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.

Öznur Değer

Öznur Değer

JinNews reporter Öznur Değer has faced various investigations due to her reporting. Değer, who was detained in October 2022 on suspicion of “membership of a terrorist organization” as part of house raids carried out by the police across nine provinces under an investigation by the Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office was released pending trial at her first hearing on 16 May 2023 after having spent seven months in prison.

Investigation for “inciting the people to hatred and enmity”

The Mardin Kızıltepe Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office launched an investigation against JinNews reporter Değer on suspicion of “inciting the people to hatred and enmity.” Değer found out about the investigation when she was called in to give a statement on 1 September 2021. During the interrogation, Değer was asked about her social media posts concerning the racist attack on the Dedeoğulları family in the Meram district of Konya on 30 July 2021. Among the posts subject to the allegations were some news items by Değer published by JinNews. The investigation is still underway.

Investigation on “terrorism propaganda” allegation

The Mardin Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office started another investigation against Değer on suspicion of “terrorism propaganda.” Değer learned about the investigation when she was called in to provide a statement to the prosecutor’s office on 20 July 2022. Değer was asked about photos she had taken for news coverage and shared on her personal social media account during her statement at the Counter-Terrorism Branch of the Kızıltepe District Police Department. Among these photos were those taken from the 6th General Congress of the Democratic Regions Party (DBP) held in Ankara on 27 February 2022 and photos from the Newroz celebrations in the Erciş district of Van on 21 March 2022.

Concluding that the elements of the crime were not present in Değer’s posts, the prosecutor in charge of the investigation dropped the charges against Değer.

"Violating the Law on Meetings and Demonstrations" charge 

JinNews reporter Değer was violently detained by the police as she was trying to cover a demonstration planned to be staged by the Ankara Labor and Democracy Forces outside the Çankaya City Hall in Ankara on 28 November 2021 to protest against the rising cost of living. Değer was detained as she was taking photos of the police intervention against the demonstrators. Değer was taken to the Ankara Police Department. Her camera was confiscated. The journalist was released after giving her statement.

The Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office filed an indictment on 19 December 2022 against Değer and 23 others who were detained that day on charges of “violating the Law on Meetings and Demonstrations” and “resisting law enforcement to prevent fulfillment of duty.”

The prosecutor who drafted the indictment argued that Değer had displayed her press ID card issued by JinNews but emphasized that she did not have a press card issued by the Directorate of Communications of the Presidency. The prosecutor claimed that “during the demonstration [Değer] had insisted on not leaving despite the warnings and intervention of law enforcement officers instead of practicing her profession and had engaged in actions against law enforcement officers unbefitting the journalism profession.” While the prosecutor included Değer’s statement that although the police knew she was a journalist and nevertheless willfully detained her after subjecting her to physical violence, the prosecutor did not credit the statement and requested sentencing for both crimes for all 24 defendants, including Değer.

The trial of Değer and 23 other defendants began at the Ankara 18th Criminal Court of First Instance on 8 May 2023.

Değer, who was jailed on 29 October 2022 as part of another investigation, was brought to the hearing under gendarmerie guard from the Sincan Closed Women’s Prison. The court ruled to issue a writ to the Ankara Police Department to identify whether law enforcement had issued a warning before their intervention from recorded images and to request video recordings.

The next hearing of the trial is scheduled for 27 May 2024.

“Membership of a terrorist organization” trial

Değer was one of the 14 journalists whose capture and detention on suspicion of “membership of a terrorist organization” was ordered on 20 October 2022 under an investigation launched by the Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office. In addition to Değer, journalists Diren Yurtsever, Deniz Nazlım, Berivan Altan, Zemo Ağgöz, Selman Güzelyüz, Habibe Eren, Hakan Yalçın, Emrullah Acar, Ceylan Şahinli and former MA intern Mehmet Günhan were arrested in simultaneous home raids carried out in nine cities early on 25 October 2022.

The 10 journalists other than Ağgöz, who was released under house arrest on 26 October 2022, were referred to a magistrate by the prosecutor who sought nine journalists’ imprisonment pending trial on the charge of “membership of an organization” with the exception of Mehmet Günhan, whose release under judicial control measures was requested. The Ankara 8th Criminal Judgeship of Peace issued an order for the imprisonment of the nine journalists, including Değer, on 29 October 2022 on grounds of “strong suspicion” that they had committed the crime of “membership of a terrorist organization.”

On 8 February 2023, the Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office filed an indictment against the 11 detained journalists on the charge of “membership of an armed terrorist organization.”

