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 - 319

Freedom of Expression and the Press in Turkey - 319

Journalist Sinan Aygül handed down one more sentence; “Taraf trial” adjourned again; Sibel Hürtaş appears in court for resisting detention; investigation against Orhan Pamuk reopened


“Taraf trial” postponed pending finalization of recusal motion


The 37th hearing of the “Taraf trial,” in which the former executives of the shuttered newspaper, Ahmet Altan, Yasemin Çongar and Yıldıray Oğur, reporter Mehmet Baransu and journalist Tuncay Opçin are accused of “publishing” a confidential military document called the “Egemen” (sovereign) operation plan, was held at the Istanbul 13th High Criminal Court on 12 November 2021.


P24 monitored the hearing. Mehmet Baransu, who has been in pre-trial detention since 2 March 2015 as part of the case, did not attend the hearing due to illness. The lawyers representing the journalists on trial were in attendance.


During the previous hearing, held in October, Baransu and his lawyers requested that the judges recuse themselves from the case on the grounds that the court has lost its impartiality. Rejecting the request, the court adjourned the case until November, granting Baransu and his lawyers time to file their objection against the trial court’s decision.


As of 12 November, their motion was still pending before the Istanbul 14th High Criminal Court. Baransu’s lawyer Çiğdem Koç told the court that they would make their statement in response to the prosecutor’s final opinion after their motion seeking the panel’s recusal is finalized.


Ahmet Altan and Yasemin Çongar’s lawyer Figen Albuga Çalıkuşu reminded the court that her clients’ final defense statements in writing have already been submitted to the court and requested the court to postpone the trial until after the pending recusal motion by Baransu’s lawyers is finalized.


Ruling to wait for the finalization of the Istanbul 14th High Criminal Court’s decision, the court adjourned the Taraf trial until 21 January 2022.


Council of State stops execution of circular that banned audiovisual recording during demonstrations


The 10th Chamber of the Council of State stopped the execution of the General Directorate of Security circular prohibiting all audiovisual recording during public demonstrations. Since the circular was issued in late April, dozens of journalists across the country have suffered police brutality and/or been briefly detained for simply trying to do their jobs.


According to news reports published on 11 November 2021, the Council of State held in its unanimous decision that the circular restricted press freedom and freedom of information and pointed out that fundamental rights and freedoms can only be restricted by law. The Council of State will rule on the request for the circular to be revoked at a later date.


Businessman detained in Austria files compensation case against journalist Uğur Dündar


Sezgin Baran Korkmaz, a Turkish businessman currently detained in Austria on charges of conspiring to commit money laundering, wire fraud and obstruction of an official proceeding, has filed a compensation case against veteran journalist Uğur Dündar. The petition, filed by a lawyer representing Korkmaz, claims that the allegations in a recent article Dündar published in his regular column in Sözcü newspaper were “baseless” and “violated his personal rights.”


Stage actor Levent Üzümcü summoned by prosecutor


Actor Levent Üzümcü announced on his Twitter account this week that he was summoned to the courthouse to give his statement to a prosecutor in connection with a public performance he staged recently in Istanbul’s Kadıköy district. In his performance, Üzümcü called attention to Article 64 of the Constitution, which stipulates: “The State shall protect artistic activities and artists. The State shall take the necessary measures to protect, promote and support works of art and artists, and encourage the spread of appreciation for the arts.” Üzümcü said he was questioned by the prosecutor on the allegation of “inciting hatred and hostility.”


Musician Veysi Ermiş sentenced for “propaganda”


Veysi Ermiş, a musician with the Mezopotamya Cultural Center (MKM), appeared before the Istanbul 27th High Criminal Court on 11 November 2021 for the first hearing of his trial on the charge of “terrorism propaganda.” The accusation stemmed from a number of songs in Kurdish language shared on social media purported to belong to the musician.


