The new Turkey
A 'major crime' in Turkey: Journalism
10 January 2021
The year is 2020: What happened?!
In 2020 in Turkey, in at least 137 press-related trials in 15 provinces,at least 205 journalists were prosecuted. 64 of them were women.
(More than one journalist may be on trial in one case, a journalist may stand trial in multiple cases, a journalist may appear before a judge more than once in a month in one or more cases; all of which may lead to differences between the total figure and subcategories.)
In the trials concerning these journalists, the prosecutor’s offices demanded 12 counts of aggravated life sentence, and a total of 1309 years, 3 months, 15 days to 3182 years, 6 months, 15 days in prison.
Furthermore, a total of 1 million 869 thousand TL was requested from the journalists in non-pecuniary damages.
In 2020, 77 of the cases were held at high criminal courts, 53 at criminal courts of first instance, 6 in civil courts of first instance and 1 in a commercial court of first instance.
In the trials finalized in 2020 in district courts;
35 journalists were acquitted.
22 journalists were sentenced to a total of 112 years, 3 months, 23 days in prison.
In 2020, in Turkey, 42 new press trials were launched against at least 53 journalists in 13 provinces. 23 of these journalists were women.
Of the new press trials launched against journalists in 2020; 20 fell under the scope of Anti-Terror Law, and 22 under the Turkish Penal Code.
10 press trials against 15 journalists which began in 2020 have already been finalized:
6 journalists were acquitted of charges.
9 journalists were sentenced to prison or administrative fines. They were handed down a total of 24 years, 21 days in prison.
In the cases of 2 journalists, the announcement of the prison sentence or administrative fine was deferred.
As per Turkish Criminal Procedure Law, 231, “The deferment of the announcement of the verdict is a method of individualization of the sentence, whereby the sentence verdict is annulled and the case is dismissed if the sentence imposed upon the accused does not yield a result within a certain period of control, if no intentional crime is committed during the said period of control, and if the obligations are met.”
In 2020, the prison sentences imposed by district courts upon certain journalists were overturned by the Court of Cassation. As a result, the trials of 12 journalists resumed in district courts.
As of the last day of 2020, at least
171 journalists are prosecuted in 87 press trials in district courts, 48 journalists are prosecuted in 32 press trials in courts of appeal,23 journalists are prosecuted in 10 press trials in the Court of Cassation
Aside from the legal proceedings, in 2020,
At least 102 journalists were detained, summoned to testify or faced an investigation and/or criminal complaint.
Under which laws were the journalists prosecuted in 2020?
In Turkey, journalists mostly face trials under the scope of the Anti-Terror Law and Turkish Penal Code. Anti-Terror Law (ATL):
ATL 7/2 – “Spreading Propaganda for a Terror Organization”
In 2020 new trials were brought against at least 10 journalists on the charge of “Spreading Propaganda for a Terror Organization”. According to ATL, Article 7/2, clause 2, the sentence shall be increased by half in case of the commission of the offense “via press and broadcast”..
Trials against at least 9 journalists for “Spreading Propaganda for a Terror Organization” ended in 2020:
9 journalists were sentenced to a total of 9 years, 4 months, 14 days in prison.
ATL 6/1 – “Targeting state officials who took part in the fight against terror”
In 2020, at least 6 journalists faced new trials on the charge of “Targeting state officials who took part in the fight against terror”. The legal proceedings continue at district courts.
ATL 5 – “Increasing the sentence by half in terror offenses”
In 2020, in new trials against at least 10 journalists, the prosecutors demanded an increase by half in the sentence as per ATL Article 5.
According to the Press in Arrest database, in the last two and a half years, the sentences of at least 143 journalists were increased as per the said article.
MİT (National Intelligence Organization) Law:
MİT Law Article 27/3- clause 1 – “Publishing, disseminating and revealing information and documents regarding the duties and activities of National Intelligence Organization”
In 2020, new trials were launched against 7 journalists for “violating the MİT Law.” In a trial finalized by a district court, 5 journalists were sentenced to 21 years, 6 months, 21 days in total. One journalist was acquitted.
