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28 March

Freedom of Expression and the Press in Turkey - 287

Journalist Perihan Kaya sentenced for “propaganda”; journalist Ruhi Karadağ imposed travel ban; French journalist Mercadier denied entry to Turkey



Journalist Yağmur Kaya arrested while covering protest in Istanbul

Yağmur Kaya, a reporter for the news portal Artı Gerçek, was arrested on 26 March 2021 as she was covering a demonstration in front of the Istanbul Courthouse. The demonstrators were protesting the arrest of 24 Boğaziçi University students a day earlier for staging a protest on the campus.

At least 52 people were arrested in front of the courthouse and were taken to the Police Department in the afternoon. Following their interrogation at the police headquarters, 46 detainees including Yağmur Kaya were sent to a hospital for medical examination, after which they were released early Saturday morning.

Charlie Hebdo editors, cartoonist charged with “insulting” Erdoğan

The Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office has issued an indictment against the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, accusing four people from the weekly’s editorial staff, including Editor-in-Chief Gérard Biard, publishing director Laurent Sourisseau and a cartoonist, of “insulting the president” (under Article 299 of the Turkish Penal Code) over a cartoon depicting President Erdoğan, published on the front cover of the weekly’s 28 October 2020 issue.

Cumhuriyet terminates Enver Aysever’s column

Cumhuriyet newspaper terminated journalist-author Enver Aysever’s regular column as of 26 March 2021. Aysever announced the termination of his column on Twitter, saying he received a phone call from the daily’s Editor-in-Chief Aykut Küçükkaya, who notified him of the decision. No official explanation has been made concerning the grounds for the decision.

Hrant Dink murder trial concludes

The 131st and final hearing of the Hrant Dink murder trial, where a total of 76 defendants including numerous former high level security and intelligence officials, a former prosecutor and several journalists faced various charges over their alleged involvement in the assassination of the Armenian journalist, was held on 26 March 2021 at the Istanbul 14th High Criminal Court.

Dink, who was the editor-in-chief of Agos newspaper, was assassinated on 19 January 2007 in front of the newspaper’s head office in Istanbul by 17-year-old Ogün Samast.

Six of the accused, including former Fox TV news director Ercan Gün, have been jailed pending trial as part of the case while 13, including Fethullah Gülen, former public prosecutor Zekeriya Öz and journalists Ekrem Dumanlı and Adem Yavuz Arslan, have been at large.

The court panel concluded that the assassination was “carried out in accordance with the objectives of FETÖ/PDY” and ruled to file criminal complaints against Ogün Samast, Erhan Tuncel, Yasin Hayal and Tuncay Uzundal on the charge of “membership in FETÖ.”

The court sentenced Ercan Gün to 10 years in prison for “membership in a terrorist organization”; former police chief Ali Fuat Yılmazer to aggravated life imprisonment for “premeditated murder” and an additional 4 years and 6 months for “destroying an official document”; former head of police intelligence Ramazan Akyürek to aggravated life imprisonment for “premeditated murder” and an additional 5 years and 7 months for “destruction and forgery of an official document”; former military officer Muharrem Demirkale to two life imprisonment sentences for “violating the Constitution” and “aiding premeditated murder”; Yavuz Karakaya, a former non-commissioned officer with the Istanbul branch of the Gendarmerie Intelligence Organization, to life imprisonment and an additional 12 years and 6 months for “aiding premeditated murder”; and former Trabzon Gendarmerie Comander Ali Öz to 28 years in prison for “premeditated murder” and “forgery of an official document.” The court separated the file against the 13 defendants at large.

Journalist-writer Ruhi Karadağ imposed travel ban

London-based journalist, author and filmmaker Ruhi Karadağ was taken into custody on 24 March 2021 in Istanbul upon his arrival at the Sabiha Gökçen Airport. Karadağ, who spent the night in detention at the airport, was taken to the Istanbul Courthouse in the morning to give his statement as part of a trial where is charged with “terrorism propaganda.” The court released Karadağ under judicial control measures and a ban on traveling abroad.

