Top court rules that convictions against academics violate freedom of expression; latest BİA Media Monitoring Report finds that 213 journalists stood trial, 14 taken into custody during the 2nd quarter of 2019

The Plenary of the Constitutional Court ruled on 26 July 2019 that the convictions against 10 academics who were handed down prison sentences for signing 2016’s Academics for Peace petition violated their rights to freedom of expression. Professor Füsun Üstel, who was released from prison earlier this week under a stay of execution order, was among the 10 applicants.

The top court rendered its judgment through a majority vote of nine votes in favor versus eight votes against. The judges who voted in favor included the president of the Constitutional Court, Zühtü Arslan. The top court also ordered a retrial in all 10 applications and ruled that the government pay TL 9,000 in non-pecuniary damages to each of the applicants.

A report about the top court’s ruling can be accessed here.

213 media professionals stand trial in 2nd quarter of 2019

The latest edition of the BİA Media Monitoring Report, covering the second quarter of 2019, has found that 213 journalists stood trial and 14 journalists were taken into custody during the reporting period.

The report is issued once every three months by Erol Önderoğlu, the Turkey representative of Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

Some 197 media representatives faced 10 aggravated life sentences and 2,362 years in prison in total during the reporting period. The report said that during the second quarter of 2019, 10 journalists and/or media representatives stood trial on the charge of “disrupting the unity of the state,” facing 10 aggravated life imprisonment sentences, while eight others faced a combined prison sentence of 450 years on the charges of “espionage” or “obtaining and/or publishing classified government information.”

A total of 88 journalists faced a combined prison term of 1,341 years on terrorism-related charges such as “leading a terrorist group,” “membership in a terrorist group,” “aiding a terrorist group without being its member” in the reporting period. Four of them whose trials have concluded were handed down a combined prison sentence of 13 years 1 month and 15 days. Seventy media professionals stood trial on “propaganda” and other similar charges during the reporting period, facing a combined prison term of 493 years. In the trials that concluded, 20 of the defendants were handed down sentences. They were given a combined prison sentence of 32 years, 9 months and 2 days, and TL3,600 in judicial fine.

The report also highlighted that during the second quarter 10 journalists were targeted by assailants and three among them almost died.

Altans’ lawyer objects to court order to forcibly bring Mehmet Altan to retrial

Figen Albuga Çalıkuşu, the lawyer representing Ahmet Altan and Mehmet Altan, has filed two new petitions with the 26th High Criminal Court of Istanbul and the next court of first instance this week, objecting to last week’s interim rulings by the 26th High Criminal Court, which ordered the continuation of Ahmet Altan’s detention on remand and ruled for Mehmet Altan to be “forcibly brought” to the retrial in October.

After the Supreme Court of Appeals overturned the aggravated life imprisonment sentences against six defendants including Ahmet Altan, Mehmet Altan and Nazlı Ilıcak in the “coup” case, the 26th High Criminal Court of Istanbul ruled for the five imprisoned defendants to remain in detention on remand and for Mehmet Altan, who was released last summer by a decision of the appellate court, based on the Constitutional Court’s ruling, to be “forcibly brought” to the first hearing in the retrial, which is set for 8 October 2019.

Çalıkuşu said the ruling was “in violation of the right to a fair trial” and that this way, the court “has proven once again that it has lost its impartiality.” More details can be found here.

Professor Füsun Üstel released from prison

Professor Füsun Üstel, the first academic to be imprisoned for signing 2016’s Academics for Peace petition, was released on 22 July 2019 after spending 75 days behind bars. Üstel was imprisoned on 8 May 2019 to serve a 15-month sentence she had been given by the 32nd High Criminal Court of Istanbul on the charge of “disseminating propaganda for a terrorist group” for being among the signatories of the Academic for Peace petition. Üstel was released based on the stay of execution ordered by the 33rd High Criminal Court of Istanbul.

Actor faces investigation over social media post

An investigation has been launched against actor Mehmet Akif Alakurt over a social media post he shared. The investigation was launched upon a tip-off. A report about Alakurt drafted as part of the investigation by the cyber crimes unit of the Istanbul Police Department claimed that Alakurt’s post “publicly denigrated the sovereignty of the state.”

Lawyer jailed pending trial for “insulting the president”

Mehmet Demirlek, a lawyer in the Aegean province of Manisa, has been jailed pending trial on the charge of “insulting the president” on account of his social media posts. An investigation was launched against Demirlek after AKP Turgutlu district executives filed a complaint about the lawyer, claiming that he insulted President Erdoğan on Facebook. Demirlek, who was summoned to the local courthouse to give his statement as part of the investigation, was initially referred to a court for arrest. The court released Demirlek under judicial control measures, pending trial. However, the prosecutor objected to his release and Demirlek was arrested the same night and jailed pending trial by the court on duty.

List of journalists and media workers in prison

As of 26 July 2019, at least 138 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.

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