Azadiya Welat editor handed down prison sentence for “propaganda”; indictment seeks 10.5 years in prison for Sibel Hürtaş and Hayri Demir 

A court in Diyarbakır on May 17 convicted Aydın Atar, the former responsible managing editor for the shuttered Kurdish-language daily Azadiya Welat, for “conducting propaganda for a terrorist organization.”

Atar was indicted for “conducting propaganda for the Kurdistan Workers’ Party [PKK]” in a number of news stories published in nine different issues of the newspaper between 2012 and 2013.

Atar was represented by his lawyer Resul Tamur during the May 17 hearing at the 7th High Criminal Court of Diyarbakır.

The prosecutor submitted his final opinion during the hearing, seeking Atar’s imprisonment on grounds that he held responsibility in the publication of the indicted news stories, regardless of the fact that Atar did not write the articles.

In response to the prosecutor’s final opinion, Tamur told the court that the case was based on the language the newspaper was published in, as well as the paper’s editorial policy. Adding that the indicted articles should be regarded as part of freedom of expression, Tamur requested Atar’s acquittal.

The court then announced its verdict, finding Atar guilty of the “propaganda” charge. The court initially handed down Atar a prison term of 7 years and 7 months. It then reduced his sentence by ⅙, to 6 years and 4 months.

Atar’s lawyer said he would appeal the verdict.

The trial was the result of the merging of three separate indictments against Atar on the same charge, filed on different dates at three separate courts. Atar was handed down a prison sentence of 10 years and 3 months in the initial trial in 2013. That verdict was reversed by the Supreme Court of Appeals on procedural grounds, and the case file was sent to the trial court for retrial.

Cumhuriyet reporter Coşkun to appear in court 

Cumhuriyet reporter Canan Coşkun will be standing trial for her news article “Nuriye ve Semih’in 14 avukatı tutuklandı” (“14 lawyers representing Nuriye and Semih arrested”), published on September 20, 2017.

The indictment against Coşkun accuses the reporter of pointing the prosecutor in the case as a target because the prosecutor’s name was cited in Coşkun’s news story.

Coşkun will appear before the 26th High Criminal Court of Istanbul on June 6 for the first hearing of the case.

Özgürlükçü Demokrasi editor briefly detained

Gülşen Koçuk, a former editor for the pro-Kurdish Özgürlükçü Demokrasi newspaper, was taken into custody on May 17 in Darıca, a district of the Kocaeli province.

Koçuk was arrested as part of the ongoing investigation into the Özgürlükçü Demokrasi newspaper, which was raided by the police in late March and is currently run by a government-appointed trustee. Koçuk was brought to the Darıca Courthouse, where she gave her statement to the Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor via the video-conferencing system SEGBİS. She was released from custody the same day following her statement.

Five other editors of the newspaper and its publisher İhsan Yaşar are currently in detention on remand as part of the investigation into Özgürlükçü Demokrasi. 

“Incitement” case against Nurcan Baysal under way 

Journalist and columnist Nurcan Baysal is accused of “inciting the public to hatred and animosity” in a new case against her, which got under way on May 17 in Diyarbakır.

P24 monitored the hearing at Diyarbakır’s 7th Criminal Court of First Instance, where Baysal was not present but was represented by her lawyer Reyhan Yalçındağ.

The lawyer requested for the hearing to be postponed due to Baysal being abroad. The court adjourned the trial until October 16.

Baysal faces up to 3 years in prison in the indictment, issued in April by the Diyarbakır Chief Public Prosecutor.

Baysal was arrested on January 22 on account of her social media posts concerning Turkey’s military operation on Syria’s Afrin. She was released from custody on January 24.

Mağden and Öğreten’s trial adjourned 

The latest hearing in a case where journalists Perihan Mağden, Tunca Öğreten, Orhan Şahin and Mehmet Çağlar Tekin stand accused of “insulting the president” was held on May 17 at the Istanbul 2nd Criminal Court of First Instance.

Öğreten and Tekin attended the ninth hearing, monitored by P24. Mağden and Şahin were not present, and were instead represented by their lawyers.

The charges stem from an interview with Mağden, posted on September 14, 2015, on the news portal Diken.

Tekin is on trial for posting the same interview on the website of the Yurt newspaper. Addressing the court during the hearing, Tekin rejected the accusations. Asserting that he was not the responsible managing editor of Yurt newspaper at the time of the interview’s publishing, Tekin reiterated his previous defence statement.

Speaking after Tekin, Öğreten requested for additional time for his defence. 

Issuing an interim ruling at the end of the hearing, the court adjourned the trial until October 18, 2018.

Arrest warrant issued for journalist Mücahit Avras

An arrest warrant has been issued for Artı TV journalist Mücahit Avras as part of an investigation into the journalist on account of news stories he had written and his social media posts.

Police on May 15 raided the journalist’s family home in Istanbul’s Pendik on grounds of the arrest warrant. Avras was not at home during the raid, news reports said.

Avras is accused of “conducting propaganda for a terrorist organization” in the investigation file, for which the journalist is expected to give his statement. Details as to which news stories or social media posts by Avras were subject to investigation have not been disclosed.

Sibel Hürtaş and Hayri Demir face up to 10.5 years in prison

Artı TV Ankara bureau chief Sibel Hürtaş and Mezopotamya news agency (MA) reporter Hayri Demir are facing “inciting the public to hatred and animosity” and “propaganda” charges in a new indictment against the journalists.