Karadağ is accused over his social media posts in the case file, where photos of Newroz festivities in Batman, Mardin and Diyarbakır, actor Memet Ali Alabora and jailed Kurdish politician Selahattin Demirtaş, Twitter posts by Evrensel and Özgür Gündem newspapers, the poster for Karadağ’s film Simurg, a movie ticket, and photos featured in a book that he wrote are held among evidence against Karadağ.

Journalist Hayri Demir’s trial adjourned until June

Journalist Hayri Demir’s trial on the charges of “membership in a terrorist organization” and “terrorism propaganda” over news photos stored in a memory card stolen from his apartment in 2016 and handed over to the police resumed on 25 March 2021 at the Ankara 15th High Criminal Court. Demir’s lawyers submitted letters of excuse to the court, which adjourned the trial until 30 June.

Trial against journalist Buse Söğütlü to resume in April

Journalist Buse Söğütlü's trial on the charge of “marking state officials involved in the fight against terrorism as targets” (under Article 6/1 of the Anti-Terror Law) was set to resume on 24 March 2021 at the Istanbul 23rd High Criminal Court. The hearing was postponed until 14 April because the two panels of the Istanbul 23rd High Criminal Court's judges have recently been merged.

Söğütlü, a reporter for the news portal Gazete Yolculuk, is on trial over her comments about Judge Akın Gürlek in a post she had shared on her personal social media account.

Journalist Hatice Şahin’s trial adjourned until June

The trial against Yeni Yaşam newspaper reporter Hatice Şahin on the charge of “membership in a terrorist organization” resumed on 24 March 2021 at the Diyarbakır 9th High Criminal Court. Şahin was arrested on 18 October 2018 as part of an investigation targeting the Democratic Society Congress (DTK) and released pending trial.

Şahin is accused of involvement in the DTK over her phone calls with her sources.

Addressing the court during the hearing, Şahin’s lawyer Resul Tamur rejected the allegations in the testimonies of secret witnesses “Ezel” and “Firar,” whom the court heard in between public hearings. Tamur said they would present a detailed defense statement after the prosecution submits their final opinion on the case.

Ruling to inquire of the Diyarbakır Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office about the persons mentioned in the secret witness testimonies and ordering the continuation of the travel ban imposed on Şahin, the court adjourned the trial until 28 June.

Journalist Perihan Kaya sentenced for “propaganda”

The second hearing of journalist Periha Kaya’s trial on the charges of “membership in a terrorist organization” and “terrorism propaganda” over her social media posts and her phone calls with fellow journalists was held on 24 March 2021 at the Diyarbakır 10th High Criminal Court.

Kaya and her lawyer Resul Tamur were in attendance. Submitting their final opinion, the prosecutor demanded Kaya’s acquittal of the “membership in a terrorist organization” charge due to lack of evidence but asked the court to convict the journalist of “systematically making terrorism propaganda” due to her social media posts.

Issuing their judgment at the end of the hearing, the court acquitted Kaya of the “membership” charge but sentenced her to 1 year and 3 months in prison for “making terrorism propaganda by means of media.”

Trial against Taylan Kulaçoğlu and Hakan Gülseven adjourned until June

The third hearing of Taylan Kulaçoğlu and journalist Hakan Gülseven’s trial on the charge of “terrorism propaganda” over social media posts shared by the account “İsimsizler Hareketi” (the nameless movement) was held on 24 March 2021 at the Balıkesir 3rd High Criminal Court.

After hearing the defendants’ statements, the court issued an interim ruling, lifting Kulaçoğlu’s ban on leaving the province. Also ruling to hear the secret witness and the informant in the case file during the next hearing and adjourned the trial until 23 June.