According to the Press in Arrest database, in the last two and a half years, 9 journalists have stood trial as per MİT Law.
In the trial concerning Mehmet Baransu and Murat Şevki Çoban, dating back to 2014, the district court reached a verdict this year. The trial was based on the news story titled “The decision to end Gülen was taken at the National Security Council in 2004”, published in the now shuttered daily Taraf in 2013. Mehmet Baransu has been sentenced to 17 years and 1 month in prison on the charge of “obtaining confidential information”, “disclosing this information in a continuous manner” and “providing and publishing information and documents regarding the mission and activities of MİT”. Murat Şevki Çoban has been acquitted.
Turkish Penal Code (TPC):
TPC 125/1, 125/2, 125/3a, 125/4 – “Insult”, “Insulting a state official”
In 2020, at least five journalists have faced new trials on the charge of “insult”.
According to the Press in Arrest database, in the last two and a half years,at least 40 journalists have stood trial as per TPC, Article 125.
TPC 299 – “Insulting the President”
In 2020, at least five journalists have faced new trials on the charge of “insulting the President”.
According to the Press in Arrest database, in the last two and a half years,at least 29 journalists have stood trial on the charge of “insulting the President”.
District courts have sentenced at least 10 journalists to prison or administrative fines for “insulting the President.”
TPC 314/2 – “Membership of an armed organization”
In 2020 at least 12 journalists in Turkey faced new trials for alleged “membership of an armed organization”. In general, this article of TPC is coupled with ATL, Article 5.
As such, the charge turns to “membership of an armed terror organization”, and the sentence required is thus increased by half pursuant to ATL, Article 5.
According to the Press in Arrest database, in the last two and a half years, at least 176 journalists have stood trial on the charge of “membership of an armed organization “.
District courts have sentenced at least 65 journalists to prison for the charge of “membership of an armed organization”.
TPC 329/1- “Disclosing confidential information concerning the state’s security, or internal or external interests”
In 2020, new trials were brought against at least 9 journalists on the charge of “disclosing confidential information concerning the state’s security or internal or external interests”.
According to the Press in Arrest database, in the last two and a half years,at least 14 journalists have stood trial as per TPC, Article 329/1.
Law on Meetings and Demonstration Marches:
Owing to their professional responsibilities, journalists follow various protests and rallies on different matters, for reporting purposes.
Nevertheless, state security forces frequently block such protests and rallies claiming that they are “unauthorized”.
In fact, Article 34 of the Constitution states that, “Everyone has the right to hold unarmed and peaceful meetings and demonstration marches without prior permission.”
When security forces crack down on these protests and rallies, citizens are generally taken into custody and face investigations and trials.
Journalists who are there to follow the event for reporting purposes can also be detained during the police crackdown, and may likewise face trials.
In Turkey, only in the year 2020, at least five journalists faced new trials for allegedly “violating the Law on Meetings and Demonstration Marches”.
In the indictment drafted against journalist İnci Aydın in 2020, interestingly, the prosecutor offered a definition of the act of propaganda which constitutes the crime of “Spreading Propaganda for a Terror Organization”.
The indictment stated the following:
“Propaganda for a terror organization is not limited to a specific mode; it may be written or verbal, or even take forms such as protests and rallies… If the perpetrator’s objective in spreading propaganda is to endorse the terror organization, garner support for it, and have the society embrace its cause, then the crime of propaganda can be deemed to have materialized.”
According to the Press in Arrest database, in the last two and a half years,at least 13 journalists have stood trial for violating the Law on Meetings and Demonstration Marches.
Anatomy of the Trials: Gathering symptoms
Why did Ferhat Parlak stand trial?
Editor-in-chief of the Silvan Mücadele Newspaper based in Diyarbakır, Ferhat Parlak was detained on April 10th, 2018. The detention lasted three days. On April 13th, 2018, he was arrested owing to the secret witness statements against him.
When the prosecutor’s office completed the indictment against him on April 19th, 2019, he had been behind bars for a year and a half. When he first appeared before a judge on July 8th, 2019, he had been in prison for 450 days.