The prosecutor completed the indictment on the 102nd day of remand of the arrested journalists and presented statements by secret and open witnesses, the organizations where journalists worked, the publishing policy of these organizations, 129 news items published by the MA and Fırat News Agency (ANF), the language employed in the news items, posts on journalists’ accounts or accounts which allegedly belonged to them, documents including books and magazines that were allegedly banned which were confiscated during home raids, events journalists had attended for reporting, phone conversations they had with colleagues and news sources and financial reports obtained from the Financial Crimes Investigation Board (MASAK) as evidence of the charges brought against the journalists.

The prosecutor who prepared the indictment often referred to the journalists as “so-called journalists/reporters” and MA and JinNews which employed the journalists as “so-called news agencies” at many points in the indictment.

Only two-and-a-half pages of the 210-page long indictment was allocated to Değer. Following a copied and pasted section which consisted of Değer’s statement to the prosecutor’s office, the indictment listed the statements by secret witness K8Ç4B3L1T5 concerning Değer. The prosecutor who prepared the indictment used the expression “Has money transfer relations with other individuals active in Jen News, there is no bank account under the suspect’s name, there is no Social Security record, there is information concerning several flights, that there are money transfer relations between the relatives of the suspect and other suspects in the investigation file and like other suspects she is mindful of the organization’s rules for secrecy” based on the MASAK report.

The social media posts featured in the investigation against Değer by the Kızıltepe Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office on suspicion of “inciting the people to hatred and enmity” were also presented as elements of crime in the indictment.

The prosecutor preparing the indictment interpreted the phone conversation between Değer and her colleague Zemo Ağgöz about the racist attacks targeting Syrians living in the Altındağ district of Ankara as “provoking the Syrians” and presented the “banned” publications allegedly confiscated from Değer’s home as elements of crime.

The trial of the journalists began at the Ankara 4th Criminal Court of First Instance on 16 May 2023. Değer, other defendant journalists and Hamdullah Bayram, whose case file was merged with the case in between hearings, were present in the courtroom.

Değer delivered her defense statement in Kurdish and stated that she had been subjected to physical violence and torture during her detention. Değer underlined that she was held in a cell throughout her detention and was not taken to hospital and despite this the case file contained a report identifying “no marks of assault”; and pointed out the missing and false information in the indictment. Değer said that even the name of the news agency she worked for had been incorrectly written in the indictment and that the confiscation report prepared by the Counter-Terrorism Branch of the Kızıltepe District Directorate of Security, which had carried out the raid on her home, only listed her phone as confiscated material. 

Announcing its interim orders at the end of the hearing, the panel of judges ruled to release the nine journalists, including Değer, under judicial control measures consisting of an obligation to sign their name and a ban on traveling abroad.

The second hearing of the trial was held on 5 July 2023. P24 monitored the hearing, where Değer did not attend. Deniz Nazlım, Selman Güzelyüz, Mehmet Günhan, Hakan Yalçın and Zemo Ağgöz were present. Secret witness K8Ç4B3L1T5, who testified at the hearing, stated he had worked for the Kurdish press on behalf of the state. The secret witness repeated information about journalists on trial that were publicly available on open sources.

The third hearing of the trial was held on 26 October 2023. Witness Hüseyin Durudeniz was heard at the hearing, which defendants Deniz Nazlım and Hakan Yalçın attended. Durudeniz, who attended the hearing from the prison where he was serving a sentence for “membership of an organization” through the Audio and Visual Informatics System (SEGBİS) stated that he did not know whether the agencies which the indictment claimed “were acting according to instructions from the terrorist organization” were connected with the organization. Durudeniz said that he was made to sign his statement at the police station some time after providing it, also said that he did not know the real names of the journalists.

The court issued an order for open witness Özgür Baran, who had not attended the hearing, to be brought in by force. The court also ruled to issue a writ to the directorate of security for open witness Durudeniz to identify the journalists and rejected the request for the return of the digital equipment belonging to journalists. The next hearing of the trial is scheduled for 18 January 2024.

Değer faces investigation after being prevented from reporting

On 28 May 2023, Değer was targeted and prevented from obtaining images by a bodyguard and a consultant of AKP MP Faruk Kılıç, at the Sıtkı Türkoğlu Primary School in the Kızıltepe district of Mardin, where she had gone to cover the second round of voting in the presidential election.

Değer, who was accosted physically and threatened, went to the Kızıltepe Police Department to file a complaint. There, Değer was questioned on suspicion of “insulting a public official due to his/her duty,” “violation of privacy” and “illegally obtaining or disseminating personal data” and her phone was confiscated upon Faruk Kılıç’s request.

The Kızıltepe Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office launched an investigation against Değer on suspicion of “resisting to prevent fulfillment of duty,” “insult” and “illegally obtaining or disseminating personal data.” The prosecutor’s office completed its investigation almost four months later and decided not to prosecute on the grounds that there was no tangible or credible evidence that would support the allegations against Değer.