Parliamentary debates on “disinformation bill” postponed; court dismisses compensation case filed by Mehmet Altan against judges who disregarded supreme court judgments; ECtHR rejects Turkey’s objections to Deniz Yücel and Nazlı Ilıcak judgments; Constitutional Court rejects Müyesser Yıldız’s application
Parliamentary debates on “disinformation” bill adjourned
Parliamentary debates on a 40-article bill publicly known as the “disinformation law,” which introduces extensive amendments in the Press Law and which the government claims will be used to fight disinformation, has been postponed.
Announcing the postponement on his social media account on 22 April 2022, the Republican People’s Party (CHP) Group Deputy Chair Engin Özkoç wrote, “The discussions on the bill presenting amendments to the Press Law as well as some other laws were postponed for this week.”
In remarks to the media, Justice and Development Party (AKP) Deputy Chair Yılmaz Tunç confirmed the postponement, yet underlined that the bill was still on the agenda. “This is about the parliamentary schedule. The bill is still on the agenda. If different opinions arise during the interval, they will indeed be taken into consideration," he said.
Parliament's Justice Commission adopted the bill on 15 June 2022. It is now expected to be taken up in the Parliament's General Assembly within a couple of weeks. Given the parliamentary majority of the ruling AKP and the government ally MHP, the bill is set to be voted it into law by the General Assembly.
Compensation lawsuit by Mehmet Altan against judges who disregarded top court judgments dismissed
The sixth hearing in a trial where academic and columnist Mehmet Altan sues four judges who rejected to implement verdicts rendered by the Constitutional Court and the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) for his release from pre-trial detention was held at the 4th Legal Chamber of Supreme Court of Appeals on 21 June 2022.
Altan, his lawyer Figen Albuga Çalıkuşu and the defendants attended the hearing. The chamber dismissed the case by a majority vote on the basis of the statute of limitations as per articles 141/1,3 and 142/1 of the Code of Criminal Procedure. In a dissenting opinion against the judgement, a panel member judge argued that the statute of limitations was not applicable to the case at hand and that the merits of the case require continuation of the prosecution.
Mehmet Altan was arrested on 10 September 2016, along with his brother, Ahmet Altan, a well-known novelist and journalist, on the charges of “membership in a terrorist organization” and “terrorism propaganda.” The Constitutional Court and the ECtHR ruled, on 11 January 2018 and 20 March 2018, respectively, that Altan's pre-trial detention violated his rights to personal liberty and security and freedom of expression and freedom of the press. The İstanbul 26th High Criminal Court, which oversaw the trial, and the İstanbul 27th High Criminal Court, the next court of first instance acting as the immediate court of appeals, however, refused to implement the judgments and release Altan, who remained behind bars until late June 2018.
Lawyer Çalıkuşu had lodged a compensation lawsuit of TL 200,000 against judges of the İstanbul 26th High Criminal Court (presiding judge Kemal Selçuk Yalçın and judge Mehmet Akif Ayaz), and of the İstanbul 27th High Criminal Court (presiding judge Orkun Dağ and judge Seval Alaçam) for refusing to implement the top courts' judgments.
ECtHR overrules Turkey’s objection to verdicts on journalists Yücel, Ilıcak
The European Court of Human Rights’ (ECtHR) Grand Chamber has rejected Turkey’s objections to convictions handed down in the applications submitted by Die Welt correspondent Deniz Yücel and journalist Nazlı Ilıcak.
With the ECtHR’s panel of five judges dismissing the two appeals, the previous verdicts delivered in the applications of Yücel and Ilıcak have become final.
The ECtHR ruled on 25 January 2022 that the pre-trial detention of Deniz Yücel from 2017 to 2018 violated three articles of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR): the right to liberty and security (Article 5/1), right to compensation for unlawful detention (Article 5/5) and freedom of expression (Article 10). The ECtHR ordered Turkey to pay Yücel 13,300 euros in compensation.
The ECtHR also ruled on 14 December 2021 that Ilıcak’s right to freedom of expression was violated and sentenced Turkey to pay 16,000 euros in compensation.
