Journalists Murat Güreş, Hamza Gündüz given jail terms for social media posts; Professor Şebnem Korur Fincancı sentenced to 2.5 years in prison for signing peace petition

Gaziantep-based journalist Murat Güreş on 21 December was convicted of “insulting a public official” in one of his posts on social media.

The 21st Criminal Court of First Instance of Gaziantep imposed on Güreş a prison sentence of 1 year, 2 months and 17 days.

The court initially gave Güreş a 1 year prison term for “insulting a public official.” The punishment was then increased to 1 year 5 months and 15 days on the grounds that the offense “was committed publicly” and “targeted more than one individual.” The court then reduced Güreş’s sentence to 1 year 2 months and 17 days for his “good behavior in the courtroom.”

Güreş’s sentence was not suspended because “he did not show remorse.” The court also ruled that Güreş’s sentence would not be deferred based on his “previous criminal record” and “the fact that he committed an offense during his probation period.”

Hakan Gülseven sent to prison over unpaid fine

Journalist Hakan Gülseven was jailed on 20 December and sent to the Maltepe Prison in Istanbul in relation to unpaid fines he was given in four compensation lawsuits from the time when he was the responsible managing editor of the daily Yurt.

Gülseven’s lawyer Onur Güneş explained that the newspaper had been ordered to pay a sum of TL 31,500 in damages in all four “libel” cases. The charge in one of the four cases was “insulting the president.” The lawyer said Gülseven would have to remain behind bars for around 4 years and 5 months to pay off the total amount of unpaid compensation.

Gülseven was freed from prison on 21 December after Yurt’s publisher paid the overdue fines.

Ahmet Altan trial postponed until March

One of numerous trials against imprisoned novelist and journalist Ahmet Altan on the charge of “insulting the president” that was set for December 20 in an Istanbul court was postponed because the judge was on leave.

The 30th Criminal Court of First Instance of Istanbul will be hearing the case on 19 March 2019.

The accusation stems from an article by Altan titled “The New Ergenekon,” published on 8 May 2016 on P24’s website.

Cumhuriyet reporter faces investigation for news story

The Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office launched an investigation against Seyhan Avşar, a reporter for the daily Cumhuriyet, for a news story she penned for the newspaper.

Avşar gave her statement at the Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office on 20 December in response to the allegation that she “made a public officer a target for terrorist groups” in her reporting. Avşar denied the allegation, saying that her news story was within the limits of freedom of the press.

İhsan Eliaçık arrested on “insulting the president” allegation

Theologian and author İhsan Eliaçık was arrested on 20 December at the Istanbul Courthouse. Eliaçık had gone to the courthouse to give his statement as part of an investigation.

Eliaçık was arrested on the grounds of an arrest warrant issued as part of an investigation launched in the southeastern province of Batman. However, Eliaçık is currently subject to judicial control in the form of a travel ban prohibiting him from leaving Istanbul.

The news portal Diken.com.tr reported that the allegation in the investigation in Batman was “insulting the president.”

Eliaçık was released on 21 December after giving his statement.

Trial into Özgür Gündem editors and Hatip Dicle adjourned until February

A trial in which journalists Hüseyin Aykol, Zana Kaya and İnan Kızılkaya, former co-editors-in-chief and managing editor of the shuttered daily Özgür Gündem, and Kurdish politician Hatip Dicle stand accused for news stories and articles published in Özgür Gündem resumed on 20 December in Istanbul.

The 2nd Criminal Court of First Instance adjourned the trial until 21 February 2019.

The trial is based on several indictments issued by the press desk of the Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office, which were merged by the trial court into the ongoing case. Aykol faced 10 indictments and Kızılkaya faced 14. The four defendants are accused of “publicly degrading the government, the judiciary or the police force” and “publicly degrading the Turkish nation, the Turkish Republic and the Parliament.”

Cumhuriyet reporters stand trial, columnist given prison sentence

Reporters and columnists of the Cumhuriyet daily appeared in an Istanbul court for various trials this week.

The trial into reporter Alican Uludağ and former Cumhuriyet reporter Duygu Güvenç on the charge of “publicly degrading the judiciary” got underway on 20 December at the 2nd Criminal Court of First Instance of Istanbul. Uludağ and Güvenç are accused on account of their reporting about the US pastor Andrew Brunson. Uludağ was in attendance at the first hearing to make his defense statement. He told the court that his story was an exercising of his right to freedom of expression. Following the completion of the defense statements, the court adjourned the trial until 4 April 2019.

