equipment seized by the local gendarmerie command during his detention has still not been returned despite the court’s order.


In its interim ruling, the court decided to write a new memo to the local gendarmerie command for Kaya’s seized equipment to be returned to the journalist and adjourned the trial until 20 January 2022.


Constitutional Court: Online access blocking decisions violate press freedom


The Constitutional Court recently issued a pilot judgment concerning nine separate individual applications against online access blocking decisions rendered by criminal judgeships of peace.


According to a report published on HaberTürk on 31 October 2021, the top court ruled that all nine decisions violated freedom of expression and freedom of the press and ordered that each of the applicants be paid TL 8,000 in compensation. The Court’s pilot judgment was sent to the relevant criminal judgeships of peace for the elimination of the violations.


The Constitutional Court also sent its pilot judgment to the Parliament, seeking amendments to the legislation regulating online access block orders. The top court held that the legislation should be amended so as to prevent arbitrary practices; that access blocking decisions should be reviewed by regional courts of justice and the Supreme Court of Appeals; and that judges should see access blocking decisions as a last resort.


The top court will not be reviewing applications with similar facts for the next 12 months, until the legislation is amended.


At least 58 journalists and media workers in prison


As of 5 November 2021, at least 58 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.