Police raid Özgürlükçü Demokrasi newspaper’s head office and printing facility in İstanbul; detain publisher, printing company staff

The head office of the pro-Kurdish Özgürlükçü Demokrasi newspaper in Istanbul’s Beyoğlu district and the printing facility where the newspaper is printed were raided by police in the early hours of March 28.

Media reports said nine employees of the newspaper and the printing company, including the newspaper’s owner İlhan Yaşar, were taken into custody during the midnight raids, which lasted until around 3 a.m.

During the day a total of 21 suspects that included employees of the newspaper and the printing company were taken into custody as part of an investigation launched into the paper by the Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office on allegations of ties with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), the state-run Anadolu news agency reported.

Accusations leveled against those in custody are “membership in an armed terrorist organization” and “conducting propaganda for a terrorist organization.” The report also said a Criminal Judgeship of Peace appointed a board of trustees to both the newspaper and the printing company upon request from the Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office.

At a press conference at the Human Rights Association (İHD) Istanbul branch on Wednesday, Özgürlükçü Demokrasi editors and representatives from press organizations said that they could only confirm that the newspaper’s publisher İlhan Yaşar and eight employees of the printing company, including owner Kasım Zengin, were in custody, but added that this number might go up because they were receiving unconfirmed reports from other provinces in Turkey concerning more arrests targeting the employees of the newspaper, including former employees.

The editors also explained that they were only verbally notified by an official claiming to be from the Turkish banking system watchdog Savings Deposit Insurance Fund (TMSF) that the government-run fund had appointed a board of trustees to the newspaper, and that no written notification was made.

The Journalists Union of Turkey (TGS) issued a statement concerning the raid on Özgürlükçü Demokrasi, in which it said that this was an attempt by the government to silence media outlets of which it cannot seize control by purchasing.

TGS President Gökhan Durmuş said this was an attempt to deny the public of its right of access to information.

Durmuş added: “With the [pro-government Demirören group’s] takeover of Doğan Media Group, monopolization in media has turned into the most fundamental problem we’re facing. […] The raid on Özgürlükçü Demokrasi and the attempt to seize the newspaper shows that the government is seeking to silence all critical parties in the run up to the 2019 elections. We need to continue struggling for a free media.”

Court refuses to rule on Mehmet Altan’s release

The Istanbul 26th High Criminal Court refused to rule on a request for imprisoned journalist Mehmet Altan’s release filed by his lawyers following the European Court of Human Rights’ March 20 judgment concerning his individual application. The trial court said the case against Altan is disposed.

A detailed report about the decision, issued on March 28, can be found here.

Ahmet Altan acquitted of “insulting Erdoğan”

Imprisoned novelist and journalist Ahmet Altan was acquitted on March 27 of insulting Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in a 2012 newspaper column in the retrial of a 2013 case, in which a court had ruled that Altan exceeded the limits of criticism and insulted the then-Prime Minister.

Altan gave his statement to the Istanbul Anadolu 2nd Criminal Court of First Instance via the courtroom video-conferencing system SEGBİS during the March 27 hearing, monitored by P24 in the courtroom. Altan’s lawyer Ergin Cinmen was present in the hearing, where Erdoğan’s lawyers did not attend.

Altan said during his address to the court that the Supreme Court of Appeals had set legal criteria for the “insult” offense. “The Supreme Court of Appeals held that as long as an article is not intended to denigrate [a person], it amounts to not insult, but severe criticism. I request that your court adheres to the Supreme Court of Appeals ruling,” Altan said.

At the end of the original case, Altan was handed down 11 months and 20 days in prison for insulting Erdoğan in his January 2012 column “Devlet Yardakçılığı ve Ahlak” (“State Complicity and Morality”), about the infamous Roboskî bombing in 2011 where 34 civilians were killed. The court had commuted the prison sentence to a fine of TL 7,000.

Altan’s lawyers had appealed that verdict at the Supreme Court of Appeals, which ruled in September 2017 that the elements of the “insult” offense were not present in the case file, overruling the trial court’s decision.

The case file was then sent to the Istanbul Anadolu 2nd Criminal Court of First Instance for retrial, which ruled on March 27 that the basic elements of the offense were not present, and acquitted Altan.

“Özgür Gündem solidarity” trial against Can Dündar adjourned

The seventh hearing of a trial against the former editor in chief of the Cumhuriyet daily Can Dündar on charges of “conducting propaganda for a terrorist organization” on grounds that he took part in a solidarity campaign with the shuttered pro-Kurdish daily Özgür Gündem was held on March 27.

The 22nd High Criminal Court of Istanbul adjourned the trial to September 4, 2018, awaiting response from German authorities concerning a letter issued prior to the latest hearing in which the court requested Dündar’s statement to be taken in Germany, for the arrest warrant against the journalist has not been executed. 

Atalay’s lawyers file 2nd application before Constitutional Court

Lawyers of the Cumhuriyet newspaper submitted a second application to the Constitutional Court on March 26 on behalf of the newspaper’s imprisoned Executive Board Chairman Akın Atalay, requesting the Constitutional Court to review his application, pending before the top court for more than 15 months.

