Deutsche Welle, VOA websites blocked in Turkey; “disinformation bill” postponed to fall; Abdurrahman Gök convicted in “terrorism” trial; prosecutor says trial of police officers who used force on Gökhan Biçici should be dropped; 373 people, including journalists, detained as police break up Pride march
Access to websites of Voice of America, Deutsche Welle blocked
Access to the websites of international broadcasters Deutsche Welle (DW) and Voice of America (VOA) was blocked by a decision issued by the Ankara 1st Criminal Judgeship of Peace late on 30 June 2022.
Access to all websites of the Germany-based DW, which publishes in 32 languages, and to VOA’s Turkish website was blocked upon a request from Turkey’s broadcasting watchdog, the Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTÜK).
In a decision on 9 February 2022, RTÜK said Turkish websites of DW, Voice of America and Euronews must apply for a broadcasting license in order to keep their websites accessible in Turkey. DW and VOA declared that they would not be applying for broadcasting licenses since it would lead to censorship and would, instead, file lawsuits against the media watchdog’s decision.
RTÜK was authorized to supervise online radio and television broadcasts, including on-demand platforms, under a regulation that came into force on 1 August 2019. More details on the story can be found here.
Parliamentary debates on “disinformation” bill postponed to October
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, have been postponed to October, a senior AKP official said on 29 June.
Mahir Ünal, a parliamentary group chairman of the ruling AKP, was quoted as saying in news reports that Parliament would resume its debates on the bill after Parliament returns from its summer recess, which begins on 1 July.
Journalists' associations and freedom of expression groups have been calling for the withdrawal of the bill, which introduces up to three years in prison for “spreading false information about the internal and external security of the country, public order and public health.” In a joint statement, P24 and 23 other media freedom, freedom of expression and journalists’ organizations have called for the immediate dismissal of the bill, saying it “puts millions of Turkey’s Internet users at risk of criminal action for posting information with which the government disagrees.”
Journalist Abdurrahman Gök given prison term in “terrorism” trial
Journalist Abdurrahman Gök, who photographed the moment when a police officer shot down unarmed university student Kemal Kurkut during Newroz celebrations in Diyarbakır in 2017, has been sentenced to 1 year 6 months and 22 days in prison.
The verdict came at the end of the fifth hearing of the trial, in which Gök was charged with “membership in a terrorist organization” and “terrorism propaganda,” held at the Diyarbakır 5th High Criminal Court on 30 June 2022.
In his final defense statement to the court, Gök said he rejected the prosecution’s accusation that photos he shared on his social media constituted “terrorism propaganda.”
“Those are all news photos taken in conflict zones during the time I worked as a war reporter. However, the prosecution insists on viewing me and my work differently,” Gök said, insisting that he was prosecuted because he was the one who pictured the moments when Kurkut was killed by police officers in 2017. “The police are trying to take revenge on me because I revealed the truth to the public by publishing the photos of Kurkut, whom they [falsely] claimed was a suicide bomber,” Gök further said.
The court panel acquitted Gök on the charge of “membership in a terrorist organization” at the end of the hearing but sentenced him to 1 year 6 months and 22 days in prison for “terrorism propaganda.”
Prosecutor seeks statute of limitation for police battering journalist Biçici
The trial of five police officers who inflicted violence on dokuz8Haber Editor-in-Chief Gökhan Biçici while he was covering Gezi protests got underway after nine years.
The first hearing of the trial where the officers are charged with “exceeding the limits of the authority to use force”, “insult” and “violation of the right to work” was held at the İstanbul 48th Criminal Court of First Instance.
Defendant police officer O.E. as well as Biçici and his lawyers attended the hearing, which was monitored by P24.
Biçici’s lawyer Metin İriz said that even though the defendants are charged with “exceeding the limits of the authority to use force,” “insult” and “violation of right to work,” the Constitutional Court defined the case as “violation of the prohibition of inhumane treatment” in its judgment. Emphasizing that the aforementioned offense constitutes the crime of torture as per the top court’s judgment, İriz asked for the file to be sent to a High Criminal Court, which is authorized to oversee cases of torture. The court ruled to postpone a decision on the request until the end of the proceedings.
