Hasan Cemal appears in court for 2015 article; indictment seeks up to 15 years imprisonment for reporter Esra Solin Dal; jailed journalist İdris Yılmaz given 6-year prison term

Mezopotamya news agency (MA) reporter Esra Solin Dal is facing up to 15 years in prison on the charge of “membership in a terrorist group” in a recently issued indictment.

The indictment, accepted by the 10th High Criminal Court of Diyarbakır, comes on the heels of an investigation into the journalist on the allegation of “membership in the KCK/TM.” Dal was taken into custody in October during a sweeping operation targeting journalists and politicians across nine provinces as part of the investigation.

The indictment alleges that Dal “works for the Press Committee of the KCK” and accuses Dal of “anti-government journalism” and “making harsh accusations against the Turkish Armed Forces,” seeking up to 15 years in prison for the journalist.

Murat Aksoy released on probation 

Journalist Murat Aksoy, who was sent back to prison on 22 November to serve the remaining part of a sentence he was given in March after it was upheld by an appellate court in October, was released from prison on 4 January 2019, after spending a month and a half in a prison in Istanbul.

Aksoy will be subject to probation for the remaining part of the 2 year and 1 month sentence he was given on the charge of “knowingly and willingly aiding an armed terrorist organization while not being part of its hierarchical structure” at the end of a major media trial publicly known as the “FETÖ media trial.”

Ahmet Altan’s lawyer files daily petition with Constitutional Court 

The lawyer representing imprisoned novelist and journalist Ahmet Altan has launched a campaign in which she will be filing a petition with the Constitutional Court every day until the top court rules on Altan’s individual application, pending before the court since November 2016.

Altan’s lawyer Figen Çalıkuşu filed the first petition as part of the campaign on 4 January.

In the petition, Çalıkuşu stresses that her client has been deprived of his liberty for 846 days, and that Altan’s individual application, referred to the Constitutional Court’s Plenary on 4 July 2018, has been pending before the Plenary for the past six months.

A report about Çalıkuşu’s campaign for Ahmet Altan can be accessed here.

Court refuses to lift judicial control measures for Akpınar and Gezen

An Istanbul judgeship on 4 January rejected an objection filed by veteran actors Metin Akpınar and Müjdat Gezen for the lifting of the judicial control measures imposed on them.

Akpınar and Gezen were taken to the Istanbul Anadolu Courthouse on 24 December to give their statements as part of an investigation on account of their remarks during a recent talk show broadcasted on an opposition TV station. The judgeship they were referred to released both actors under judicial control measures in the form of reporting to the nearest police station every week and give their signature and a ban on traveling abroad.

The Istanbul Anadolu 4th Judgeship of Peace upheld the judicial control measures imposed by the 3rd Judgeship on Akpınar and Gezen.

Hasan Cemal appears before court for 2015 article

T24 columnist Hasan Cemal, the founding president of the P24 Platform for Independent Journalism, on 3 January appeared before an Istanbul court for the first hearing of a trial where he is accused of “disseminating propaganda for a terrorist organization” in an article he penned in December 2015.

Cemal’s lawyer Fikret İlkiz submitted to the 36th High Criminal Court of Istanbul a written statement in which he explained that in the said article, Cemal recounted his observations and the interviews he conducted in Silvan, a district of the southeastern province of Diyarbakır. Cemal had interviewed Gülsuma Güçer, Mehmet Ali Dünser and the then co-mayor of Silvan, Zuhal Tekiner, for his article. Tekiner, Dünser and Güçer stood trial before the 4th High Criminal Court of Diyarbakır on charges stemming from their remarks in Cemal’s article. Güçer and Tekiner were acquitted of the charges while Dünser’s file was separated. İlkiz said that since the defendants in the Diyarbakır case were acquitted of similar accusations Cemal should be acquitted too.

Hasan Cemal also addressed the court during the hearing, rejecting the accusation and requesting to be acquitted. 

Cemal said: “I wrote four books and thousands of columns and news stories about the Kurdish issue, and this article was one of them. It was a piece of writing that advocated peace and denounced death. This article is part of my journalistic activity and freedom of expression. Neither of these is a crime. I have never spread propaganda for any terrorist organization. I request to be acquitted of the charges in relation to this article, which falls within the limits of freedom of expression.”

Addressing the court after Cemal, his lawyer said that according to Turkey’s Press Law the statute of limitations for pressing charges against the article has expired and requested Cemal’s immediate acquittal.

The prosecution then requested that the court reject Cemal and his lawyer’s request for acquittal on the grounds that “a trial by court was required to legally determine whether or not the accusation against Cemal amounted to crime.” The prosecution also requested that the court demand court minutes and reasoned judgments of the trial overseen by the 4th High Criminal Court of Diyarbakır.

Issuing an interim ruling at the end of the hearing, the court rejected Cemal’s request for immediate acquittal and ruled to request the court minutes and reasoned judgments of the trial overseen by the 4th High Criminal Court of Diyarbakır and set 16 April 2019 as the date for the second hearing.

Jailed journalist İdris Yılmaz given 6-year prison sentence

A Turkish court overseeing a trial into jailed journalist İdris Yılmaz on 3 January convicted him of “membership in a terrorist organization,” handing down the journalist a prison sentence of 6 years and 3 months.

