Five journalists on trial for reporting on torture allegations acquitted; Rojhat Doğru sentenced to life in prison; Albayrak’s lawyer appeals against Derya Okatan’s acquittal; Ferhat Çelik taken into custody twice in one day
Top court issues “pilot” judgment on access blocking decisions
The Constitutional Court issued its “pilot judgment” concerning nine separate individual applications lodged against online access blocking decisions rendered by criminal judgeships of peace. The Constitutional Court’s unanimous judgment was published in the Official Gazette on 7 January 2022.
The applications concerned a total of 129 URLs, which included articles published on the news portals Gazete Duvar, Diken, Sol.org.tr, BirGün, Artı Gerçek, and an article by Çiğdem Toker, published in her previous column in Cumhuriyet newspaper. The applications were merged in a single judgment based on legal relevance regarding their subject matter.
The top court ruled that the access ban orders violated freedom of expression and press freedom, enshrined in Articles 26 and 28 of the Constitution, respectively, and the right to an effective remedy, safeguarded in Article 40. The Court ordered that each applicant be paid TL 8,100 in compensation.
In its judgment, which could set a precedent for similar cases, the top court held that Article 9 of the Internet Law no. 5651 should be amended so as to eliminate further violations. “The provision in question does not contain fundamental safeguards for the protection of freedom of expression and the press, and therefore the violation arises directly from the law,” the top court wrote.
The Constitutional Court’s pilot judgment was also sent to the Parliament, seeking amendments to the legislation regulating online access blocking orders. The top court held that the legislation should be amended to prevent arbitrary practices; that access blocking decisions should be reviewed by regional courts of justice and the Supreme Court of Appeals; and that courts should see access blocking decisions as a last resort.
Our report on the top court’s pilot judgment can be accessed here.
Prosecutor demands acquittal for Caner Taşpınar
The fourth hearing of Odatv editor Caner Taşpınar’s trial on the charge of “insult” (TCK 125) for his 2020 book “Damat: Fethullahçıların AKP'li Kayınpederleri” (The groom: The AKP-member fathers-in-law of Fethullahists) was held at the Istanbul 11th Criminal Court of First Instance on 6 January 2022.
Presenting their final opinion during the hearing, the prosecutor demanded Taşpınar’s acquittal on the grounds that the legal elements of the alleged offense were not present. Granting the lawyers representing the plaintiffs, the court adjourned the case until 25 January 2022.
The case was launched upon complaints filed by Former Speaker of the Parliament İsmail Kahraman and AKP Deputy Ali İhsan Arslan.
Five journalists on trial for reporting on torture allegations acquitted; Sala handed down deferred sentence for “propaganda”
The fourth and final hearing of the trial against Mezopotamya news agency (MA) reporters Adnan Bilen, Cemil Uğur and Zeynep Durgut, Jin News reporter Şehriban Abi and freelance journalist Nazan Sala on the charge of “membership in a terrorist organization” was held at the Van 5th High Criminal Court on 6 January 2022.
Bilen, Uğur, Abi and Sala were jailed pending trial in October 2020 after reporting on allegations that soldiers had tortured two locals in Çatak, a district of the eastern Van province. All four journalists remained in pre-trial detention for six months as part of the case before being released under judicial control measures at their first hearing in April 2021. News reports penned by the journalists were held as evidence for the accusation in the indictment, which alleged that the media outlets the journalists worked for “published provocative content against the state.”
Bilen, Uğur and Sala attended the hearing.
Addressing the court in response to the allegations in the indictment against her that was recently merged with the ongoing case, Sala said: “The offense in the indictment allegedly took place in 2007. Back then I was working as a freelance journalist in Van and I reported for many news outlets, including the public broadcaster TRT. I had no connections with the TV network [Roj TV] mentioned in the indictment.”
Ekin Yeter, one of Sala's lawyers, asserted that their client was not even called for questioning about the alleged crime since 2007. Stressing that the indictment contained no details as to how Sala was contacted by Roj TV and the content of her reports, Yeter said the prosecution was trying to expand the scope of the case against Sala by combining an old file with the present case.
Following Sala and her lawyer’s statements, the prosecutor presented their final opinion, requesting acquittal for all five journalists on the charge of “membership in a terrorist organization” but demanding that Sala be sentenced for “terrorism propaganda” for her social media posts.
In her statement in response to the accusation in the prosecutor’s final opinion, Sala said the social media posts held as evidence against her in the main file did not belong to her but that she was tagged in those posts. Sala requested to be acquitted of this charge as well.
Veysi Atay, another lawyer representing Sala, stated that there was no criminal element in the social media posts. Atay stressed that it was unlawful to consider the posts in which Sala was tagged as though they belonged to her. Noting that the news shared in those posts have been published on various websites and that no access ban has been issued regarding the reports, Atay demanded his client’s acquittal.
At the end of the hearing, the court acquitted all five journalists of “membership in a terrorist organization” charge but sentenced Sala to 1 year and 3 months in prison for “terrorism propaganda” for social media posts allegedly shared by the journalist. The sentence was deferred.