Defendant police officer O.E. denied the charges and said that he did not know Biçici. Speaking after the officer, Biçici stated that the fact that the police officers were being brought before a court nine years after the event amounted to a “continuation of torture.” “Even though the offense is well-established, refusing to launch a trial and punish the perpetrators is a reflection of the systematic attitude against me and the journalism” he said.
Presenting their opinion, the prosecutor said that the date of crime was 2013 and since the statute of limitation on such offenses was eight years, the case should be dropped.
Speaking against the opinion, Biçici said the statute of limitations could not apply to a crime involving torture and reiterated his lawyer’s demand that the case be referred to a high criminal court. His lawyer İriz requested additional time to prepare a defense statement against the prosecutor’s opinion.
The court accepted the request and adjourned the trial until 13 September 2022.
Police break up Pride parade, detain three journalists
Some 373 people were detained as the police broke up the 20th Pride Parade in İstanbul on 26 June 2022, including three photojournalists covering the demonstration.
Despite the ban by district governorates and the İstanbul Governor's Office, the İstanbul LGBTI+ Pride Week Committee announced the 20th Pride Parade to be held on Taksim Sıraselviler Street. Barricades were set up in Cihangir and Sıraselviler streets and all streets leading to Sıraselviler were blocked in the early morning. Demonstrators marched in the nearby streets despite the ban. 373 people, 30 of whom were under the age of 18, were detained.
Among those detained is AFP reporter Bülent Kılıç, who was also taken into custody after being pressed on her throat during the Pride parade last year. Kılıç was released after being held for 4.5 hours in the police vehicle. Along with Kılıç, the police also detained two DepoPhotos journalists, İlker Eray and Efekan Akyüz.
In addition to detentions, many journalists and lawyers were also battered by the police and kept in police bus for hours before taken to the police station.
The Pride parade in the western province of İzmir was also prevented by the police. 12 people were detained while photojournalist Berkcan Zengin was battered by the police.
İHD co-chair Türkdoğan acquitted in “insult” case initiated by Interior Minister
Lawyer and Human Rights Association (İHD) Co-Chair Öztürk Türkdoğan was acquitted at the end of a trial where he was charged with “insulting a public official” over a public statement criticizing Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu.
The decision came at the end of the second hearing of the trial, which was held at the 60th Criminal Court of First Instance of Ankara on 27 June 2022. Türkdoğan and his attorneys were present at the hearing, which was monitored by P24. More details on the case and the court hearing can be found in our report.
Journalist Vedat Örüç acquitted
The fourth hearing in a trial where journalist Vedat Örüç is charged with “violating the Law no. 2911 on Meetings and Demonstrations” and “insulting a public official” was held at the İstanbul 18th Criminal Court of First Instance on 1 July 2022.
Örüç and his lawyers attended the hearing, which was monitored by P24. The prosecutor demanded acquittal of Örüç due to insufficient evidence. Örüç’s lawyers agreed with the prosecutor’s opinion. The court acquitted Örüç at the end of the hearing, concluding that there was not sufficient evidence confirming that Örüç had committed the impugned crimes.
Court dismisses Bayraktar’s “defamation” case against Sedat Yılmaz
The Bakırköy 14th Civil Court of First Instance dismissed a compensation trial against Sedat Yılmaz and Yeni Yaşam newspaper for “defamation” at the end of the second hearing held on 27 June 2022.
Yılmaz and Yeni Yaşam were sued by Selçuk Bayraktar, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s son-in-law and the chief technology officer of drone maker Baykar, over a report on the sale of Baykar-made drones to foreign countries.
Yılmaz’s lawyer Sercan Korkmaz and Bayraktar’s lawyer Burçin Altan were present at the hearing.
Bayraktar’s lawyer Altan, stated that the headlines and the content of the news constitutes a violation of her client’s personal rights, while Yılmaz’s lawyer Sercan Korkmaz maintained that the news article in question constituted critical coverage of an issue of public interest. Korkmaz also argued that Bayraktar could not sue the defendants because the article addressed the president and relevant bureaucrats, not Bayraktar.
