Trial court insists on not releasing Mehmet Altan even after Constitutional Court judgment is published in Official Gazette
The Istanbul 26th High Criminal Court, which oversees the trial of imprisoned journalist Mehmet Altan in a coup case, insisted on January 19 on a previous decision not to release Altan despite a Constitutional Court judgment that his rights were violated as a result of his pre-trial detention.
In an earlier decision issued hours after the Constitutional Court judgment on January 11, the court had rejected a request from Altan’s lawyers for his release, saying the Constitutional Court’s reasoned judgement had not been formally communicated.
The Constitutional Court’s reasoned judgement was published in the Official Gazette on January 19. In a ruling issued later that day, the 26th High Criminal Court argued that the Constitutional Court overstepped its jurisdiction by assessing the merits of the case.
The court cited the gravity of the coup threat, the possibility that the defendant might escape and the length of the punishment sought as the grounds for its decision to continue detention of Altan.
The 26th High Criminal Court ruling was rendered with a majority vote, with one dissenting opinion from the three-judge panel.
The Constitutional Court, reviewing individual applications filed on behalf of detained journalists Mehmet Altan, Şahin Alpay, and Turhan Günay of Cumhuriyet, who spent months in pre-trial detention before being released, ruled on January 11 that the journalists’ rights were violated as a result of their pre-trial detention. But the Istanbul 26th High Criminal Court and the 13th High Criminal Court, which oversees the trial of Şahin Alpay, refused to release Altan and Alpay.
On January 16, the Istanbul 27th High Criminal Court also rejected petitions demanding the release of jailed Cumhuriyet journalists Ahmet Şık and Murat Sabuncu and the daily’s Executive Board Chairman Akın Atalay on grounds that Constitutional Court judgments are only relevant to the applicant who has submitted an individual application before the Court.
The lawyers for the detained Cumhuriyet journalists had demanded their release arguing the Constitutional Court decision on Altan, Alpay and Günay set a precedent for other imprisoned journalists.
Journalists handed down prison sentences in Özgür Gündem case
Journalists Ragıp Duran, Hüseyin Aykol, Mehmet Ali Çelebi, Ayşe Düzkan and writer Hüseyin Bektaş were sentenced to a total of 9 years and 9 months in prison for participating in a solidarity campaign for the shuttered pro-Kurdish Özgür Gündem daily on January 16.
The 13th High Criminal Court in İstanbul convicted all five journalists for spreading “propaganda for a terrorist organization” at the end of the seventh hearing of the case.
Aykol was initially sentenced to two years in prison while Duran, Düzkan, Çelebi and Bektaş were each sentenced to one year of imprisonment. The court then increased the penalties by half on the grounds that “the crime had been committed through press.” As a result, Duran, Düzkan, Çelebi and Bektaş were each sentenced to one year and six months in prison while Aykol’s sentence was increased to three years. Aykol’s sentence was further increased by another nine months on account of “the crime to have been committed successively.”
Shuttered TV10 executives imprisoned on terror charges
Two former executives of the shuttered private broadcaster TV 10 were jailed pending trial on January 18 along with 13 other people on “membership in a terrorist organization” charges.
TV10’s Executive Board Chairman Veli Büyükşahin and Veli Haydar Güleç, programmer and member of TV10’s editorial board, had been taken into custody on January 10 during morning raids by the police as part of an investigation in which 42 other people were detained.
According to media reports, the suspects are accused of participating in the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party’s (BDP) political academy events between 2011 and 2013. BDP was closed after the party’s members joined the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) in 2014 alongside a number of left-wing and green movements. Büyükşahin is also a columnist for the online news portal Artı Gerçek.
TV10, a network representing Turkey’s Alevi minority community, was shut down in September 2016 by an emergency decree. TV10’s staff have been gathering for the past 67 weeks in Istanbul’s Galatasaray square to protest the closure of their station.
The latest arrests have brought the number of imprisoned journalists in Turkey to 153. The full list can be seen here.
Case against Evrensel and Cumhuriyet journalists dismissed
A case against five employees of the Evrensel and Cumhuriyet dailies on account of the news reports they had published regarding the October 10, 2015 terrorist attack in Ankara that killed 102 people was dismissed at the first hearing of the case, held on January 15 at the Ankara 2nd High Criminal Court.
The case, in which five journalists from two newspapers — including Cumhuriyet’s former editor in chief, Can Dündar, and Evrensel’s chief editor, Fatih Polat — were to stand trial, was dropped when the prosecutor demanded the dismisal of the case due to the expiration of the statute of limitations prescribed in Turkish Press Law.
Second hearing in “MİT trucks case” retrial
Enis Berberoğlu, a deputy for the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), appeared before an appellate court on January 16 at the second hearing of his retrial in the so-called “MİT [National Intelligence Agency] trucks case.”
Berberoğlu was given a 25-year sentence for his alleged role in the publication of a news report in Cumhuriyet newspaper, which suggested that the Turkish government might have sent weapons to armed groups in Syria in trucks operated by MİT. But the Second Chamber of the Istanbul Regional Court of Law, an appellate court, overturned the verdict and ordered the retrial of Berberoğlu.
