Expression Interrupted

Journalists and academics bear the brunt of the massive crackdown on freedom of expression in Turkey. Scores of them are currently subject to criminal investigations or behind bars. This website is dedicated to tracking the legal process against them.

Freedom of Expression and the Press in Turkey – 222

Freedom of Expression and the Press in Turkey – 222

Seven defendants in Sözcü trial convicted of “aiding a terrorist group”; Osman Kavala ordered to remain behind bars despite European Court judgment 


Seven defendants in Sözcü trial convicted of “aiding terrorist group”

The final hearing in the “Sözcü trial,” where nine staff members of the daily, including its publisher, editor-in-chief and two columnists, were charged with “aiding a terrorist organization without being its member” was held on 27 December 2019 at the 37th High Criminal Court of Istanbul.

Issuing its verdict at the end of the 11th hearing, the court convicted seven of the defendants as charged, handing down prison sentences between 2 years and 1 month and 3 years, 6 months and 15 days. The court ruled to separate the file against publisher Burak Akbay.

A report about the hearing can be accessed here.

Constitutional Court rules Wikipedia ban violates freedom of expression

The Plenary of the Constitutional Court ruled on 26 December 2019 that the access ban on Wikipedia, which had been in place since April 2017, violated freedom of expression. The Plenary ruled by a majority vote of 6 to 10 that the Criminal Judgeship of Peace which issued the access ban revoke its order to eliminate the violation.

Judicial control measures imposed on Haydar Ergül partially lifted

The 10th hearing of a trial where Haydar Ergül, the editor of the Demokratik Modernite magazine, and 18 other defendants stand accused of “membership in a terrorist group” took place on 26 December 2019 at the 22nd High Criminal Court of Istanbul. Members and administrators from the political parties HDP and DBP are among Ergül’s co-defendants in the case.

P24 monitored the hearing, where Ergül did not attend. Defendants Abdullah Geldi, Eşref Yaşar, Ahmet Sağınç, Şirin Akyol, Ercan Doğru, Mevlüt Aykoç and Münevver İlingi were present in the courtroom. 

Ergül’s lawyer Özcan Kılıç presented his client’s medical reports to the court, asking the panel to lift the judicial control measure imposed on Ergül in the form of reporting to a police station in Yalova once a month to give his signature. He and other defense lawyers also asked the court to grant their clients exemption from attending courtroom hearings.

Issuing an interim decision at the end of the hearing, the court ruled to grant the defendants exemption from attending hearings and lifted their obligation to regularly give their signature to the nearest police station. Ordering the continuation of the international travel ban imposed on the defendants, the court adjourned the trial until 14 May 2020.

Journalist Zafer Arapkirli acquitted in insult case

Journalist Zafer Arapkirli appeared before Istanbul’s 32nd Criminal Court of First Instance on 26 December 2019 for the final hearing in his trial on “insult” charge. Arapkirli was accused over a social media post in which he commented about remarks by Nurettin Yıldız, the head of an Islamist foundation. The court ruled for Arapkirli’s acquittal. The indictment against Arapkirli sought a prison sentence of up to 2 years and 4 months for the journalist.

Journalist appears in court on allegation that he took photos during hearing

Rıfat Doğan, a reporter for the news portal Artı Gerçekappeared in court on 26 December 2019 on the allegation that he took photographs inside the courtroom during a hearing of the Çorlu train crash trial. Doğan is accused of “recording or broadcasting audio or visual material during an investigation or a trial without authorization.”

Doğan gave his statement to Istanbul’s 18th Criminal Court of First Instance. His statement will be sent to the Çorlu 4th Criminal Court of First Instance, which is overseeing his case. Doğan told the court that he was observing the Çorlu train crash trial as a journalist and that he did not take any photographs inside the courtroom during the hearing, but that he shared footage he came across on Twitter. The trial in Çorlu will resume on 28 January.

Trial of Yusuf Karataş adjourned until March

The seventh hearing in the trial of Evrensel columnist Yusuf Karataş on the charge of “establishing and leading a terrorist group” took place on 25 December 2019 at the 9th High Criminal Court of Diyarbakır.

Karataş faces up to 22.5 years in prison in the trial, one of many similar criminal cases where the accusations stem from audio recordings of speeches delivered by participants during Democratic Society Congress (DTK) meetings. Karataş was arrested and jailed pending trial in July 2017 as part of an investigation into DTK. He was released pending trial in September 2017.

P24 monitored the latest hearing, where Karataş and his lawyer Diren Elif Vurgun were in attendance. Karataş asked the court to lift his international travel ban, which has been in place for more than two years. His lawyer also requested the court to lift her client’s travel ban and to grant Karataş exemption from attending hearings. Issuing an interim ruling, the court ruled to keep Karataş’s travel ban in place but granted him exemption from attending courtroom hearings and adjourned the trial until 11 March 2020.

Ayşegül Doğan’s trial adjourned until March

The trial of journalist Ayşegül Doğan, a former program coordinator for the shuttered television station İMC TV, who is also charged with “establishing or leading an armed organization,” also resumed on 25 December 2019 at the 9th High Criminal Court of Diyarbakır.

This was the fourth in the case, where Doğan’s interviews as a journalist with DTK administrators are held as evidence against her. Doğan faces up to 22.5 years in prison if convicted. 

P24 monitored the hearing, where Doğan and her lawyers were in attendance. The presiding judge informed those in attendance that the court has received a forensic examination report concerning the audio tapes allegedly including Doğan’s voice, recorded inside the DTK headquarters.

Addressing the court concerning the audio tapes held as evidence against Doğan in the case file, the journalist’s lawyers said the tapes were obtained illegally and that therefore should not be taken into consideration by the court.

