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.

Mehmet Şah Oruç

Mehmet Şah Oruç

Mezopotamya news agency (MA) reporter Mehmet Şah Oruç was taken into custody on 25 April 2023 during house raids carried out as part of an investigation launched by the Diyarbakır Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office and subsequently jailed pending trial on the allegation of “membership in a terrorist organization” two days later. Oruç remained in pre-trial detention for six months until he was released by the trial court on 31 October 2023, at the second hearing of his trial on charges of “membership in a terrorist organization” and “terrorism propaganda.” Oruç’s reporting is held as evidence for the accusations in the case against him. Oruç was previously detained twice, again over his work as a reporter.

On 19 August 2017, Oruç, who then worked as a reporter for dihaber before it was shut down under a statutory decree, and another dihaber reporter, Sadiye Eser, were stopped by the police, who wanted to confiscate their video recordings after covering a press statement by the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) Istanbul provincial branch. Oruç and Eser, who refused to show the police the footage, were detained and taken to the Taksim Police Station in Istanbul. Oruç and Eser’s press cards were confiscated. The two journalists were released after their video recordings were confiscated by the police.

On 20 August 2019, Oruç was taken into custody along with seven other people, including journalists Ahmet Kanbal, Rojda Aydın, Nurcan Yalçın and Halime Parlak, while covering protests in Mardin against the appointment of a trustee to the Mardin Municipality. Oruç worked as a reporter for Mezopotamya Agency (MA) at the time.

The five journalists were taken to the Counter-Terrorism Branch of the Mardin Police Department, where they were subjected to strip searches and physical violence. Their period of detention was extended by four days on 23 August 2019 on the grounds that the “investigation had not been completed.” The journalists’ statements were taken on the seventh day of their detention on allegations of “terrorism propaganda” and “membership in a terrorist organization.” During their interrogation, they were only asked a single question: “Why were you there during the day of the demonstration?” Oruç and other detained journalists were released late on 26 August 2019 after their statements were taken.

Concluding the investigation on the allegations of “terrorism propaganda” and “membership in a terrorist organization” in November 2019, the Mardin Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office dropped the charges against Oruç and four other journalists. The prosecutor’s office stated that “except for intelligence information,” there was no credible and certain evidence that the journalists had committed the alleged offenses.

Prosecutor issues indictment a year later

Based on the same incident, on 27 October 2020 the Mardin Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office issued an indictment against journalists Oruç, Kanbal, Aydın, Yalçın and Parlak and three other people who were detained during the demonstration, charging all eight with “attending meetings and demonstrations unarmed and not dispersing of their own will despite warnings” under Article 32/1 of the Law No. 2911 on Meetings and Demonstrations.

The trial of the journalists began at the Mardin 1st Criminal Court of First Instance on 27 April 2021. Lawyers representing the journalists demanded immediate acquittal for their clients, based on the documents they had presented showing their clients to be journalists in reference to European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) case-law, notably the Ahmet Şık and Ahmet Altan judgments. The prosecutor for the hearing said that the date of validity of the press cards included in the case file covered a period “after the date of the crime” and requested the rejection of the request for acquittal. The judge ruled that the elements for immediate acquittal had not formed as the defendants had not made their statements and rejected the lawyers’ demands.

At the 20 October 2021 hearing of the trial, the prosecutor for the hearing presented their final opinion and requested the acquittal of Oruç and the other defendants as it was not established that the journalists had committed the alleged offense. The court ruled to acquit all eight defendants as there was no adequate and certain evidence that they had committed the impugned crime.

Imprisonment on terrorism-related charges

Oruç was detained in a raid on his home on 25 April 2023 as part of an investigation by the Diyarbakır Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office.

The investigation, launched based on testimony by a witness named Ümit Akbıyık, resulted in home raids in 21 provinces and the detention of 145 people. Among those detained were MA editor Abdurrahman Gök, reporter Ahmet Kanbal, Yeni Yaşam newspaper managing editor Osman Akın, the Kurdish weekly Xwebûn newspaper’s licensed publisher Kadri Esen, JinNews reporter Beritan Canözer, journalists Mehmet Yalçın, Salih Keleş, Mikail Barut, Remzi Akkay and lawyer Resul Temur, who is a lawyer representing many Kurdish journalists.

Oruç, who learned during his interrogation at the prosecutor’s office that he had been detained on suspicion of “membership in a terrorist organization,” was questioned about statements by Akbıyık, his reporting and social media posts.

After his statement was taken by the prosecutor, Oruç was referred to a criminal judgeship of peace, which ruled to jail the journalist on 27 April 2023. Oruç was sent to the Diyarbakır No. 1 High Security Closed Prison.

In the indictment issued in June 2023 by the Diyarbakır Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office, Oruç was charged with “membership in a terrorist organization” (TCK 314/2) and “terrorism propaganda” (TMK 7/2). The prosecutor who drafted the indictment claimed that Mezopotamya news agency was “a legal media outlet owned by the PKK” based on testimony by witness Akbıyık and presented two news reports on Oruç’s arrest in Mardin in 2019 as evidence of his employment at the MA. The prosecutor also listed 35 news reports by Oruç, dispatched by MA, as well as phone conversations between Oruç and his colleagues as evidence for the charge of “membership in a terrorist organization.” However, records of phone conversations listed as evidence in the indictment were not provided in the indictment. The indictment listed posts on Oruç’s personal social media account as evidence for the charge of “terrorism propaganda.”

The Diyarbakır 4th High Criminal Court, where the indictment was initially submitted, ruled for non-jurisdiction on 25 June 2023 and transferred the file to Bitlis. The court also ruled for Oruç’s continued imprisonment pending trial.

Oruç’s trial began at the Bitlis 2nd High Criminal Court on 14 September 2023. Oruç attended the hearing through the judicial video-conferencing network SEGBİS from Diyarbakır No. 1 High Security Prison. The court ruled to await the submission of the missing elements in the case file and ordered the continuation of Oruç’s pre-trial detention and adjourned the trial until October.

Release under judicial control measures

The second hearing of Oruç’s trial was held on 31 October 2023. Following statements by Oruç and his lawyer Resul Temur, the prosecutor for the hearing requested the continuation of Oruç’s imprisonment pending trial. The court ruled to release Oruç under judicial control measures and to send the case file to the prosecutor’s office for the preparation of their final opinion. The court adjourned the trial until 6 February 2024.