Berberoğlu attended the trial via court video-conferencing system SEGBİS from the Maltepe Prison because he did not want to be brought to the courtroom handcuffed. The hearing was closed to public.
The court rejected Berberoğlu’s request to be released and adjourned the trial to February 13.
12th hearing of KCK press trial held
The 12th hearing in the “KCK Press Trial,” in which 46 journalists and media workers are standing trial as part of a series of criminal cases in connection with the Kurdish Communities Union (KCK) investigation, was held on January 19 at the 3rd High Criminal Court of Istanbul.
Only two of the journalists on trial, Hüseyin Deniz and Çağdaş Ulus, attended the hearing that was marked by the expulsion of a defense lawyer by the head judge.
Lawyer Gülizar Tuncer strongly opposed the judges’ decision to request all the legal files on all the journalists on trial. Tuncer argued that all files were already accessible in the judicial informatics system (UYAP), including the documentation of previous investigations and prosecutions against those journalists.
Tuncer said this new request was unlawful and would amount to an attempt to create a perception of guilt. She was eventually expelled by the head judge after she had protested that her defense arguments had been interrupted and the right of defense had been obstructed.
The hearing was monitored by the European Union Delegation to Turkey. The trial was adjourned to April 27.
ECtHR fines Turkey over violation of freedom of expression
The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) on January 15 ruled that Turkey should pay 5,000 euros in compensation for temporarily closing the Evrensel newspaper in 2001.
The European Court, in its judgment concerning an application lodged by the newspaper’s former owner Fevzi Saygılı and editor Ali Karataş, held that the temporary closure of Evrensel newspaper violated the freedom of expression.
The government had closed the newspaper for disclosing the names of two police officers who had been accused of killing journalist Metin Göktepe. Göktepe died on January 8, 1996, after being brutally beaten by Turkish police officers as he was covering a funeral in Istanbul.
First hearing held in Hasan Cemal retrial for 2013 articles
The first hearing in a case where P24 Founding President and T24 columnist Hasan Cemal is on trial for the second time on charges of spreading “propaganda for a terrorist organization” was held on January 18 at the Istanbul 24th High Criminal Court.
The retrial concerns a series of news reports Hasan Cemal penned in 2013 in which he recounted the PKK’s withdrawal from Turkey as part of the “Peace Process.”
A court case on charges of spreading “propaganda for an armed terrorist organization,” seeking 13 years in prison for Hasan Cemal, was opened years after the series’ publication. The first hearing of that case was held on March 9, 2017 at the Istanbul 24th High Criminal Court, which acquitted Cemal at the end of the trial. However, the 2nd Chamber of the Istanbul Regional Court of Justice reversed the judgment and sent the case file back to the 24th High Criminal Court.
Appearing at the January 18 hearing with his lawyer Fikret İlkiz, Hasan Cemal read his defense statement, in which he said: “I am here because I defended peace. I am here because I disapprove of terror and violence; because I refuse to live a lie.” Cemal then presented to the court his defense statement in the previous case, at the end of which he was acquitted.
The prosecutor reiterated his previous request of up to 13 years in prison for Hasan Cemal. Following the prosecutor’s opinion, Cemal’s attorney Fikret İlkiz requested additional time to submit his final defense statement. The trial was adjourned to April 3, 2018.
Evrensel columnist Karataş appears before court
Yusuf Karataş, a columnist for the Evrensel daily, on January 17 appeared in the second hearing of a trial against him at the 9th High Criminal Court of Diyarbakır. The trial is one of many such cases that have been opened on account of audio recordings of speeches delivered during meetings of the Democratic Society Congress (DTK).
Karataş was taken into custody on July 27, 2017 as part of the investigation into DTK and was released pending trial on September 22. Karataş faces up to 22.5 years in prison on charges of “establishing and leading a [terrorist] organization.”
Karataş appeared in the January 17 hearing with his lawyers also in attendance. The Diyarbakır Police Department sent a notification to the court for the hearing, in which it informed the court that the tapes had been erased. The court issued an interim ruling, in which it ordered the voice sample of Karataş to be sent to the forensic lab to be examined and compared with the audio recordings of the DTK meetings, and rejected his lawyers’ request for the lifting of judicial control terms imposed on Karataş and his ban to travel abroad. The court adjourned the trial to May 30, 2018.
Mersin Radyo Ses Director Semra Özlü detained
Semra Özlü, the director of programming for the shuttered Mersin-based local radio station Mersin Radyo Ses, was taken into custody on January 17 during a police raid on the homes of the former employees of the station, which was shut down by an emergency decree. The grounds for Özlü’s detention was not disclosed. She is held at the Mersin Police Department.
Özgürlükçü Demokrasi employee released
Yüksel Azak, an employee of the Diyarbakır-based pro-Kurdish newspaper Özgürlükçü Demokrasi was released from custody on January 17, five days after he was detained in the Eastern province of Bingöl during a police raid on his home.
During the search, police seized Azak’s laptop computer, his mobile phone and a book. Azak had been taken into custody in connection with a complaint filed against him in 2016, but Azak was in prison back then, his family told reporters following his detention.
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.