Constitutional Court rejects Müyesser Yıldız’s application
The Constitutional Court has rejected an application filed on behalf of Odatv editor Müyesser Yıldız, ruling that the journalist’s pre-trial detention over her coverage of Turkey’s military involvement in Libya did not constitute a violation of her constitutional rights.
On 8 June 2020, Yıldız was detained along with Tele1 TV Ankara Representative İsmail Dükel and a soldier named E.B., as part of an investigation conducted by the Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor's Office of Terrorist Crimes Investigation Bureau for “military espionage.” She was then sent to prison awaiting trial on the charge of “disclosing confidential state information” and stayed behind bars for over five months until she was released at the end of her first court hearing in November 2020. She was eventually convicted and sentenced in March 2021 to a combined prison sentence of 3 years, 7 months and 10 days for "obtaining confidential information" under Article 334 of Turkish Penal Code (TCK) and "disclosing confidential information" under Article 336. Her co-defendant, Tele1 TV Ankara representative İsmail Dükel, was sentenced to 1 year and 15 days for "disclosing confidential information.”
Yıldız's lawyers filed an application with the Constitutional Court in July 2020 against her pre-trial detention, saying that her rights to freedom and security, the freedom of expression and the freedom of the press were violated.
The president of the Constitutional Court, Zühtü Arslan, and three judges of the top court objected to the judgment, which is dated 7 April 2022 and was made public on 23 June. In his dissenting opinion, president Arslan said imprisonment should be allowed only under exceptional circumstances and implemented when there is a strong indication of crime. He argued that there was no evidence in Yıldız’s articles that were subject to prosecution indicating that she had caused harm to national security or Turkey’s international relations.
“FETÖ media trial” adjourned until November
The fifth hearing in the retrial of journalists Ahmet Memiş, Ali Akkuş, Cemal Azmi Kalyoncu, Gökçe Fırat Çulhaoğlu, Ünal Tanık, Yakup Çetin and Yetkin Yıldız on terrorism related charges were held at the İstanbul 25th High Criminal Court on 23 June 2022.
All defendants as well as their lawyers attended the hearing, which was monitored by P24.
The prosecutor asked for the file to be sent to them to prepare their final opinion. Ahmet Memiş demanded that conclusion of his application to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) concerning the ongoing trial be awaited. The other defendants didn’t make any request.
The court accepted Memiş’s request, and also lifted the international travel ban imposed on Gökçe Fırat. Ruling for the file to be sent to the prosecutor for preparation of the final opinion, the court adjourned the trial until 29 November 2022.
Experts recuse themselves in trial over “TÜGVA leaks”
The fourth hearing in the trial of journalist Metin Cihan on the charge of “illegally obtaining or disseminating personal data” for publishing leaked documents from the pro-government Turkey Youth Foundation (TÜGVA), which allegedly showed widespread nepotism in state institutions, was held on 24 June 2022 at the Istanbul 22nd Criminal Court of First Instance.
Cihan’s lawyer Özgür Urfa attended the hearing, which was monitored by P24. The other defendant in the case, Ramazan Aydoğdu, his and TÜGVA’s lawyers were present at the courtroom.
Urfa told the court that the experts assigned to the case were subject to external pressure, as evidenced by recusal of six of them over the past one month. He asked the court to reassign experts to examine the case. He also demanded that TÜGVA be asked whether the documents shared by Cihan were authentic.
The court ruled to write a warrant to the Istanbul Regional Expertise Board of the Ministry of Justice inquiring about the experts who withdrew themselves from the case without an excuse.
The court also ruled to keep the judicial control measures on Aydoğdu in place and the await execution of an arrest warrant against Cihan, adjourning the trial until 19 October 2022.
Presidency’s request to join trial of Can Dündar accepted
The fourth hearing in the retrial of journalist Can Dündar, the former editor-in-chief of Cumhuriyet daily, over the newspaper’s 2015 coverage of the alleged transfer of weapons to insurgents in Syria on trucks operated by Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MİT), resumed on 23 June 2022 at the İstanbul 14th High Criminal Court.
Dündar is accused of “espionage” in the retrial over a video broadcast on the online media outlet Özgürüz. Two other case files against Dündar on other charges were also merged with this case in February.