Issuing the final verdict at the end of the hearing, the court ruled to dismiss the case as the article in question was not directly related to Bayraktar, who, therefore, cannot be a party to the case.
The trial stems from a news report, published on the website of Yeni Yaşam on 22 November 2021 under the title “Bayraktar SİHA’lar hangi ülkeye nasıl satılıyor” (“How and to which countries are Bayraktar UCAVs sold”) and in the print issue of the newspaper on 23 November 2021 under the title “Erdoğan ailesi ve devlet Bayraktar’ın satış mümessili gibi: Aile boyu savaş ticareti” (“Erdoğan family and the state are like Bayraktar’s sale representatives: Family size war trade”). Bayraktar had demanded TL 150,000 in non-pecuniary damage in the case.
RTÜK fines Tele 1, Halk TV, KRT
The Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTÜK) has fined opposition broadcasters Tele 1, Halk TV and KRT over the content of discussions in their current affairs programs.
İlhan Taşcı, a member of RTÜK from the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), announced on his Twitter account on 29 June 2022 that Halk TV and KRT were fined on the ground that Minister of Interior Süleyman Soylu was “humiliated beyond the scope of criticism” in their programs discussing latest statements by organized crime leader Sedat Peker. RTÜK ordered the two channels to pay three percent of their monthly advertisement revenue as fine.
Okan Konuralp, another RTÜK member from the opposition announced that Tele 1 was also fined over remarks by the channel’s Editor-in-Chief Merdan Yanardağ and Professor Emre Kongar during a program called “18 Dakika” (18 Minutes). In addition, Halk TV was subject to a fine imposed upon a complaint by the Gendarmerie General Command, Konuralp added.
RTÜK predominantly fines opposition broadcasters in first half of 2022
In the first six months of 2022, RTÜK issued a total of 30 decisions imposing fines on critical television channels, while fining pro-government broadcasters in only three occasions, the council’s member İlhan Taşcı announced.
According to the figures Taşcı shared, RTÜK issued five administrative fines on KRT TV, nine on Tele 1, eight on Halk TV; four on Flash TV and four on Fox TV, amounting to TL 10 million in total in the first half of the year.
During the same period, the council imposed an administrative fine of TL 1.5 million on three pro-government broadcasters; TGRT Haber, Beyaz TV and ATV. Other pro-government TV channels like A Haber, Ülke TV, TV Net and Kanal 7 received no fines.
RTÜK member from the opposition İlhan Taşcı said, “If you impose 30 administrative fines amounting to TL 10 million on independent, objective media outlets that criticize the government and make suggestions when necessary, then you are dealing a blow on freedom of the press.”
Verdict in Zaman retrial expected to be announced in November
The seventh hearing in a retrial in which former Zaman newspaper columnists Şahin Alpay, Ali Bulaç, Ahmet Turan Alkan and Mümtazer Türköne as well as editor Mehmet Özdemir are charged with terrorism related crimes was held at the İstanbul 13th High Criminal Court on 28 June 2022.
Türköne, Alpay, Bulaç, Alkan and their lawyers attended the hearing, which was monitored by P24. The court was widely expected to announce its verdict at the end of the hearing but the presiding judge announced that it would not do so since one of the parties had submitted an excuse to not attend the session.
Stating that this decision would prolong the trial, Türköne demanded that the international travel ban imposed on him be lifted. Other defendants also requested that their judicial control measures be lifted and their confiscated digital materials be returned.
The court accepted the requests and lifted the judicial control measures on the defendants, adjourning the trial until 2 November 2022.
Uğur Dündar faces trial over his comments on ringleader Peker
Sözcü columnist Uğur Dündar has been sued over his tweet and statements on organized crime leader Sedat Peker.
Sözcü reported on 29 June that the İstanbul Beykoz Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office had drafted an indictment against Dündar following a complaint from Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu. The indictment, in which Dündar is charged with “praising an offense and offender,” was accepted by the Beykoz Criminal Court of First Instance. If convicted, Dündar might be sentenced to up to two years in prison.
