Regulation bringing online broadcasting under RTÜK control goes into effect; academic Tuna Altınel released at first hearing

A regulation that gives Turkey’s radio and television watchdog RTÜK to supervise content streamed online formally went into effect on 1 August 2019, upon its publication in the Official Gazette.

The regulation, which raised concerns over possible censorship, makes it mandatory for online media content providers to obtain broadcasting licenses and permits from RTÜK, in return for significant sums. It also allows RTÜK to supervise content provided by them and introduce sanctions in case of non-compliance with broadcasting principles.

Streaming platforms like Netflix, local streaming platforms PuhuTV and BluTV will now be subject to RTÜK supervision and potential fines or loss of their license.

In addition to subscription services like Netflix, free online news outlets will also be subject to the same measures. Providers will be required to pay TL 10,000 to get a license to provide radio services while TV and subscription-based service providers will need to pay TL 100,000.

Yaman Akdeniz, a law professor, said access to the Netflix platform or to news outlets broadcasting from abroad could be blocked. Akdeniz also commented that media outlets such as Turkish services of the BBC or Deutsche Welle, which have emerged as sources of news not subject to government control over the past years, were possible intended targets of the regulation.

Kerem Altıparmak, a human rights lawyer, said the move was the “biggest step in Turkish censorship history” and said all outlets producing opposition news would be affected. “Everyone who produces alternative news and broadcasts will be impacted by this regulation,” Altıparmak wrote on Twitter. “Every news report that can be against the government will be taken under control.”

T24, Diken face terrorism investigation

The Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office launched an investigation against a group of media outlets, including independent news websites T24 and Diken, on the charge of “supporting a terrorist group without being its member” for reporting nearly five years ago on Twitter posts of an anonymous account called Fuat Avni.

T24 reported that the investigation was subject to a confidentiality order and that it was not clear what media outlets other than T24 and Diken were involved. It said editors and executives of T24 who worked there in 2014-2016 were summoned by the Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office to give statements as part of the investigation.

Those summoned were asked questions on why they reported on Fuat Avni tweets, who prepared the reports and whether they had received any instructions to report on the tweets.

Fuat Avni account, which has since been deactivated, shared alleged secret information on dealings of then Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and other government members.

Academic Tuna Altınel released at first hearing

Academic Tuna Altınel, who was behind bars since May in connection with an event he attended in France, was released at the end of first hearing in his trial on “terrorism” charges on 30 July 2019.

The Balıkesir 2nd High Criminal Court ruled for Altınel to be released without any judicial control measures to be imposed on him. The court panel also decided for Altınel to be held exempt from appearing in court for the next hearings. The next hearing of the trial will be on 19 November.

A detailed report on the hearing, followed by P24 and a large group of academics, rights defenders, deputies and French Consul General in Istanbul, can be read here.

Court on duty revokes decision to “forcibly bring” Mehmet Altan to hearing

The panel on duty of the Istanbul 26th High Criminal Court revoked, in an interim decision issued on 24 July 2019, an earlier decision of the same court to forcibly bring journalist and academic Mehmet Altan to the first hearing in his re-trial scheduled for 8 October 2019.

Mehmet Altan and five others, including his brother Ahmet Altan and journalist Nazlı Ilıcak, were each sentenced in February 2018 to aggravated life imprisonment for “attempting to overthrow the government.” However, the 16th Criminal Chamber of the Supreme Court of Appeals overturned the sentence, saying Mehmet Altan must have been acquitted.

In its decision for a re-trial that was issued on 19 July, the Istanbul 26th High Criminal Court ruled for Mehmet Altan, who was released in 2018 after the Constitutional Court found his pre-trial detention to be a violation of his rights, to be forcibly brought to the first hearing of the re-trial and for defendants Ahmet Altan, Nazlı Ilıcak, Fevzi Yazıcı, Şükrü Tuğrul Özşengül and Yakup Şimşek to remain imprisoned.

Altans’ lawyer Figen Albuga Çalıkuşu objected to the court’s decision saying there was no legal ground justifying an order to forcibly bring Mehmet Altan to the court. She also filed a formal complaint with the Council of Judges and Prosecutors (HSK) against the court panel of the Istanbul 26th High Criminal Court, saying they “failed to comply with principles of fair trial” and that the latest decision “proved once again that the court has lost its impartiality.”

New court panel assigned to Gezi trial 

The Council of Judges and Prosecutors (HSK) appointed the chief judge and three other members of a court panel that oversaw trial of businessman Osman Kavala and 15 others in the Gezi Park trial to a newly created panel.

In a circular dated 29 July, the HSK said the Istanbul 30th High Criminal Court would now operate as a two-panel court and specified that the first panel would be in charge of the Gezi trial. Its former chief judge, Mahmut Başbuğ, who voted for Kavala’s release would be assigned to the second panel, along with three other judges. Senior judge Ahmet Tarık Çiftçioğlu, who voted for continued detention for both Kavala and Yiğit Aksakoğlu, the second imprisoned defendant in the case who was released at the end of the first hearing in June, remained on the first panel.

Kavala remains imprisoned in the trial, where he and 15 others are charged with “attempting to overthrow the government” over the Gezi Park protests of 2013. The next hearing in the case will be held on 8-9 October.

Solidarity event for Eren Erdem banned

Local authorities in Silivri banned on 2 August a planned event in front of the Silivri Prison Complex, where former opposition CHP deputy and editor-in-chief of the shuttered Karşı newspaper Eren Erdem is held.

The event, which included the organizers reading a press statement, was meant to express solidarity with Erdem on the 400th day of his imprisonment on “terrorism” charges. CHP deputy Barış Yarkadaş said the event had been banned under orders from the Silivri District Governor’s Office. “The District Governor’s Office bans people and vehicles from approaching the prison complex with an illegitimate decision. Hundreds of people are kept waiting on the road to the prison,” he wrote on Twitter.

The notice from the District Governor’s Office that imposed the ban said the planned demonstration and the press statement could get spiral out of control “due to the recent terrorist incidents.”

List of journalists and media workers in prison

As of 2 August 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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