Issuing an interim decision at the end of the hearing, the court ruled to inquire of the Directorate of Press and Information under the Presidency about whether Ayşegül Doğan is a member of the press and whether she holds a press card and its expiry date. The court also ruled to send the case file to the prosecution for the drafting of their final opinion and adjourned the trial until 18 March 2020.

Rahmi Yıldırım acquitted in “insult” case

Journalist Rahmi Yıldırım, who is also the head of the disciplinary committee of the Turkish Journalists Union (TGS), appeared before an Ankara court on 25 December 2019 for the second hearing of his trial on the charge of “insulting a public official.” Issuing its verdict at the end of the hearing, Ankara’s Gölbaşı 3rd Criminal Court of First Instance ruled for Yıldırım’s acquittal. The accusation stemmed from a blog entry dated 3 February 2017 Yıldırım posted on his personal blog site, he was accused of “insulting” Defense Minister Hulusi Akar.

Kavala ordered to remain behind bars despite ECtHR judgment

The fourth hearing in the “Gezi Park trial,” where jailed businessperson Osman Kavala and 15 other civil society members face aggravated life imprisonment on the charge of “attempting to overthrow the government,” took place on 24 December 2019 at the 30th High Criminal Court of Istanbul.

The hearing followed on the heels of the European Court of Human Rights’ (ECtHR) 10 December 2019 judgment, which held that Kavala’s pre-trial detention was in violation of his right to liberty and security and his right to a speedy decision on the lawfulness of his detention, and that Turkey should secure his immediate release.

Issuing an interim decision at the end of the hearing, the court ordered the continuation of Kavala’s detention on remand and adjourned the trial until 28 January 2020, awaiting the Justice Ministry’s response concerning the ECtHR judgment in Kavala’s application.

A report about the hearing, monitored by P24, can be accessed here.

Court rules for stay of proceedings in Ahmet Altan’s trial over 2009 article

Jailed novelist and journalist Ahmet Altan’s trial on the charges of “attempting to influence a fair trial” and “violating the confidentiality of an investigation” resumed on 24 December 2019 at Istanbul’s Anadolu 2nd Criminal Court of First Instance. The accusations in the case, filed upon a complaint by former Sakarya Chief of Police Faruk Ünsal, stem from an article Altan penned in 2009 for the now defunct Taraf daily, titled “Mafyanın dışında kim kaldı” (Who is left other than the mafia).

P24 monitored the hearing, where Altan was represented in the courtroom by his lawyer Figen Albuga Çalıkuşu. This was the sixth hearing in the case, which was relaunched after the Istanbul 32nd Criminal Court of First Instance sentenced Altan on the charge of “insulting the president.” Altan’s lawyers have appealed the verdict with the Supreme Court of Appeals. 

Çalıkuşu told the court that the appeal against the 32nd Criminal Court of First Instance verdict was still pending and since Altan’s sentence was not final, there were no grounds for the proceedings to continue.

The judge announced that the court received a memo showing that the verdict against Altan in the previous case was still not finalized.

Issuing an interim decision at the end of the hearing, the court ruled for a stay of proceedings until the appeal process against the previous verdict against Altan is finalized.

Trial of Vice News journalists adjourned until May

British journalists Jake Hanrahan and Philip Pendlebury and their Iraqi translator Mohammed Ismael Rasool’s trial in absentia on terrorism-related charges resumed on 24 December 2019 at the 8th High Criminal Court of Diyarbakır. 

This was the eighth hearing in the case. The court adjourned the trial until 5 May 2020, awaiting response from the Justice Ministry concerning procedures for the defendants’ statements to be taken abroad.

Hanrahan, Pendlebury and Rasool were arrested in Diyarbakır in 2015 while they were shooting a news story for Vice News. All three were subsequently released.

Court rules for partial confiscation of Ragıp Zarakolu’s property

The “KCK Istanbul main trial,” in which 205 activists and politicians are standing trial on various terrorism-related charges, resumed on 24 December 2019 at the 3rd High Criminal Court of Istanbul. This was the 39th hearing in the case.

Publisher and human rights activist Ragıp Zarakolu, who has been living in Sweden since 2013, is among the defendants in the case, where he is charged with “aiding a terrorist organization” over a speech he gave at a Political Academy seminar organized in 2011 by the now-defunct Peace and Democracy Party (BDP). Professor Büşra Ersanlı and author-translator Ayşe Berktay are among Zarakolu’s co-defendants in the case.

Zarakolu’s lawyer Şenur Bayboğa addressed the court in connection with a request submitted by the Presidency of the Financial Crimes Investigation Board (MASAK) under the Ministry of Finance, seeking the confiscation of Zarakolu’s property. The lawyer objected to the request, saying that earlier in the trial, the court had granted Zarakolu exemption from attending hearings. She added that the court was informed about Zarakolu’s permanent address in Sweden for his statement to be taken abroad. The lawyer also noted that the government of Sweden rejected Turkey’s request for Zarakolu’s extradition.

Issuing its interim decisions at the end of the hearing, the court ruled to wait for the execution of the arrest warrants against the defendants who have yet to give their statements to the court. The court rejected the request for Zarakolu’s statement to be taken abroad and ruled to wait for the execution of the arrest warrant against him. The court also ruled to “partially accept” a request dated 23 December 2019, in which the Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office sought the “confiscation of Zarakolu’s property in Turkey in order to ensure that he attends the upcoming hearings.”

The court set 14 May 2020 as the date for the next hearing.

List of journalists and media workers in prison

As of 27 December 2019, at least 113 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.