The indictment, issued by the Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office, seeks up to 10.5 years imprisonment for each: up to 3 years on the charge of “inciting the public to hatred and animosity” and additionally up to 7.5 years on “conducting propaganda for a terrorist organization through publication.”

The charges stem from the journalists’ news reports and social media posts concerning Turkey’s military operation on Syria’s Afrin.

Excerpts from remarks made by the politicians Osman Baydemir and Ahmet Faruk Ünsal during interviews they gave to Hürtaş are held as evidence against the journalist.

Both Hürtaş and Demir were taken into custody in late January on account of their social media posts and released four days later under judicial control measures.

Demokratik Modernite employee Azak taken into custody 

Yüksel Azak, an employee for the Demokratik Modernite magazine, was taken into custody on May 14 in Bingöl. Azak was detained on grounds of a complaint. Sent to the courthouse following the procedures at the Police Department, Azak and four others arrested in the same police operation were referred to a Criminal Judgeship of Peace. The court ruled for the release of all five, including Azak, on May 15.

Cihan News Agency editor convicted of terrorism-related charge 

An Ankara court on May 10 convicted Kazım Canlan, former news director for the Ankara bureau of the shuttered Cihan news agency, of “membership in a terrorist organization” for having ties with the Fethullah Gülen network, which the government accuses of being behind the 2016 coup attempt.

Canlan gave his final defense statement before the 26th High Criminal Court of Ankara from the Tarsus Prison, where he was in pretrial detention, via the courtroom video-conferencing system SEGBİS during the May 10 hearing.

Rejecting the accusations, Canlan requested that he be acquitted and released. Canlan’s lawyer also requested his client’s acquittal and release.

Following defense statements, the court announced its verdict, sentencing Canlan to 7.5 years in prison on grounds that he deposited cash in Bank Asya upon Gülen’s instruction and used the encrypted messaging applications ByLock and Eagle, purported to be used exclusively by the members of Gülen network.

Other freedom of expression cases of the past week 

  • Academic Cenk Yiğiter, a former Ankara University lecturer dismissed through a statutory decree, appeared before an Ankara court on May 17 for the first hearing of a case in which he is charged with “insulting the president” on social media. Two witnesses testified in favor of Yiğiter during the hearing. They told the Ankara 20th Criminal Court of First Instance that Yiğiter’s social media post was not about the president. The case was opened after a former student of Yiğiter’s filed a compliant against the academic. The court adjourned the case until October 4, 2018.
  • Stage actor Barış Atay was taken into custody on May 16 for one of his social media posts on Twitter. Atay’s post was about a recent “public apology” by a former prime ministerial aide who infamously kicked a miner during a protest following Turkey’s Soma mining disaster. Atay was taken into custody immediately after Hürriyet columnist Ahmet Hakan pointed a finger at Atay for his reaction in his newspaper column. The Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office launched an investigation into Atay. The allegation against the actor is “inciting the public to hatred and animosity.” Atay was released from police custody the same day around midnight.
  • An Ankara prosecutor has filed for the lifting of the parliamentary immunity of People’s Democratic Party (HDP) Istanbul MP Garo Paylan on grounds of a criminal investigation into the lawmaker. The accusations against Paylan are “insulting the Turkish Republic and its government” and “insulting the president.” The accusations are based on Paylan’s remarks concerning the “Armenian genocide” during an interview he gave to a Canadian news magazine.
  • Musician Pınar Aydınlar was sent to prison on May 15 to serve an earlier sentence that was upheld by an upper court. Aydınlar was arrested at the Atatürk Airport in Istanbul upon her arrival from Germany. Aydınlar will serve a 10-month sentence for her remarks during public speeches as part of her campaign as an HDP candidate in the 2015 elections. Aydınlar was sent to the Bakırköy Women’s Prison.

Upcoming journalist trials this month 

Following is a brief overview of some of the major ongoing journalist trials in Turkey, selected from a comprehensive list compiled by P24. For further information on upcoming trials, visit this regularly updated webpage.

  • Three lawsuits filed against the imprisoned novelist Ahmet Altan, all seeking non-pecuniary damages for Altan’s remarks in his newspaper columns, will be heard during the week of May 21-27. Three different courts in Ankara and Istanbul will be overseeing the cases, including the Supreme Court of Appeals. One of the cases, to be heard by an Ankara court on May 24, was filed by the President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, claiming that Altan violated his personal rights 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.
  • Cumhuriyet reporter Ahmet Şık will appear before the 17th Criminal Court of First Instance on May 22 for the third hearing of a case in which he is indicted for “openly denigrating the Republic of Turkey, its judicial organs and its military and police,” facing a prison sentence between 6 months and 2 years.
  • Imprisoned journalist Nazlı Ilıcak will appear before the 26th High Criminal Court of Istanbul on May 23 for the second hearing of a trial in which she is facing life imprisonment on “espionage” charges on account of a newspaper column she wrote in 2015. 
  • Also on May 23, Erdoğan Alayumat and Nuri Akman, two reporters for the shuttered Dihaber news agency, are set to appear before the 2nd High Criminal court of Hatay for the third hearing of their trial in which both face up to 45 years in prison on “espionage” and “membership in a terrorist organization” charges. Alayumat has been in detention on remand since July 2017 as part of this case.

List of journalists and media workers in prison 

As of May 18, 2018, there are at least 175 journalists and media workers in Turkey’s prisons either in pretrial detention or serving a sentence. The full list can be accessed here.