Gökhan Öner released from pretrial detention; 315 journos in Turkey face thousands of years in prison, latest BIA Media Monitoring Report finds
Jailed journalist Gökhan Öner, a former reporter for the now shuttered Dicle news agency (DİHA), was released from pretrial detention on 26 July at the first hearing of his trial.
Öner, who was arrested on 28 April during a police raid on his home in Denizli, was jailed in early May on “terrorism propaganda” charges.
Öner gave his defense statement during the first hearing at the 2nd High Criminal Court of Denizli. He told the court that he worked as a reporter for DİHA for three years. Rejecting the accusations, Öner said none of his news reports had the aim of praising any organization.
Öner also said that DİHA had been founded in 2002 and that the agency had not faced any investigations before its closure by an emergency decree.
Adding that he was being prosecuted based on false allegations, Öner requested his release and his acquittal. His co-defendants Mehmet Diler, Erol Beler, Muhlis Kayar and Eyyüp Hansu also rejected the accusations and requested their acquittal.
The prosecutor demanded that Öner be remanded in custody due to the nature of the accusations.
In its interim ruling at the end of the hearing the court ruled for Öner’s release under judicial control measures pending the conclusion of the trial considering the time he had spent in pretrial detention and adjourned the case until 3 March 2019.
MA reporter Ergin Çağlar briefly detained
Engin Çağlar, a reporter for the Mezopotamya news agency (MA), was taken into custody on 24 July during a checkpoint control as he was traveling from Maraş to Adana. Çağlar was arrested on grounds of a search warrant. Çağlar was referred to the local courthouse following his interrogation at the local gendarmerie station and was released by the prosecutor following his statement.
Journalist Mehmet Dursun faces up to 15 years in prison
Jailed journalist Mehmet Dursun is facing up to 15 years of imprisonment on terrorism-related charges in the indictment against him, according to the ANF Turkish news portal.
Dursun was arrested at the Van Police Department, where he was summoned to give his statement. On 6 April, he was brought before a court in Van, which jailed the journalist pending trial on the charge of “conducting propaganda for a terrorist organization.”
ANF reported on 23 July that Dursun’s news reports, his written communication with his sources and his reporting via telephone were cited as grounds for the allegations in the indictment.
Issued by the Van Public Prosecutor’s Office, the indictment accuses Dursun of pro-PKK/KCK news coverage and bills the Dicle news agency as “the news agency of the organization.”
State broadcaster TRT placed under Presidency
The Turkish state broadcaster TRT has been placed under the Presidency through a new circular published in the 24 July issue of the Official Gazette.
According to the circular issued by the Presidency, TRT will now be subordinate to the Directorate of Communications under the Presidency. The same circular also placed the country’s broadcasting watchdog RTÜK under the Ministry of Culture and Tourism.
Jailed journalist Seda Taşkın says tap water in prison subject to quota
Seda Taşkın, a reporter for the Mezopotamya news agency, who has been in pretrial detention in the Sincan Prison in Ankara since late January, says the prison management introduced a quota on tap water.
In a recent letter recounting prison conditions, Taşkın wrote that the restriction, in place for the past two months, has been causing difficulty in maintaining their basic, day-to-day personal hygiene needs. She also wrote that tap water was not clean, was discolored and had odor. The restriction and the poor water quality have been causing various health problems among inmates, Taşkın wrote.
Taşkın also wrote that some sick inmates who needed to be transferred to hospitals faced rights violations during the process.
BIA Media Monitoring Report: 315 journos standing trial in Turkey
A total of 315 journalists have stood trial in various criminal cases and compensation cases in the past three months in Turkey, facing a total of 47 aggravated life sentences, one life sentence, a combined prison term of 3,034 years and six months, and a combined fine of over TL 4 million in pecuniary or non-pecuniary damages.
The figures were compiled in the BIA Media Monitoring 2018 2nd Quarter Report, issued mid-July.
The report said that a total of 127 journalists were in prison as of 1 July 2018. Among them, 24 journalists were under a sentence, 33 were in pretrial detention as part of ongoing cases, while 40 were still under investigation. The files of 30 of the jailed journalists were before appeal courts, the report added.
Turkish courts heard 33 journalist trials during the past three months and handed down two aggravated life sentences and 137 years, 2 months and 19 days in prison combined. Charges for the sentences included “coup,” “propaganda,” “membership in terrorist group,” “insulting state organs and institutions” and “insulting the president,” among others.
The report said during the months of April, May and June a total of 24 journalists and/or media executives were standing trial on “coup” charges, facing a total of 47 aggravated life sentences combined. Two journalists among them [Mustafa Ünal and Mümtazer Türköne] were handed down aggravated life sentences [as part of the Zaman trial].
The report also said that over the same period, 69 other journalists and media workers stood trial for “conducting propaganda for a terrorist organization,” facing 508 years in prison combined. Among them, seven were sentenced to a combined prison term of 28 years, 8 months and 14 days, while 5 were acquitted. Eight of the trials were in preliminary stage.
Nine other journalists standing trial for “espionage” or “disclosing confidential information relating to the security of the state” were facing one aggravated life sentence and 402 years imprisonment combined over the period covered in the report.
A total of 32 journalists were standing trial on “insult” charges, facing 77 years 4 months of imprisonment in total, over the report period. Among them, four were handed down a combined prison term of 1 year, 10 months and 5 days. Seven journalists were facing compensation cases during the same period, facing a combined fine of TL 4,040,000 in pecuniary and non-pecuniary damages. Two of those cases were rejected by trial courts.
Sixteen journalists among those facing “insult” charges stood trial for critical comments about the president. The combined prison term sought for all 16 was 74 years and 8 months. Two among them, Ahmet Altan and Faruk Arhan, were acquitted. Six other journalists — Selma Erdal, Alican Uludağ, Ahmet Şık, Fatih Polat, Kutlu Esendemir and Levent Gültekin — were under investigation for “insulting the president.”
Other freedom of expression cases of the past week
- Two lawyers representing the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) filed a lawsuit against People’s Democratic Party (HDP) İstanbul MP Ahmet Şık this week for his remarks during his address to the general assembly on 23 July. The AKP is seeking TL 100,000 in non-pecuniary damages in the case on the allegation that Şık’s speech included defamatory remarks about the AKP.
- The reasoned judgment for an appellate court ruling on July 12, which found actress and singer Zuhal Olcay guilty of “insulting the president,” was issued. The judgment said that Olcay changed the lyrics of a song during a live onstage performance to make the song about President Erdoğan and as she was doing so, she insulted the president with a gesture. Olcay was handed down a prison sentence of 11 months and 20 days, deferred by 1.5 years.
- An Istanbul court on 27 July jailed an individual named Turgay İnce for his social media posts critical of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Odatv reported that İnce was arrested as a result of one lawyer’s complaint. İnce appeared before an Istanbul court on Friday, which jailed the man pending trial.
- An Ankara court on 22 July jailed a woman named Safiye İnci pending trial for her comments about Turkey’s founder Mustafa Kemal Atatürk in a video she had shot in Anıtkabir. İnci’s comments in the video had sparked public outrage on social media. The Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office launched an investigation into the woman, who was shortly arrested and jailed for violating the Law on Offences Committed Against Atatürk. İnci was placed in the Sincan Prison.
List of journalists and media workers in prison
Following DİHA reporter Gökhan Öner’s release, there are at least 177 journalists and media workers in Turkey’s prisons, either in pretrial detention or serving a sentence.
The full list can be accessed here.