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.

Online panel: Judicial supervision as a means of silencing journalists

Online panel: Judicial supervision as a means of silencing journalists

Lawyer Ömer Çakırgöz and journalists Buse Söğütlü and Tunca Öğreten discussed travel ban and other judicial control measures imposed on journalists in press trials



Expression Interrupted hosted an online panel this week, focusing on the judicial control measures imposed on defendants in journalism trials. Lawyer Ömer Çakırgöz and journalists Buse Söğütlü and Tunca Öğreten were the speakers of our panel, moderated by journalist Meltem Akyol.


Hundreds of journalists in Turkey have been facing international travel bans as part of investigations and/or trials against them. Travel ban, among other judicial control measures, not only prevents journalists from carrying out their professional activities, it also has a chilling effect that leads to self-censorship for many journalists.


Through the Fourth Judicial Reform Package, the government introduced a set of regulations on the duration of judicial control measures in the Criminal Procedure Code (CMK). Under the new amendments, which will enter into force on 1 January 2022, judicial control measures will be reviewed at four-month intervals at the latest.


Lawyer Ömer Çakırgöz stressed that judicial supervision, which is an array of precautionary measures to be resorted to in the presence of a reason for arrest, have turned into a tool for silencing journalists. Çakırgöz added that travel bans and passport restrictions imposed on journalists and academics intensified particularly in the aftermath of the coup attempt of 15 July 2016.


Çakırgöz explained that when a person faces a criminal investigation, normally judgeships should not rule for judicial supervision unless there is reasonable suspicion requiring the suspect’s arrest. “However,” Çakırgöz said, “the practice in Turkey does not usually comply with the law.”


“Even if there is no concrete evidence requiring the restriction of a suspect’s freedom, authorities [in prosecutions against journalists] somehow make decisions based on whether a journalist is pro-government or not. This violates the principle of interpreting the laws in favor of protecting freedom. The practice is used as a means of silencing and deterring journalists,” he added.


“Reform package does not introduce a solution”


Regarding the regulations introduced with the Fourth Judicial Reform Package, Çakırgöz said: “The package does not introduce a fundamental solution in terms of judicial control measures, it only brings some upper limits. Since the majority of cases brought against journalists are based on offenses under the Anti-Terror Law [TMK], journalists in such cases can be subject to judicial control measures for up to seven years.”


In September, the Constitutional Court ruled that the continued international travel ban imposed on academic Latife Akyüz had violated her constitutional rights. However, Çakırgöz said that this judgment did not constitute a basis for solving the problem with similar restrictions: “The Constitutional Court did not see any problem in terms of legitimate aim and legality. They held that the legitimate aim criterion required for the travel ban measure did exist.”


You can read more on the top court’s Latife Akyüz judgment here.


Journalist Tunca Öğreten has been subject to judicial supervision measures as part of the “RedHack trial,” which has been going on since 2017. In the indictment, Öğreten and five other journalists are facing “terror” charges for reporting on the emails of Berat Albayrak, leaked by the hacker group RedHack, during his time as the Minister of Energy.


Öğreten explained that the travel ban imposed on him as part of the case has not been lifted in the 13 hearings held so far: “I was detained for a year on the charge of ‘membership in a terrorist organization’ as part of this case. But I have never been questioned concerning this accusation since the beginning of the trial. And up to this point, my ban on traveling abroad has not been lifted. I attended every single courtroom hearing and yet the grounds the court cites for not lifting the ban is ‘flight risk.’ The prosecutor who recently presented their final opinion requested that I be sentenced for ‘illegally obtaining data’ instead of the ‘membership’ charge. So even if a defendant is not accused of ‘membership in a terrorist organization,’ they can still be punished through serious judicial control measures.”


More information on the case against Tunca Öğreten is available here.



Öğreten said the international travel ban he has been facing for the past four years has affected him professionally: “Firstly, not being able to attend journalism events that I was invited to prevented me from improving my career. Secondly, as a journalist who also works in conflict zones, I hesitated and eventually decided not to cover the 2020 refugee crisis in Edirne because of my travel restriction; because two journalists were detained at the time on allegations that they were trying to flee the country although they were there to cover the refugee situation. This overall culture of fear has been preventing many journalists from doing their jobs. … Journalists who try to carry on with their work despite the culture of fear, on the other hand, are being branded as ‘dissenting’ journalists, which is a wrong assessment.”


Arbitrary administrative decisions


Journalist Buse Söğütlü is currently standing trial on the charge of “marking a public official involved in the fight against terrorism as a target for terrorist organizations.” The accusation stems from a report and a social media post by Söğütlü on decisions rendered by Judge Akın Gürlek. Söğütlü said that administrative bodies implement arbitrary decisions citing rulings rendered by courts.


She explained: “I was detained in 2017 while covering a news story. After remaining in custody for three days, I was released under an international travel ban. Several weeks later, my passport was seized by the authorities due to the ban. Subsequently an indictment was issued, and I stood trial in connection with the incident. At the first hearing of that trial, the court lifted my travel ban. Accordingly, from that point on, there should be no grounds for my passport to be canceled. Earlier this year, in June, I was admitted to a journalism program abroad. So, I applied for a passport. But my request was denied on the grounds that I had a case pending before a high criminal court. But no judicial control measures have been imposed on me in my ongoing trial!”


“While the court did not rule for such a supervision measure, the Istanbul Police Department apparently decided that it had greater authority than the judiciary and prevented me from going abroad by withholding my passport. I am a journalist who is at the beginning stages of her career. This arbitrary decision prevented me from taking advantage of a professional training opportunity and experiencing journalism practices in a foreign country.”