He rejected the charges, and said, “I have two little girls, I miss having breakfast with them”.
One of the witnesses whose testimony resulted in Parlak’s arrest said in the courtroom that he did not know Parlak, and that the latter simply “took pictures as a journalist and did not have ties to any terror organization.” As such, Parlak was released at the first hearing.
The court decided not to hear two witnesses during the trial process. The prosecutor’s office, in the indictment and in its judicial opinion as to the accusations, demanded that Parlak be sentenced for “membership of an armed terror organization”. In response to this judicial opinion, Parlak said that he was previously tried in eight different places for a book he wrote, before finally being acquitted.
He also stated that he had been tried and acquitted for the very same charge.
As a result of legal proceedings consisting of six hearings, on December 7th, 2020, the court dismissed the case. At the end of this trial lasting two and a half years, during 15 months of which Parlak was under detention, the court ruled that Parlak had been previously tried and acquitted on the same charge. The case was dismissed unanimously.
In Mehmet Baransu’s trial, district court reached a verdict 6 years later…
A reporter with the now closed Taraf Newspaper, Mehmet Baransu has been imprisoned pending trial since March 2015 due to several trials against him. He was on trial since April 2014 for his article titled “The Decision to Finish Gülen Taken at the National Security Council (MGK) in 2004”.
The trial lasted six years and seven months. Throughout the trial, the National Security Council’s General Secretariat -which had filed the complaint against Baransu- argued that “the trial is unrelated with the press, or the freedom of press.” The court rejected certain pieces of evidence which would strengthen the defense pleas.
In the final hearing, observers were not allowed to the courtroom, on the pretext of the coronavirus pandemic. Baransu was sentenced to 17 years, one month in prison at this trial which lasted for six years and seven months.
When the court announced its verdict on November 23rd, 2020, Baransu had been under arrest for five years, eight months and 21 days.
Why have Ahmet Altan’s trials been deferred for 10 years?
Ahmet Altan previously, Ahmet Altan’s prison sentence had been overturned and a retrial had begun. Subsequently he was sentenced to prison, and released after 1138 days behind bars.
Soon after his release, he was arrested once again when the prosecutor objected to his release, claiming that he could abscond from justice.
Altan is among the journalists who began the year 2021 in prison. As of today, he has been in prison for 1562 days, that is, four and a half years.
However, he had served as the editor-in-chief of the closed Taraf newspaper for five years. The Court of Cassation continues its review of the case file.
Altan stands trial in 10 different cases, whose information and documents are accessible.
Five separate lawsuits filed against him in 2009 and 2010 still continue and he is imprisoned pending trial. These five cases were deferred in 2012 by a law for judicial reform.
However, in line with the said reform law, these cases were reopened as the verdict was finalized in the court of appeal.
In October 2019, another “judicial reform” was passed, and it became possible to appeal against the decisions of courts of appeal at the Court of Cassation. As such, three of the five trials were deferred for the second time in ten years.
Confusion in Ali Ergin Demirhan’s trial …
An investigation was launched against Ali Ergin Demirhan for six news articles posted on a social media account of the news web site “sendika org,” where he works as editor. The prosecutor accused him of “membership of an armed terror organization”.
In the indictment dated October 15th, 2018, the charge against him was revised as “spreading propaganda for a terror organization in a continuous manner”. Prior to the hearing dated October 6th, 2020, the charge was changed once again.
For the same six posts, he was charged this time with “insulting the President”, and the Ministry of Justice gave the necessary permit for him to stand trial for this charge.
The trial will continue in 2021. When a media holding sues journalists…
On May 16th, 2020, a news story titled “Female employee forced to resign at Demiröroen Medya for walking across the executive floor in her shoes” was published by the news web sites “Medya Koridoru” and “İleri Haber”, as well as the web site of the channel Tele1 TV.