The indictment included Dündar’s following post he shared on his social media account on 25 September 2021: “I’ve spent my life fighting mafia, crime organizations, thieves, embezzlers, drug lords. I covered Sedat Peker as well. I can now say in confidence that people do not view him as an organized crime leader but as a figure fighting for just society.”
A second statement Dündar made on a TV channel cited in the indictment is as follows: “Peker pierced a festering wound of theft and corruption. We need to thank him in the name of the truth.”
Xwebûn newspaper publisher faces trial
Xwebûn newspaper publisher Kadri Esen has been sued on the charge of “terrorism propaganda” over a social media post.
In the indictment prepared by the Diyarbakır Chief Public Prosecutor's Office, a photo shared by Esen on her social media account on 9 April 2018 was cited as evidence for the accusation on the grounds that he “aimed to create a perception among the citizens with Kurdish origin that acts of uprising against the state should increase.”
The indictment was accepted by the Diyarbakır 10th High Criminal Court. The first hearing of the trial will be held on 21 September 2022.
Trial of journalist Hayri Demir adjourned until September
The 12th hearing in a trial where journalist Hayri Demir is facing the charges of “membership in a terrorist organization” and “terrorism propaganda” was held at the 15th High Criminal Court on 29 June 2022.
Demir and his lawyer attended the hearing, during which the court heard a witness. The witness, who said in his testimony that he was in Syria from 2018 to 2021, claimed to have seen Demir in the northern Syrian town of Kobane in 2015.
Demir denied being in Syria at the time and added that the witness was making false statements as he repeated a statement that had been made by another person. He then asked the court that a criminal complaint be filed against the witness for making a false statement, but the court denied the request saying Demir himself could file the complaint should he so wish. The trial was adjourned until 28 September 2022.
Court asks Directorate of Communications if Saymaz is a journalist
The ninth hearing in the trial of journalist İsmail Saymaz on the charge of “illegally obtaining and disseminating personal data” was held at the Niğde 2nd Criminal Court of First Instance on 28 June 2022.
Saymaz is on trial for reporting on the allegations that local public prosecutor İlker Vural had threatened a doctor working at a private hospital in the central Anatolian province of Kayseri.
Saymaz did not attend the hearing, while the court refused to hear his lawyers Aslı Kazan and Serdar Laçin even though they were present at the İstanbul 23rd Criminal Court of First Instance to attend the hearing in Kayseri via judicial videoconferencing system SEGBİS. The court said the lawyers should have filed an excuse request if they were unable to physically attend the hearing. The lawyers, on the other hand, protested, saying until now, they were permitted to attend all of the previous hearings via SEGBİS.
Presenting their opinion at the hearing held in the absence of Saymaz's lawyers, the prosecutor argued that sufficient evidence was obtained to conclude that Saymaz had committed the crime of “disseminating personal data” on the complainant prosecutor’s private medical data. The court ruled to send a warrant to the Presidency Communications Department requesting it to confirm whether Saymaz was a journalist at the time of the incident.
The trial was adjourned until 4 October 2022 for the preparation of the defense statements in response to the prosecutor’s opinion.
Retrial of Çağrı Sarı and Arif Koşar adjourned
The first hearing in the retrial of Evrensel newspaper editor Çağrı Sarı and the newspaper’s then publisher Arif Koşar on the charge of “denigrating the Turkish Nation, the State of Turkish Republic or the organs and institutions of the State” was held at the İstanbul 2nd Criminal Court of First Instance on 28 June 2022.
The defendants’ lawyer Devrim Avcı attended the hearing, monitored by P24.
The third Penal Chamber Supreme Court of Appeals has overturned a verdict on March 2022 convicting Sarı and Koşar to five months in jail over a news report titled “Police blazed away at the people in Nusaybin: 3 injured” published in the newspaper in March 2016 on the grounds that the elements of the crime did not exist.