Presenting their final opinion during the hearing, the prosecutor demanded that the court sentence Ermiş as charged. In his statement in response to the prosecutor’s final opinion, Ermiş said the social media accounts in question did not belong to him. Ermiş’s lawyer İrfan Arasan told the court: “The prosecutor alleges that the word Kurdistan that appears in the lyrics constitutes a crime; that it amounts to propaganda for the PKK. Kurdistan has existed for thousands of years. And its name does not constitute a crime. Furthermore, my client is being accused over the posters displayed in events and demonstrations in which my client performed. My client cannot be accused due to the posters.”


Rendering its judgment at the end of the hearing, the court sentenced Ermiş to 1 year, 6 months and 20 days in prison for “terrorism propaganda” for the words “guerilla” and “Kurdistan” in his lyrics. The court suspended the sentence.


Trial against journalist Kibriye Evren adjourned until February


The 14th hearing of journalist Kibriye Evren’s trial on charges of “membership in a terrorist organization” and “terrorism propaganda” was held at the Diyarbakır 5th High Criminal Court on 11 November 2021.


Evren did not attend the hearing. She was represented by her lawyers Pirozhan Karali and Resul Temur.


The presiding judge told those in attendance that the court had received a response from the criminal court in Mersin concerning another case filed against Evren, but the Mersin court had yet to send the indictment.


Evren’s lawyers demanded that the court lift their client’s international travel ban.


Issuing an interim ruling, the court decided to seek the Mersin court’s consent for the two files to be merged. Ruling for the continuation of Evren’s travel ban, the court adjourned the case until 24 February 2022.


Trial of journalist Şerife Oruç to continue in February


The 18th hearing of the trial against former Dicle news agency (DİHA) reporter Şerife Oruç on the charge of “membership in a terrorist organization” was held at the Batman 2nd High Criminal Court on 11 November 2021.


Oruç did not attend the hearing. She was represented by her lawyer Mesut Aydın. The lawyer stated that the journalist should immediately be acquitted because one of the witnesses who testified against his client has died; another gave contradictory statements; and that the third witness was in Germany and could not be reached.


Ruling to issue a new subpoena for the secret witness “Devran Çakır” to testify before court, the panel adjourned the case until 17 Febraury 2022.


Journalist Sinan Aygül handed down one more sentence


Bitlis Journalists Association President and Bitlis News Editor-in-Chief Sinan Aygül appeared in court on 10 November 2021 for the announcement of the judgment in a previous court case in which he was charged with “insult” (TCK 125) over an article published on on 10 December 2015.


This week’s hearing was held on the grounds that a sentence Aygül had been given in another case was recently upheld and became final, violating the terms of his probation. At this week’s hearing, the Tatvan 2nd Criminal Court of First Instance announced the previously deferred verdict and sentenced Aygül to a judicial fine of TL 1,500 for “insult by means of the media.”


Musician Mehmet Ali Basut jailed pending trial


Musician Mehmet Ali Basut was taken into custody by the police on allegations of “terrorism propaganda” and “insulting the president.” The allegations stem from the musician’s songs and his social media posts, Evrensel daily reported on 10 November 2021. Basut, who remained in custody at the Güngören Police Department for one day, was taken to the Bakırköy Courthouse in Istanbul, where a court jailed him pending trial. Basut was sent to the Metris No. 1 T Type Prison.


Research assistant jailed for social media post released pending trial


Hifzullah Kutum, a research assistant at the Faculty of Economics and Administrative Sciences at Elazığ Fırat University, who was initially suspended by the school administration for allegedly making “terror propaganda” and subsequently jailed pending trial on 6 November 2021 for a social media post in which he wrote “Long live Kurdistan,” was released pending trial on 10 November 2021 after his lawyers objected to his detention.


Trial of ETHA journalists Şahin and Gayıp adjourned until March


The 15th hearing of a trial in which Etkin news agency (ETHA) editor Semiha Şahin and reporter Pınar Gayıp are among four defendants charged with “membership in a terrorist organization” and “terrorism propaganda” was held at the Istanbul 23rd High Criminal Court on 9 November 2021.