Atalay has been in detention on remand for more than 510 days in the Silivri Prison as part of the ongoing trial against 19 columnists and executives of the Cumhuriyet newspaper.

The petition calls attention to the recent European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) and Constitutional Court rulings on Şahin Alpay and Mehmet Altan and requests the speedy adjudication of the application on behalf of Atalay, claiming that his detention is in violation of the law, the constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights.

The initial individual application on behalf of Atalay was submitted to the Constitutional Court on December 26, 2016, along with those filed on behalf of other executives and columnists of the paper. Among those applications, the top court has only rendered judgment on that of Turhan Günay, the editor of the newspaper’s book supplement, on January 11, 2018, in which it ruled that Günay’s right to personal liberty and security had been violated due to his unlawful detention on remand.

Alongside that of Atalay, individual applications on behalf of Murat Sabuncu, Güray Öz, Musa Kart, Kadri Gürsel, Hakan Karasinir, Önder Çelik, Bülent Utku and Mustafa Kemal Güngör are still pending before the Constitutional Court.

Former Fenerbahçe TV editor released from prison

Yasir Kaya, a former news manager for Fenerbahçe TV who was arrested in August 2017 as part of an investigation into alleged ByLock users, was released from prison on March 24 pending the conclusion of his trial.

Appearing before the 32nd High Criminal Court of Istanbul for the latest hearing of his trial, Kaya and his lawyers requested his release on grounds of his child’s health issues while Kaya’s lawyers added that their client was not at flight risk.

Taking into account the time he spent in detention on remand and his child’s health condition, the court ruled to release Kaya pending trial with an overseas travel ban.

Journalist Duygu Erol released from custody on judicial control

Journalist Duygu Erol was released from custody on March 23, three days after she was arrested in Ankara on March 20.

Erol and 10 others who were detained as part of the same investigation, among whom were also executives from the People’s Democratic Party (HDP), were sent to the Ankara Courthouse on March 23.

Erol was among five suspects referred to court for arrest on “membership” and “propaganda” charges. Accusations included their social media posts and press conferences they participated in 2016 and 2017. A Criminal Judgeship of Peace ruled to release all five on judicial control terms.

Journalist faces investigation for posing in front of TOMA

Journalist Fuat Yaşar, a Diyarbakır-based reporter for the news website 1HaberVar, is facing criminal investigation for posing for a photograph in front of a TOMA vehicle — an armored water cannon truck used in riot control.

Yaşar gave his statement to the anti-terror police on March 22 as part of the investigation, which was launched following an anonymous complaint filed concerning the journalist’s social media posts. Based on the anonymous tip off, a public prosecutor opened an investigation, accusing Yaşar of “conducting propaganda for a terrorist organization.” The investigation file is said to include Yaşar’s previous reporting and social media posts concerning civilian casualties during the period of extensive curfews imposed on Turkey’s southeastern provinces. 

Imprisoned ETHA editor, reporter to appear in court in July

İsminaz Temel, an editor for the Etkin news agency (ETHA), and her co-worker Havva Cuştan, a reporter for the same news agency, who have been in pretrial detention for more than 150 days, will appear before a court for the first hearing of the trial against them on July 16 and 17.

The news came after their long-awaited indictment was issued. The indictment, accepted by the Istanbul 27th High Criminal Court, accuses the journalists and 21 others arrested as part of the same investigation of “membership in a terrorist organization” and “conducting propaganda for a terrorist organization.”

Both journalists were arrested on October 19, 2017, during a sweeping operation alongside 21 other suspects that also included lawyers. Thirteen of the suspects including Temel and Cuştan have since been in detention on remand.

The indictment accuses Temel of having taken part in demonstrations, funerals and memorials that she attended for news coverage “on instruction from a terrorist organization.” Cuştan, who survived the deadly Suruç bombing of July 2015, is also accused of attending a number of demonstrations and events in 2014 and 2015 concerning enforced disappearances.

Journalist Cem Bahtiyar released from pretrial detention

Mete Cem Bahtiyar, a former reporter for the BirGün daily, who was arrested and jailed on February 7 in the Bandırma district of Turkey’s northwestern Balıkesir province, was released from pretrial detention on March 20.

In reviewing a recent petition filed by Bahtiyar’s lawyers requesting his release from the Bandırma Prison, the court ruled in favor of Bahtiyar and released the former journalist, who was arrested on “propaganda” charges on account of his social media posts and the news reports he penned for BirGün.

List of journalists in prison updated

P24 has updated its list of journalists in prison in Turkey, a list compiled from open sources, upon the recent release of journalists Mete Cem Bahtiyar and Yasir Kaya from prison. It has also recently become evident that Van-based journalist Ayhan Demir, the owner of the Çaldıran Ajans news website, who was arrested in 2017 on account of his social media posts and had been in prison on remand since, was released on February 28, 2018, by the court overseeing his trial.

In light of recent developments, at least 151 journalists are in prison in Turkey as of March 28, 2018. A detailed list can be found here.

 

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. 

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