Cumhuriyet columnist Işıl Özgentürk also appeared before the 2nd Criminal Court of First Instance of Istanbul this week for accusations stemming from two of her columns. The court handed down Özgentürk a prison sentence of 5 months on the charge of “publicly insulting religious values held by a segment of the society.” The sentence was suspended.

Also resuming this week was a trial where Cumhuriyet reporter Hakan Dirik and BirGün’s Erk Acarer stand accused of “libel” for their coverage of allegations that Turkey delivered material used in chemical weapons to jihadists in Syria. The case was launched upon a complaint by the former Justice Minister Bekir Bozdağ.

Dirik and his lawyer Ülkü Çetok were in attendance at the fourth hearing on 20 December. Çetok told the court that the news story was based on allegations made public by the currently imprisoned former main opposition CHP MP Eren Erdem and requested that the court hear Erdem as a witness.

The court ruled to send the CD containing a recording of Erdem’s press conference concerning the allegations to an expert for a printout of the digital recording and to reconsider hearing Erdem as a witness afterwards. The court adjourned the trial ıuntil March 2019.

Deniz Yücel trial adjourned until April

The trial of German Die Welt newspaper’s former Turkey correspondent Deniz Yücel resumed on 20 December in Istanbul.

Yücel, who remained in pre-trial detention in the Silivri Prison for a year as part of this case, is accused of “disseminating propaganda for a terrorist organization” and “inciting the public to hatred and animosity” in his newspaper articles.

Yücel, who returned to Germany after being released from detention in February, was not in attendance at this week’s hearing. In its interim ruling at the end of the hearing, the 32nd High Criminal Court of Istanbul ruled to wait for Yücel’s defense statement to be taken in Germany and adjourned the trial until 11 April 2019.

Professor given 2-and-a-half-year jail term for signing peace petition

Professor Şebnem Korur Fincancı, the president of the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey (TİHV) and one of the signatories of 2016’s Academics for Peace petition, was convicted by an Istanbul court on 19 December of the charge of “disseminating propaganda for a terrorist organization” for signing the petition.

The 37th High Criminal Court of Istanbul imposed on Fincancı a prison term of “1 year and 18 months” on the grounds that “the petition that is the grounds for the accusation was publicized through the press.”

The court ruled to not reduce Fincanı’s sentence on the grounds that “she did not show remorse” and because of her “behavior in the courtroom.”

The verdict is now headed to the Regional Court of Justice for the appeal process.

On 18 December, Gülçin Karabağ, another academic who was among the signatories of the petition, was also sentenced to 15 months in prison on the “propaganda” charge. The 28th High Criminal Court of Istanbul deferred Karabağ’s sentence.

Hamza Gündüz handed down prison term on “propaganda” charge 

A court in Hakkari on 18 December convicted Hamza Gündüz, a Hakkari-based reporter for the Mezopotamya news agency (MA), of “disseminating propaganda for a terrorist organization.”

The accusation stemmed from the news stories and news photography Gündüz had shared on social media.

The journalist addressed the 3rd High Criminal Court of Hakkari for his defense statement during the final hearing, saying his social media posts should be deemed part of his right to freedom of expression. Gündüz requested for his acquittal. Announcing its verdict at the end of the hearing, the court sentenced Gündüz to 1 year and 8 months in prison and deferred the sentence for five years.

Journalism student Berivan Bila freed from pre-trial detention

Berivan Bila, a journalism student from the Karadeniz Technical University (KTÜ), who was jailed pending trial on 7 December on the charge of “insulting the president,” was released on 17 December. Bila was arrested and sent to the Trabzon Prison because of an article she wrote in 2017. She was released after her lawyers objected to her detention on remand.

Oktay Candemir briefly detained over “insult”  allegation

Journalist Oktay Candemir was taken into custody on 17 December at the Van Police Department, where he reported in order to give his statement as part of an investigation. Candemir was detained on the grounds of a complaint alleging that he “insulted a public official.” The journalist was released later in the day after giving his statement.

List of journalists and media workers in prison 

As of 21 December 2018, at least 169 journalists and media workers are in prison in Turkey, either in pre-trial detention or serving a sentence. 

The full list can be accessed here.