Journalist Rojhat Doğru sentenced to life imprisonment
Journalist Rojhat Doğru, a former cameraman for Galî Kurdistan TV, was sentenced to life imprisonment and an additional prison term of 12 years and 1 month on three separate charges at his final hearing held at the Diyarbakır 8th High Criminal Court on 6 January 2022.
Doğru was sentenced to life imprisonment for “disrupting the unity of the state” under Article 302 of the Turkish Penal Code (TCK), 10 years and 10 months in prison for “intentional murder” (TCK 82) and 1 year and 3 months for “terrorism propaganda” under Article 7/2 of the Anti-Terror Law (TMK). The accusations stemmed from Doğru’s social media posts, the statements of a witness who testified against him, and the allegation that he participated in the 6-8 October 2014 Kobani protests, which he had covered as a journalist. A third case file in which Doğru was accused because he deposited cash to the account of Yusuf Bayram, was also merged with the case.
The court ruled for Doğru’s arrest and issued an arrest warrant for the journalist. The sentence Doğru was given on the “propaganda” charge was deferred.
Journalist Hayri Demir receives death threat on social media
Journalist Hayri Demir announced that he was threatened with death on social media. Sharing the threat message he received on Twitter on 6 January 2022, Demir stated that although he had filed criminal complaints about similar threats before, the prosecutor’s office gave a decision of non-prosecution. Demir wrote: “The decision by the public prosecutor must have encouraged them even more as this time they did not hesitate to openly threaten me.”
Journalist Ferhat Çelik taken into custody twice in one day
Mezopotamya news agency (MA) Responsible Managing Editor Ferhat Çelik was detained twice in a single day.
Çelik was taken into custody by the police in Istanbul on 4 January 2022 as part of an investigation conducted by the Gaziantep Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office on the allegation of “terrorism propaganda” against several reports the news agency published between August and September 2020. Çelik, who was taken to the Istanbul Courthouse the next day, gave his statement to the prosecutor in Gaziantep via SEGBİS and was subsequently released under a travel ban.
However, shortly after his release, Çelik was detained for a second time as part of another investigation carried out by the Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office. Çelik was taken to the Şişli District Police Department, where he gave his statement at the request of the Ankara Police Department Anti-Terror Department. Çelik was released after giving his statement.
Court rules for compensation for four academics who signed peace petition
An Istanbul court has ruled that academic Muzaffer Kaya, who was arrested in 2016 for signing the Academics for Peace declaration, be paid TL 45 in compensation for each day he spent in prison.
Academics Esra Mungan, Kıvanç Ersoy, Muzaffer Kaya and Meral Camcı were arrested on the charge of “terrorism propaganda” for delivering a press statement about the declaration on 10 March 2016. All four academics were released at their first hearing held at the 13th High Criminal Court of Istanbul on 22 April 2016. All four academics were eventually acquitted in September 2019.
The academics filed a compensation case seeking non-pecuniary damages pursuant to Article 141 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CMK) for their unlawful detention. Deciding on the case, the court ordered that Kaya be paid TL 1,700 in compensation for 38 days he remained behind bars. The court ruled that Ersoy and Mungan be paid TL 5,000 each and that Camcı be paid TL 5,500. Stating that it was not clear how the court determined the sums to be paid in compensation, Meriç Eyüboğlu, the lawyer representing the academics, said they will appeal the decision.
Albayrak’s lawyer appeals against Derya Okatan’s acquittal
The lawyer representing former minister Berat Albayrak has appealed against journalist Derya Okatan’s acquittal in “RedHack case,” which concluded at an Istanbul criminal court on 31 December 2021. Okatan was on trial alongside five other journalists in the case, which was based on news coverage of Albayrak’s emails leaked by the hacker group RedHack. Filing an objection with the Istanbul Regional Court of Justice this week, Albayrak’s lawyer Ahmet Özel claimed that the trial court’s acquittal decision was against the law and criminal procedure.
Investigation against PİRHA reporter Ersin Özgül dismissed
An investigation against Pir News Agency (PİRHA) İzmir reporter Ersin Özgül on the allegation of “membership in a terrorist organization” has been dismissed by the Diyarbakır Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office. Özgül was briefly taken into custody on 5 May 2021 as part of the investigation, which targeted the Democratic Society Congress (DTK).
Actor İlyas Salman to stand trial for “degrading the nation”
Actor İlyas Salman is charged with “publicly degrading the Turkish nation, the State of the Turkish Republic, the Turkish Grand National Assembly, the Government and the judicial bodies of the state” under Article 301/1 of the Turkish Penal Code (TCK) in a new indictment. The accusation stems from a video Salman shared on social media on 25 January 2021. The indictment was recently accepted by a criminal court of first instance in Istanbul. The first hearing of the case will be held in March.
At least 58 journalists and media workers in prison
As of 7 January 2022, 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.