Dündar’s lawyers did not attend the hearing by submitting their excuse. Lawyer Timuçin Üzel, representing the Presidency of the Republic of Turkey and the National Intelligence Organization (MIT), were present at the hearing.
Üzel requested that the court accepts the Presidency as a co-plaintiff in the case. Issuing an interim ruling at the end of the hearing, the court accepted the Presidency’s request to join the case. It also ruled that German judicial authorities’ response concerning Turkey’s extradition request for Dündar be awaited, adjourning the trial until 27 December 2022.
Court issues non-jurisdiction decision in trial of police officers accused of using force on journalist
The first hearing in the trial of three police officers accused of perpetrating violence against Erdal İmrek, a former news editor of Evrensel newspaper, was held on 24 June 2022 at the Istanbul 60th Criminal Court of First Instance.
The trial follows a Constitutional Court judgment dated 17 July 2019, which ruled that İmrek’s maltreatment during a Gezi Park anniversary meeting in Taksim, İstanbul in 2014 violated the “ban on inhuman or degrading treatment” and “freedom of expression and the press.” İmrek had filed a complaint against the police officers who battered him and sprayed his face with pepper gas at close range but the prosecutor’s office said there was no ground to prosecute. He then took the case to an administrative court, filing a complaint against the Interior Ministry, but this case was dismissed too, following which he applied to the Constitutional Court.
The three officers now stand trial on charges of “violating the freedom to work or labour,” “exceeding the limits of the authority to use force,” and “actual bodily harm.”
İmrek’s lawyer Yıldız İmrek attended the hearing. Lawyer İmrek argued that the officers’ conduct amounted to “torture” because it involved holding someone against their will, bodily injury and the use of force to prevent fulfilment of a public duty. She said, therefore, the court should issue a non-jurisdiction decision and refer the case to a high criminal court authorized to oversee torture cases.
The prosecutor, on the other hand, asked for the rejection of the request for non-jurisdiction on the grounds that the commission of the crime was not yet established. The court ruled to issue non-jurisdiction decision and send the trial to the Istanbul Criminal Court on Duty.
In case the higher court accepts the case, the three police officers may stand trial on charges of “violating freedom of expression,” “deprivation of liberty” and “torture.”
Defamation trial filed by Constitutional Court judge against journalists adjourned
The first hearing in the trial of Evrensel newspaper Responsible Managing Editor Görkem Kınacı, BirGün newspaper News Director Uğur Şahin and birgun.net Responsible Managing Editor Uğur Koç, launched upon a complaint filed by the Constitutional Court judge İrfan Fidan was held on 22 June 2022 at the Beykoz 6th Criminal Court of First Instance.
Three journalists are charged with “insult” and “libel” over news reports published in December 2020, which included allegations of “corruption” and “domestic violence” involving a “member of the higher judiciary.” The allegations were voiced by opposition deputy Ahmet Şık on social media. Fidan was then a member of the 12th Penal Chamber of the Supreme Court of Appeals.
Journalists Kınacı, Şahin and Koç, their lawyers Devrim Avcı, Ülkü Şahin and Ali Deniz Ceylan and İrfan Fidan's lawyer were present at the hearing.
The journalists denied the accusations and stated in their defence statement that the allegation in question was brought to the agenda by a lawmaker and that it was a professional duty to report on this claim, which did not contain any personal information such as name or address. Noting that the Council of Judges and Prosecutors (HSK) also made an official statement on the same allegation, the journalists said that covering a subject that was publicly addressed even by a high-level judicial institution could not be considered a crime.
The lawyers of the journalists asked for the acquittal of their clients, stating that the elements of the alleged crimes did not occur.
The court accepted a request from complainant İrfan Fidan to join the case as a co-plaintiff, adjourning the trial until 12 October 2022.
Verdict of Supreme Court of Appeals to be awaited in Beritan Canözer’s trial
Second hearing in a trial where JinNews reporter Beritan Canözer is facing the charge of “terrorism propaganda” over her social media posts, was held at the Diyarbakır 4th High Criminal Court on 21 June 2022.
Canözer didn’t attend the hearing and was represented by her lawyer, Resul Temur.