The 5th High Criminal Court of Van sentenced Yılmaz at the end of the second hearing of the case. The journalist’s lawyers requested in the previous hearing that Yılmaz be brought to the courtroom for the final hearing to make his defense statement, but their request was rejected by the court.

Addressing the trial court from the Elazığ No. 1 Maximum Security Prison via the courtroom video-conferencing system SEGBİS during the hearing, Yılmaz said that before being imprisoned, he received numerous threats for his reporting and that this case too targeted journalism.

Yılmaz’s defense statement was interrupted by the chief judge several times during the hearing. Additionally, due to technical problems with SEGBİS, Yılmaz’s statement could not be clearly heard in the courtroom.

In a statement to the Evrensel daily, Yılmaz’s lawyer Zelal Pelin Doğan said that they filed an individual application before the Constitutional Court on behalf of Yılmaz on 31 December, claiming that the journalist’s imprisonment violated his rights to liberty and security and a fair trial.

One more academic convicted for signing peace petition

One more academic who signed 2016’s Academics for Peace petition was convicted of “disseminating propaganda for a terrorist organization.” On 3 January, the 36th High Criminal Court of Istanbul gave the academic a prison sentence of 1 year and 3 months and deferred the sentence.

TV10 executives spend one year in jail without indictment

Veli Büyükşahin and Veli Haydar Güleç, two executives of the shuttered television station TV10 who were arrested and jailed pending trial in January 2018, have been behind bars for a year without an indictment.

TV10 Board Chairman Büyükşahin and programmer Güleç were jailed pending trial on the charge of “membership in a terrorist organization.” They were among 15 individuals arrested as part of an investigation launched in 2014 into the political academies under the now-defunct Peace and Democracy Party (BDP).

Members of the Pir Sultan Abdal Cultural Association (PSAKD) and relatives of those in detention on remand gathered in front of the Silivri Prison in Istanbul on 3 January to read out a press statement in which they called attention to the fact that no indictment has been drafted for a year. The group also read out messages sent by Büyükşahin, Güleç and TV10 camera operator Kemal Demir, who has been jailed as part of a separate file.

Academic Bülent Şık to appear in court for article series

Academic Bülent Şık, who is also a columnist for Bianet, will be standing trial for a series of articles he penned in April for the Cumhuriyet daily.

Şık’s article series was about carcinogenic pesticides found in agricultural products in Turkey.

The court case comes on the heels of an investigation into Şık that was launched upon a complaint filed by the Ministry of Health. The ministry claimed that Şık’s articles “revealed confidential information” and that he “obtained and disclosed classified information.”

The indictment, drafted by the anti-terror investigation bureau under the Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office, accuses Şık of “disclosing restricted information,” “procuring restricted information” and “disclosing confidential information obtained by virtue of duty.”

The indictment seeks up to 12 years imprisonment for Şık.

Free Journalists Initiative issues 2018 report 

The Free Journalists Initiative (ÖGİ) has announced its latest annual report of rights violations targeting journalists in Turkey.

The report was made public during a press conference on 2 January at the Diyarbakır branch of the Human Rights Association (İHD).

The report revealed that throughout 2018: 

141 journalists were taken into custody, 

64 journalists were jailed pending trial,

new court cases were launched against 71 journalists,

521 journalists stood trial,

121 journalists were given jail terms or fines,

2 television stations were fined,

access to the websites of 14 news agencies and newspapers was banned,

4 media companies were closed down,

1 newspaper and 1 printing press were appointed trustees by the government,

1 journalist was deported,

54 journalists were fired,

1 journalist was murdered,

42 journalists were freed from prison.

According to the list of journalists in prison as compiled by the initiative, 171 journalists are currently in prison, either in pre-trial detention or serving a sentence.

Objection to dismissed case against Evrensel columnist rejected

The Supreme Court of Appeals has rejected an appeal against the dismissal of a compensation case against Evrensel columnist Özcan Yaman, filed by Bilal Erdoğan — the son of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

An investigation was launched into Yaman on the allegation that he “insulted Bilal Erdoğan and violated the confidentiality of an investigation” in a column he penned on 4 April 2014. When no charges were filed at the end of the investigation, Bilal Erdoğan filed a compensation case against Yaman, seeking TL 50,000 in non-pecuniary damages. When that case was dismissed by the Istanbul 2nd Civil Court of First Instance, Erdoğan’s lawyer Ahmet Özel appealed the ruling before the Supreme Court of Appeals. Rendering its judgment concerning Özel’s November 2015 application, the 4th Civil Chamber of the Supreme Court of Appeals rejected the appeal in a majority decision and upheld the lower court’s decision.

18,000 individuals face legal action for social media posts in 2018

Turkey’s Interior Ministry issued a press statement in which it shared statistics about security operations conducted between 1 January 2018 and 31 December 2018.

According to the statement, published on 31 December on the ministry’s official website, some 42,406 social media accounts were subjected to scrutiny and 18,376 individuals faced legal action in 2018 for “terrorism propaganda, praising terrorist organizations, publicly declaring affiliation with terrorist organization, inciting the public to hatred and animosity, insulting state officials, targeting the unity of the state and public security, or for hate speech” on social media.

List of journalists and media workers in prison 

Following Murat Aksoy’s release on probation on 4 January 2019, at least 160 journalists and media workers are still in prison in Turkey, either in pre-trial detention or serving a sentence.

The full list can be accessed here.