Three trials against Ahmet Sever adjourned until September

Three separate trials against journalist Ahmet Sever, a former press advisor for President Abdullah Gül, resumed on 23 March 2021 at the Istanbul 2nd Criminal Court of First Instance. Sever is charged with “insulting the president” (TCK 299) in one of the trials and “insulting a public official” (TCK 125) in the remaining two. The accusations, based on complaints filed by President Erdoğan, Speaker of Parliament Mustafa Şentop and Minister of Industry and Technology Mustafa Varank, stem from remarks in Sever’s 2018 political memoir İçimde Kalmasın: Tanıklığımdır.

P24 monitored the hearing, where Sever’s lawyer was in attendance. Deciding to wait for the response to letters rogatory issued for Sever’s statements to be taken in his current country of residence, the court adjourned all three trials until 9 September 2021.

Jailed Yeni Yaşam employee Karakaş remains behind bars

Yeni Yaşam newspaper employee İbrahim Karakaş, who has been jailed pending trial since 6 November 2020, appeared before the Adana 11th High Criminal Court on 23 March 2021 for the first hearing of his trial on the charge of “membership in a terrorist organization.”

Karakaş addressed the court via SEGBİS from the Adana Kürkçüler F Type Closed Prison. His lawyer Tugay Bek was present in the courtroom.

In his defense statement, Karakaş told the court that the allegations in the testimony against him by witness Hüseyin Durudeniz were baseless and demanded to be acquitted. The witness addressed the court via SEGBİS from another prison in Bursa, where he is currently imprisoned. Although Durudeniz’s statement to the court was different from his initial statement during police interrogation, he told the court that he “reiterated” his previous statement.

Pointing to the contradictory remarks in the statements by the witness, lawyer Bek asserted that the court should not take his testimony into account. Stressing that his lawyer is accused over his journalistic activities, Bek demanded Karakaş’s release pending trial.

The prosecutor demanded the continuation of Karakaş’s pre-trial detention. Issuing an interim ruling at the end of the hearing, the court ordered the continuation of Karakaş’s pre-trial detention and adjourned the trial until 4 May.

Top court’s second Osman Kavala judgment published in Official Gazette 

The Constitutional Court’s judgment finding “no rights violations” in the second application filed against the ongoing detention of businessperson and civil society leader Osman Kavala on “coup” and “espionage” charges following his acquittal and release in the “Gezi trial” was published in the Official Gazette dated 23 March 2021.

In its judgment rendered on 29 December 2020 through a majority vote of eight votes to seven, the Plenary of the Constitutional Court had held that Kavala’s ongoing detention “did not violate” his right to liberty and security.

First arrested in November 2017, Kavala has been behind bars for more than three years despite an acquittal verdict in the Gezi trial and the European Court of Human Rights’ December 2019 judgment that found multiple violations in Kavala’s case.

Selahattin Demirtaş sentenced for “insulting the president”

A trial against the jailed former Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) Co-Chair Selahattin Demirtaş over a statement he made to press members on 24 December 2015 at the Atatürk Airport in Istanbul concluded on 22 March 2021.

The trial was overseen by the Bakırköy 46th Criminal Court of First Instance. Demirtaş addressed the court via SEGBİS from the prison in Edirne. In his defense statement, Demirtaş said he did not directly target the president or the prime minister in his comments, which were a criticism of the government’s foreign policy.

In their final opinion, the prosecutor argued that Demirtaş’s statements “targeted President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and former Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu” and that his remarks “exceeded the limits of expressing an opinion or criticism.”

Issuing its judgment at the end of the hearing, the court sentenced Demirtaş to 3 years and 6 months in prison for “insulting the president.”

Top court: Özlem Dalkıran’s detention violated her right to liberty

The Constitutional Court ruled unanimously that human rights defender Özlem Dalkıran's pre-trial detention in 2017 as part of the “Büyükada trial” violated her right to liberty and security, enshrined in Article 19 of the Constitution. The top court ruled for a non-pecuniary compensation of TL 40,000.