The court ruled for cases of Canözer’s previous sentences handed down due to her social media posts as well as her ongoing cases to be retrieved via UYAP system, and for the outcome of the file overseen by the Supreme Court of Appeals to be awaited.
Compensation lawsuit filed against journalist Hazal Ocak adjourned until December
Fifth hearing in a trial, in which former correspondent for Cumhuriyet newspaper Hazal Ocak has been sued by former Treasury and Finance Minister Berat Albayrak, was held at the İstanbul 8th Criminal Court of First Instance on 21 June 2022. Albayrak is seeking TL 200,000 in damages.
The court ruled for the verdict of acquittal rendered by the İstanbul 2nd Criminal Court of First Instance to be awaited, and adjourned the trial until 6 December 2022.
Trial of journalist Evrim Kepenek adjourned until November
The second hearing in a trial where Bianet editor Evrim Kepenek is charged with “defamation” over her news report about a man who is accused of abusing his own child was held at the Selçuk Criminal Court of First Instance in İzmir on 21 June 2022. The man, Refik Y., who filed the complaint against Kepenek, had been arrested and then released on judicial control measures.
Kepenek and her lawyer did not attend the hearing whereas Refik Y.’s lawyer Merve Şarlan appeared before the court. Claiming that Kepenek prolonged the trial by not attending the hearing, Şarlan demanded that a warrant be issued to bring Kepenek forcibly to have her defense statement at the next hearing. The demand was rejected by the court.
Ruling for the conclusion of the “child abuse” case of Refik Y. to be awaited, the court adjourned the trial until 1 November 2022.
Rüstem Batum’s trial adjourned
The 17th hearing in the trial of journalist and writer Rüstem Batum on the charge of “publicly denigrating the state’s military and security forces” over his remarks aired on the now-defunct İMC TV was held on 24 June 2022 at the Istanbul 43rd Criminal Court of First Instance.
The defendants’ lawyer attended the hearing, which was monitored by P24. Batum’s lawyer asked for the acquittal of his client without his defense statement being received due to the current stage of the case and the withdrawal of the complaint by the plaintiff.
Deciding that the prosecution of the impugned crime was not dependent on existence of a complaint, the court ruled to wait for the execution of the arrest warrant for Batum, whose defense statement has not yet been taken. It adjourned the trial until 4 November 2022.
Trial of journalist Şerife Oruç adjourned
The 21st hearing in a trial where the Dicle News Agency’s (DİHA) former correspondent Şerife Oruç, who is charged with “membership in a terrorist organization,” was held at the Batman 2nd High Criminal Court. The DİHA had been shuttered with a decree in 2016.
Oruç and her lawyer didn’t attend the hearing. The trial was adjourned until 29 November 2022.
Trial against Hakkari journalist dismissed on statute of limitations
A trial against Erkan Çapraz, the chief editor of Yüksekova Haber news portal and the Hakkari representative of the Turkish Journalists Association (TGC), on the charge of “insulting a public official” over an article published in 2010 was dismissed on the ground of statute of limitations.
Announcing the decision on social media on 19 June 2022, lawyer Jindar Uçar said that the Yüksekova 2nd High Criminal Court dismissed the trial because of the expiry of a 12-year statute of limitations.
Local journalist’s office searched, phone, computers seized in Ordu
Police have raided the office of Osman Şahin, the owner of Yön monthly published in the northeastern province of Ordu, and confiscated three computers and Şahin’s cellphone as part of an investigation over alleged violation of privacy laws.
According to news reports published on 19 June 2022, the police have demanded Şahin disclose his source in a report about an alleged misconduct by a doctor working at Ordu’s state hospital. When he refused, the police took his phone and computers.
The investigation was launched upon a complaint from the doctor cited in the report. Şahin is accused of “unlawfully obtaining and disseminating personal data” as part of the investigation.
Access blocking orders
Access to a news article by Progressive Journalists Association Rize Branch Chair, journalist Gençağa Karafazlı about Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) Rize Provincial General Assembly Chair İbrahim Türüt has been blocked by the Rize Criminal Judgeship of Peace.
At least 67 journalists behind bars in Turkey
As of 24 June 2022, there are at least 67 journalists and media employees who are in prison either pending trial or serving sentence in Turkey
The full list can be accessed here.