ETHA reporter Ali Sönmez Kayar remains behind bars; BirGün daily faces investigation for nightclub shooting coverage 

Ali Sönmez Kayar, a reporter for the Etkin news agency (ETHA) jailed since February, will remain in pretrial detention, an Istanbul court has ruled on July 13.

Kayar and seven other defendants, all indicted for “membership in a terrorist group,” appeared before the 32nd High Criminal Court of Istanbul on July 13 for the first hearing of their trial. All eight are accused of membership in the MLKP (Marxist-Leninist Communist Party), each facing up to 15 years of imprisonment. 

P24 monitored the hearing.

Addressing the court during the hearing, Kayar denied the accusations. He said excerpts from the news stories dispatched by the agency were used as evidence against him in the indictment.

Kayar also told the court that the marches, commemorations and funerals he had participated in could not be deemed criminal activity.

Kayar requested his release pending trial.

Issuing an interim ruling at the end of the hearing, the court ordered the continuation of Kayar’s pretrial detention and set October 31, 2018, as the date of the next hearing.

BirGün faces investigation for coverage of deadly nightclub shooting

The Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office has launched an investigation into the BirGün daily concerning its coverage of a deadly nightclub shooting on 2017 New Year’s Eve in Istanbul – an attack for which ISIS claimed responsibility. The investigation was launched following a complaint filed by an individual named only by the initials M.T., BirGün reported on July 12.

Serdar Altan convicted of “propaganda,” given suspended sentence 

A Diyarbakır court on July 13 found journalist Serdar Altan guilty of “conducting propaganda for a terrorist organization” through his social media posts and handed down the journalist a suspended jail term of 1.5 years and 20 days.

The 9th High Criminal Court of Diyarbakır deferred the sentence by five years.  

In his final opinion submitted during the hearing, the prosecutor demanded Altan’s imprisonment on grounds that two of Altan’s social media posts from 2015 featured photographs of YPG militants holding guns, and that these posts “ legitimized and praised the organization’s methods including force, violence or threats.”

Fuat Yaşar acquitted of “propaganda” charges

The 9th High Criminal Court of Diyarbakır acquitted journalist Fuat Yaşar of the charges against him at the end of the first hearing of his trial on July 13.

Yaşar was charged with “conducting propaganda for a terrorist group” in his social media posts and was facing up to five years of imprisonment. One of his posts that formed the grounds for the accusation featured a photograph showing the journalist posing in front of an armored water cannon truck.

Journalist Mustafa Gökkılıç taken into custody

Mustafa Gökkılıç, a former reporter for Habertürk TV and the now defunct Radikal daily, was taken into custody on July 12 on grounds of an arrest warrant issued by the Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office.

Gökkılıç was among 24 people sought as part of an ongoing investigation concerning 2012’s “MİT crisis,” in which the head of Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MİT) and several intelligence officials were summoned to testify in court.

Gökkılıç was arrested alongside five other individuals as part of the investigation.

JinNews office raided by police 

Police on July 12 raided the Diyarbakır offices of the feminist news outlet Jin News. Police initially came to the office around midnight but did not search the premises since there was no one inside. They later came back at around 4 a.m., this time breaking down the office door to search the office. The grounds for the search was not immediately available. Jin News said the computers in the office were confiscated by the police.

Şerife Oruç arrested during release from prison

Former Dicle news agency (DİHA) reporter Şerife Oruç was arrested on July 9 as she was being released from the Elazığ Prison pending the conclusion of her ongoing trial. Oruç was released from custody one day later, on Tuesday, when the trial court lifted an earlier arrest warrant that had still been in place. Charged with “membership in a terrorist organization,” Oruç faces up to 15 years of imprisonment.

For further details about Oruç’s release, click here.

Canan Coşkun to give defense statement on July 19

Cumhuriyet reporter Canan Coşkun on July 10 appeared before the 26th High Criminal Court of Istanbul for the second hearing of a case in which she is indicted for her September 2017 report “Nuriye ve Semih’in 14 avukatı tutuklandı” (“14 lawyers representing Nuriye and Semih arrested”).

P24 monitored the hearing during which the prosecutor submitted his final opinion of the case. The prosecutor demanded up to three years of imprisonment for Coşkun on grounds that she “jeopardized the trial and exposed the witness in the case and his family” in her report.

The court adjourned the trial until July 19 for Coşkun to prepare her final defense statement in response to the prosecutor’s final opinion.

Özgür Gündem trial adjourned

The eighth hearing of a trial against former editors and columnists of the shuttered pro-Kurdish newspaper Özgür Gündem was held on July 9.

Lawyer and human rights defender Eren Keskin, Özgür Gündem’s former co-editor-in-chief, attended the hearing at the 14th High Criminal Court of Istanbul, monitored by P24.

Keskin is charged in this case with “conducting propaganda for a terrorist organization.”

Also on trial in the same case are Özgür Gündem editors and writers Hüseyin Aykol, Reyhan Çapan and Filiz Koçali, lawyers Ayşe Batumlu and Nuray Özdoğan, writer Ayşe Berktay, spokesperson of 78ers Initiative, Celalettin Can, and Özgürlükçü Demokrasi editor Reyhan Hacıoğlu.

Both Keskin and her lawyer, Özcan Kılıç, addressed the court during the hearing, demanding that Keskin is acquitted.

In its interim ruling issued at the end of the hearing, the court ordered the case file of the main Özgür Gündem trial to be brought in in order to rule on whether or not to merge the two cases, and adjourned the trial until October 9, 2018.

Other free expression cases of the past week 

  • An appellate court on July 12 found actress and singer Zuhal Olcay guilty of “insulting the president” and handed down a prison sentence of 11 months and 20 days. The court was reviewing the trial court’s ruling, which had sentenced the actress to a 10-month prison term. The appellate court increased the sentence on grounds that Olcay had committed the offence “publicly.” The court also deferred the sentence by 1.5 years on grounds that Olcay “had shown remorse.”
  • Rapper Sercan İpekçioğlu, who goes by the stage name Ezhel, is facing a new court case on grounds that his lyrics “incite drug use.” Ezhel risks 10 years in prison as part of the new case, which comes around a month after the rapper was acquitted of the same charge during his trial on June 19. 
  • Stage actor Orhan Aydın was taken into custody on July 10 in Istanbul on account of his social media posts. The veteran actor was detained on grounds of two complaints against him. Aydın was released from custody the same day after his statement was taken at the police department.
  • The latest hearing in a trial in which singer Ferhat Tunç is indicted for “insulting the president” was held on July 11 at the Büyükçekmece 14th Criminal Court of First Instance in Istanbul. Tunç was represented by his lawyer Fatma Hopikoğlu during the hearing. The court adjourned the trial until November 28, 2018.
  • Four students from Ankara’s Middle East Technical University (ODTÜ) were jailed pending trial on July 10 after four days in custody. The students had been in custody since July 7 on grounds of a banner they held during the school’s 2018 graduation ceremony. The banner featured an old and well-known political cartoon titled “Tayyipler Alemi” (“the Tayyip kingdom” — an allusion to “animal kingdom”). The students were jailed on the charge of “insulting the president.”
  • Lawyer and academic Hanifi Barış, who was one of the signatories of the 2016 Academics for Peace petition, was jailed pending trial for his social media posts. Barış was sent to Silivri Prison. Barış was jailed for “being a flight risk.”

List of journalists and media workers in jail 

As of July 13, 2018, at least 178 journalists and media workers are in prison in Turkey either in pretrial detention or serving a sentence.

The full list can be accessed here.