Lawyer Avcı asked for the acquittal of his clients by applying Supreme Court’s judgement of reversal. The court adjourned the trial until 15 November 2022 to deliver the writ of reversal to the current address of Koşar.
Trial of journalist Sonya Bayık adjourned
The fifth hearing in a trial in which three people including Jiyan News Responsible Managing Editor Sonya Bayık are charged with “violating the Law on Meetings and Demonstrations” was held at the Batman 1st Criminal Court of First Instance on 28 June 2022.
Bayık and the other defendants did not attend the hearing. The court adjourned the trial until 27 December 2022.
Bayık was taken into custody on 12 June 2019 while she was covering a demonstration held in protest of the flooding of the ancient town of Hasankeyf. In the previous hearing, the court had ordered the footage of police breaking up the demonstration be examined. The footage and a supplementary police report arrived before the hearing. The report did not include an assessment on Bayık and said only that the demonstration was unauthorized.
Bayık’s lawyer requested additional time to examine the footage. The court accepted the request and adjourned the trial until 27 December 2022.
Zekine Türkeri’s trial adjourned
The second hearing in the trial of journalist Zekine Türkeri and 18 others including HDP İstanbul Provincial co-chairs on the charge of “Violating the Law no. 2911 on Assemblies and Demonstrations” was held on 28 June 2022 at the İstanbul 49th Criminal Court of First Instance.
Türkeri and some of the defendants attended the hearing, monitored by P24.
The attending defendants stated that they gathered in Beyoğlu Tünel to make a press statement against the detention of politicians in Diyarbakır in 2020, which is their constitutional right. The defendants complained that the police then used violence to disperse them.
The court issued a warrant to forcibly bring those defendants whose defense statements were not yet taken and adjourned the trial until 13 December 2022.
Gökhan Yavuzel’s trial adjourned until December
The third hearing in the trial of writer and poet Gökhan Yavuzel, a PEN International member, on the charge of “inciting the public to hatred and enmity” on the basis of an article he penned was held at the Ankara 7th Criminal Court of First Instance on 28 June 2022.
Yavuzel, who lives abroad, did not attend the hearing. The court ruled to wait the execution of the order to forcibly bring Yavuzel to the courtroom at the next hearing. The trial was adjourned until 1 December 2022.
Trial against journalists Tunççelik and Coşkun adjourned
The second hearing in a trial against journalists İrfan Tunççelik and Ümit Turhan Coşkun and 11 other defendants on the charge of “violating the Law no. 2911 on Assemblies and Demonstrations” and “committing an offense on behalf of a terrorist organization” was held at the İstanbul 23rd High Criminal Court on 28 June 2022.
The journalists are on trial for covering a demonstration held in front of the Bakırköy Women’s Prison in İstanbul in connection with hunger strikes in prisons in 2018.
Some of the defendants and their lawyers attended the hearing, which was monitored by P24. Tunççelik and Coşkun were not present at the court room.
Tunççelik’s lawyer stated that the confiscated digital equipment has not been returned to the clients for three years, which amounted to a rights violation.
The court ruled that the image of the confiscated digital materials to be added to the case file and that the digital materials be returned back to the defendants. It also decided to send the file to the prosecution to prepare their opinion. The trial was adjourned until 25 October 2022.
Trial of Ferhat Tunç adjourned
The 12th hearing in a trial where musician and human rights activist Ferhat Tunç is charged with “inciting people to hatred and enmity” over his social media posts was held at the Büyükçekmece 4th Criminal Court of First Instance on 29 June 2022.
The court ruled for execution the arrest warrant issued for Tunç, and adjourned the trial until 26 October 2022.
Trial of Hayko Bağdat adjourned until next year
The 13th hearing in a trial where journalist Hayko Bağdat is charged with “insulting the president” over his televised remarks was held at the İstanbul 51st Criminal Court of First Instance on 29 June 2022.
The court ruled for the execution of arrest warrant against Bağdat and response to the letter rogatory to be awaited, and adjourned the trial until 16 February 2023.
At least 67 journalists, media employees behind bars in Turkey
As of 4 July 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.