P24 monitored the hearing. Gayıp and Şahin did not attend. They were represented by their lawyers. The presiding judge announced that the court has received the expert report it requested. Granting the defense lawyers time to examine the expert report and prepare their statements, the court adjourned the case until 10 March 2022.


Trial against journalist İdris Yayla and 27 others adjourned until February


The sixth hearing of a trial in which journalist İdris Yayla, the publisher of the Batman-based local news portal Jiyan Haber, is among 28 defendants charged with “violating the Law on Assemblies and Demonstrations,” was held at the Batman 1st Criminal Court of First Instance on 9 November 2021.


Yayla is on trial for covering a 2016 demonstration in Batman province against the appointment of trustees by the government to replace the elected mayors in the region. Yayla did not attend the hearing. He was represented by his lawyer, İlyas Tarım.


Ruling to wait for the execution of the arrest warrants it issued for some of the defendants, the court adjourned the trial until 8 February 2022.


Trial of journalist Fatih Gönül to continue later this month


The fourth hearing of former Dicle news agency (DİHA) reporter Fatih Gönül’s trial on charges of “membership in a terrorist organization” and “terrorism propaganda” was held at the Ankara 25th High Criminal Court on 9 November 2021.


The prosecutor reiterated their final opinion, demanding the journalist’s acquittal of the “propaganda” charge but seeking his conviction for “membership in a terrorist organization,” arguing that he worked for the “Dicle news agency, which was affiliated with the PKK/KCK” and “had connections with people affiliated with PKK/KCK.”


Granting Gönül and his lawyer additional time for their final defense statement, the court adjourned the case until 25 November 2021.


Journalist Sibel Hürtaş appears in court for resisting detention


Journalist Sibel Hürtaş appeared before the Ankara 37th Criminal Court of First Instance on 9 November 2021 for the first hearing of a case in which she is charged with “resisting police officers to prevent them from performing their duty” under Article 265 of the Turkish Penal Code (TCK).


The case was filed upon a complaint by four police officers who violently detained the journalist as she was covering a protest in Ankara on 3 July 2020 by the heads of bar associations from across Turkey against the government’s draft law for the establishment of multiple bar associations.


In its interim ruling, the court decided to hear the Security Branch Manager S.Ç. as a witness; to have the three complainant police officers be brought to court for the next hearing; to grant Hürtaş’s lawyers time to submit their defense statements in writing; to inquire about the rest of the investigation files; and to receive a copy of the court decision canceling the administrative fine given to Hürtaş for allegedly “breaching pandemic measures.” Also deciding to hear the defense’s witnesses, the judge adjourned the case until 12 April 2022.


A report on the hearing, monitored by P24, can be accessed here.


Journalist Ayşe Kara acquitted of “membership in terrorist organization”


The final hearing of journalist Ayşe Kara’s trial on the charge of “membership in a terrorist organization” was held at the Diyarbakır 5th High Criminal Court on 9 November 2021.


The case was filed within the scope of an investigation against the Democratic Society Congress (DTK). Kara, who was released pending trial after being taken into custody on 26 June 2020, was accused based on her membership in the shuttered Free Journalists Association (ÖGC) and a “DTK delegate” ID card.


In their final opinion, the prosecutor demanded that the court convict the journalist as charged.


Kara’s lawyer told the court in his final defense statement that the prosecutor’s final opinion had no relevance with the case file. Asserting that his client attended numerous events to cover them as a journalist, lawyer Resul Temur said there was no evidence in the file proving the journalist’s involvement in the DTK and demanded his client’s acquittal.


Issuing its judgment at the end of the hearing, the court acquitted Kara. However, the court did not make a decision regarding the international travel ban imposed on the journalist.


Trial against Sadiye Eser and 33 others to continue in February


A trial in which journalist Sadiye Eser and 33 other defendants are charged with “membership in a terrorist organization” and “terrorism propaganda” resumed on 9 November 2021 at the Istanbul 6th High Criminal Court. This was the 18th hearing of the case.


