Journalist Ayşenur Arslan sentenced to prison for ‘’insulting the president’’; prosecutor submits final opinion in Ahmet Altan case

The second hearing in a case where journalist and author Ahmet Altan is standing trial on charges of “insulting the president” and spreading “propaganda for a terrorist organization” for his column headlined “Ezip Geçmek” (“Crushing Through”) was held on January 4 at the Istanbul 26th High Criminal Court.

The prosecutor submitted his final opinion during the hearing, demanding the aggravated sentence for Altan on charges of “insulting the president” and spreading “propaganda for the terrorist organization (PKK)” through several expressions in Altan’s column.

A dispute between Altan and the head of the panel of judges over the latter’s language in addressing Altan marked the hearing. The judge adressed Altan using the word “sen” (“you,” which is the second person singular pronoun in Turkish) instead of the more formal “siz” (the second person plural pronoun in Turkish). Altan told the judge that he had no right to be on first-name terms with him, adding: “I am not your friend. You cannot call me ‘sen.’ You need to use the word ‘siz.’ There is no need for a casual tone.” In protest of the judge’s attitude Altan also addressed the judge with the second person singular pronoun at some point during the discussion.

The judge, in response, told Altan: “You are a suspect. I will not call you ‘siz.’ … I am calling you ‘sen.’ I will continue calling you ‘sen’.” When Altan responded, “Then I will be calling you ‘sen’ as well,” the judge responded: “Say whatever you wish.”

Noting that he would make his defense statement at a later time, Altan told the court: “Never before in the history of law has the same newspaper article been the grounds for two separate trials at the same time. I want to point this out before this court.”

The panel then adjourned the trial to February 28.

Altan’s article that is the grounds for charges in this trial is also used as evidence in another case against him in which he is indicted for “attempting to overthrow the constitutional order.” Ahmet Altan stands trial alongside seven others, including his brother, Mehmet Altan, and journalist Nazlı Ilıcak in that case, also held at the Istanbul 26th High Criminal Court, but overseen by a different panel of judges.

Imprisoned Zaman columnist Ali Ünal appears at first hearing

The first hearing of a case in which Ali Ünal, a former columnist for the shuttered Zaman daily, is indicted for “attempting to overthrow the constitutional order,” “establishing and running an armed terrorist organization” and “membership in a terrorist organization,” was held on January 4 at the Uşak 2nd High Criminal Court.

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is a plaintiff in the case. The prosecutor seeks two aggravated life sentences plus up to 29.5 years in prison for Ali Ünal. Ünal’s brother, Mustafa Ünal, is a co-defendant in the case.

In his defense statement during the nine-hour hearing, Ali Ünal talked about the 17 newspaper columns for which he is indicted. Asserting that he had been in prison for 17 months, Ünal pleaded for his release.

In its interim decision, the panel ruled for the separation of the allegations against Mustafa Ünal and his release from prison on judicial control while it ruled for continued detention for Ali Ünal. The next hearing in the case is scheduled for February 27.

Ayşenur Arslan sentenced to prison 

Journalist Ayşenur Arslan was sentenced to 14 months in prison in a case where she had been indicted for “insulting the president” on an episode of her television show Medya Mahallesi (The Media Quarter) that had aired more than two years ago. The court reduced her sentence to 11 months and 20 days. The sentence was deferred.

On her show that aired on September 14, 2015, on Halk TV, Arslan had criticized the pulling of Nokta magazine from newsstands that same day. When a citizen residing in the Konya province took it upon himself to file a complaint against Arslan for her comments during the show, the Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office opened an investigation against Arslan. Her trial was held at the Ankara 12th Criminal Court of First Instance, which convicted her on November 28, 2017.

Access banned to four news portals 

Online access was banned as of January 3 to four news portals in Turkey, namely the Mezopotamya Agency (MA), Özgürlükçü Demokrasi newspaper, 1HaberVar and Demokrat Haber. The ban order was issued by the Information and Communication Technologies Authority (BTK). The BTK explained that the grounds for the ban was the ruling No. 2018/24 by the Ankara 6th Criminal Judicature of Peace.

This development marked the 45th ban on the website of Özgürlükçü Demokrasi and the third for Demokrat Haber.

Former TRT reporter Turgut Usul arrested

Turgut Usul, a former reporter for the Turkish state broadcaster TRT, who had been detained on charges of “membership in a terrorist organization (FETÖ),” was arrested on January 4 in Ankara.

Usul had already been dismissed from his profession through an emergency decree (KHK). Usul’s arrest has brought the number of imprisoned journalists in Turkey to 151. The full list of journalists in prison can be found here.

RSF rallies in Paris for detained journalists 

On January 5, members of Reporters Without Borders (RSF) held a rally in front of the Turkish Embassy in Paris in support of imprisoned journalists in Turkey.

The protest took place prior to a bilateral meeting between the French President Emmanuel Macron and the visiting Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Protestors held posters of Turkish journalists Ahmet Şık, Şahin Alpay, Ahmet Altan, Deniz Yücel and Nazlı Ilıcak during the rally.

The RSF called on Macron to highlight the plight of imprisoned journalists in Turkey during his meeting with Erdoğan.

For a full list of all the imprisoned journalists in Turkey, visit this spreadsheet. Lists of all of the foundations and associations as well as media outlets shut down can also be found at the same link, although on different tabs of the same spreadsheet.