The Constitutional Court rendered the judgment on 21 January 2021, about three-and-a-half years after Dalkıran’s lawyer filed her application in September 2017.

Dalkıran was among 10 rights defenders arrested in a hotel on the island of Büyükada in Istanbul on 5 July 2017 while they were attending a workshop on digital security. Dalkıran and seven other rights defenders, İdil Eser, Günal Kurşun, Veli Acu, Ali Gharavi, Peter Steudtner, Nalan Erkem and İlknur Üstün, spent 112 days behind bars as part of the case, which concluded in July 2020.

Dalkıran, Eser and Kurşun were each sentenced to 2 years and 1 month in prison for “aiding a terrorist organization without being its member” while their co-defendant, Amnesty Turkey’s Honorary Chair Taner Kılıç, was sentenced to 6 years and 3 months for “membership in a terrorist organization.” A regional court of appeals unanimously upheld their convictions on 26 November 2020.

Social media user sentenced for “insulting” communications director

The Istanbul 16th Criminal Court of First Instance sentenced Hüseyin Gör, a local man from the southern province of Hatay, to 8 months and 25 days in prison for “insulting” Presidential Communications Director Fahrettin Altun on social media.

The indictment issued by the Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office accused Gör of “insult” for “liking” a comment shared on Facebook, which said, “Reporting on robbery is a terror crime. So this is what advanced democracy looks like.” The comment was posted below another post, which said that journalists who reported on allegations of illegal construction work commissioned by Altun on a plot of land in Istanbul that he had rented from the Foundations’ General Directorate would undergo criminal investigation on terror charges.

Without holding a public courtroom hearing, the court issued its judgment based on the defendant’s preliminary statement and sentenced the man to 8 months and 25 days in prison and deferred the sentence.

HDP’s Gergerlioğlu taken into custody inside Parliament

Former HDP lawmaker Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu, who was staging a sit-in at the HDP chamber inside the Parliament after being stripped of his MP status due to a 2.5-year sentence he had been given on the charge of “terrorism propaganda” for a social media post, was taken into custody on 21 March 2021 inside the Parliament.

Gergerlioğlu was taken to the Kavaklıdere Police Station to give his statement as part of a new investigation against him, launched by the Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office. He was released after his statement.

French journalist Sylvain Mercadier denied entry to Turkey, deported

French freelance journalist Sylvain Mercadier was denied entry to Turkey and detained on 19 March 2021 upon landing at the Sabiha Gökçen Airport in Istanbul en route the southeastern city of Diyarbakır, where he was headed in order to cover this year’s Newroz festivities.

Mercadier, who announced his detention on his Twitter account, wrote that airport police interrogated him for two hours. After being detained overnight at the airport, Mercadier was deported on the first flight to France the next morning.

The journalist was denied entry on the grounds of “public security” under Article 15/1-c of the Law no. 6458, according to the “Inadmissible Passenger Information Form” issued by the airport police.

Jailed journalist Murat Dağdeviren freed after completing his sentence

Murat Dağdeviren, the former owner and editor-in-chief of the local newspaper Demokrat Gebze,which was closed down though a statutory decree following the coup attempt of 2016, was releasedfrom the Kandıra Prison in Kocaeli province earlier this month upon completing the execution of the prison sentence he was given in 2017.

Dağdeviren was jailed pending trial in July 2016, shortly after the coup attempt, over alleged ties with “FETÖ.” At the end of his trial in October 2017, the Kocaeli 4th High Criminal Court sentenced him to 7 years and 6 months in prison for “membership in a terrorist organization.”

At least 77 journalists and media workers in prison 

Following the release of Murat Dağdeviren, as of 26 March 2021, at least 77 journalists and media workers are in prison in Turkey, either in pre-trial detention or serving a sentence.

The full list can be accessed here.

Tags: #FreedomofExpression andthePressinTurkey ,#YağmurKaya ,#PerihanKaya ,#RuhiKaradağ ,#SylvainMercadier


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