Citing Covid-19 measures, the court did not allow the press inside the courtroom. Eser did not attend the hearing. She was represented by her lawyer Nermin Selçuk. Ruling to wait for the submission of requested documents, the court adjourned the case until 25 February 2022.


Istanbul-based Syrian journalist released after 5 days in deportation center


Syrian journalist Majed Shamaa, who was sent to the Gaziantep Deportation Center on 4 November 2021, was released from the deportation center on 8 November.


Shamaa, who lives in Istanbul, was taken into custody 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. The journalist, 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 deportation center based on an “administrative decision.”


Investigation against novelist Orhan Pamuk reopened


The Nobel Prize-winning novelist Orhan Pamuk is facing a criminal investigation on allegations of “insulting Atatürk and the Turkish flag” over a fictional character in his latest book Veba Geceleri (Nights of Plague), published in March.


The investigation was launched upon a complaint filed by an Izmir-based lawyer named Tarcan Ülük, who claimed that Pamuk “incited hatred and hostility by insulting Atatürk in his book.” The investigation was initially dismissed by the Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office. However, a criminal judgeship of peace in Istanbul recently accepted Ülük’s objection to the non-prosecution decision and ruled that the prosecutor’s office “should re-examine the evidence and issue an indictment against Pamuk.” The Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office subsequently reopened the investigation.


Jailed journalist Elif Ersoy: I’m not being summoned to my hearings


Journalist Elif Ersoy, the former responsible editor of the Yürüyüş magazine, who is currently jailed pending trial at the Kayseri Bünyan Women’s Closed Prison, recently sent a letter to the Dicle Fırat Journalists’ Association (DFG) in which she recounted the rights violations she has been suffering in prison.


Ersoy, who has been jailed since August 2017, stressed in her letter that being held in a prison in the Central Anatolian province of Kayseri meant exile because both her permanent address and the place where her trials are being held are in Istanbul.


Here’s an English translation of excerpts from Ersoy’s letter:


“I was sentenced to 8 years and 9 months in prison by the Istanbul 37th High Criminal Court because my name was on the masthead of the journal Yürüyüş, which is a legal publication. I was summoned to court two and a half years [after my trial began]. … I was arrested in a police raid on the office of the magazine three months after I took charge of the publication of the journal.


“I have been in detention since 2 August 2017. Although I couldn't even get a chance to review them, additional criminal cases were filed against me due to the issues published after my arrest. The file as part of which I am currently jailed pending trial is still pending before the Supreme Court of Appeals. … I have been in prison for more than four years because of a ‘wandering’ judge who refuses to implement Constitutional Court judgments and gets appointed from one court to another. There is also an ongoing case overseen by the Istanbul 13th High Criminal Court. The case is still pending, but I have never been summoned to the hearings. I am charged with ‘membership in a terrorist organization’ for distributing the 500th issue of the Yürüyüş magazine. So, currently there are two separate criminal cases against me, filed over similar facts, with the same accusation. My lawyer tried very hard to have the cases merged through a joinder, but the judge who does not even implement judgments by the Constitutional Court immediately rejected our request.”


Journalist Murat Yıldız threatened by unidentified caller


The Adana Branch of the Journalists Union of Turkey (TGS) announced that journalist Murat Yıldız, the vice president of TGS’s Adana branch, was threatened on the phone by an unidentified caller. TGS stated that the person who called Yıldız's mobile phone mentioned Çukurova Mayor Soner Çetin’s name during the call, which took place on 6 November 2021. The caller reportedly told Yıldız that he “should stop speaking ill of the mayor” in his articles.


At least 59 journalists and media workers in prison


We have updated our list upon finding out that journalist Elif Ersoy has been in pre-trial detention in the Kayseri Bünyan Women’s Prison. Accordingly, as of 12 November 2021, at least 59 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.