Similar news stories were published on the news web sites “Aykırı” and “Ajanspress”. Demirören Medya filed a lawsuit for damages against the web sites and its employees cited in the news stories. The holding demanded 50 thousand TL in compensation from Canan Kaya, the concessionaire and editor-in-chief of the “Medya Koridoru” web site; Batuhan Çolak, the concessionaire and editor-in-chief of “Aykırı” web site; as well as the companies running “İleri Haber” and “Ajanspress”.
The trial will continue in 2021.
A hindrance to law: The political climate's impact on trials
The example of Alican Uludağ
Alican Uludağ, had indicated in his social media account that the Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor, right after getting married, visited President Erdoğan in his office, and criticized this visit.
Four days later, he was summoned to testify. He was accused of “marking the chief public prosecutor as a target for terror organizations”. In the indictment drafted 10 days after his post, the prosecutor requested one to three years in prison for him.
The chief prosecutor, whom Uludağ allegedly “targeted” in two social media posts, was appointed to membership of the Court of Cassation just before the first hearing.
Uludağ stated in the first hearing that on the day he was summoned to testify, his wife, who works at a courtroom, was shifted to another location. Uludağ defended his posts.
The hearing prosecutor presented in a flash disk the judicial opinion as to the accusations, where he requested a prison sentence for Uludağ.
Uludağ said, “I have delivered my defense speech. I would expect the prosecutor to submit a judicial opinion explaining why my defense is invalid. I think that it is against the law to read out a judicial opinion drafted in advance”.
The chief public prosecutor, who claimed to be “injured” by Uludağ’s social media post, was nominated to the Constitutional Court shortly after the first hearing.
The defense’s evidences are ignored…
The trial against Ayşegül Doğan began in 2018 and ended in 2020.
After having to defend herself against the charges of “establishing or leading an armed terror organization”, Doğan was charged with “membership of an armed terrorist organization” at the end of the trial, and sentenced to six years, three months in prison. During the trial, the court rejected her request to add to the file evidence to strengthen her request for acquittal. Doğan’s right to defense was thus violated, and she was sentenced to prison without the court taking into account the evidence she presented.
‘Insulting by not praising’
Ender İmrek was charged with “insulting Emine Erdoğan, president Tayyip Erdoğan’s wife”, in his article titled “Parıl Parıl Parlıyordu Hermes Çanta” (“The Hermes Bag was Shining Bright”) and dated June 29th, 2019.
The charge was described in the indictment as ‘not attributing good qualifications’. The trial based on the accusation of “insulting by not praising” lasted for four hearings in 2020. Twice, the hearing prosecutor did not present a “justification” for his request for the imprisonment of İmrek. İmrek was eventually acquitted.
Both defendant and complainant
The trial regarding the incident that took place at the Turkish Army Aviation Command headquarters in Ankara during the military coup attempt of July 15th, 2016 was held at Ankara 17th High Criminal Court.
Oda TV news web site’s Ankara News Manager Müyesser Yıldız penned a news story on the statements of a secret witness heard at the hearing in Ankara.
The statements of the witness bearing the code name “Abdullah” was published with the title “The Most Critical Secret Witness of the Coup Trials: ‘Hulusi Akar is a member of the Gülen sect and a secret member of FETÖ’” on April 27th, 2018. Minister of National Defense Hulusi Akar, who served as the Chief of General Staff during the said coup attempt, filed a petition with a court for blocking access to the news story.
Ankara 5th Criminal Court of Peace evaluated his request and blocked access to Oda TV’s news story in April 2018.
Hulusi Akar filed a criminal complaint against Yıldız and demanded from her 250 thousand TL in compensation for alleged “insult”. Yıldız, on the other hand, requested 5 TL in compensation from Akar over the “expressions he used in the petition of complaint” in a separate trial. The demands for compensation were assessed by Ankara 7. Civil Court of First Instance, which ruled to merge the complaint petitions of the both parties.
Thus, Akar and Yıldız became both defendants and complainants before the same court. On the final hearing dated September 10th, 2020, the court refused Yıldız’s claim.
Yıldız was fined to 20 thousand TL in non-pecuniary damages. The court ruled that Yıldız would also have to pay the legal interest which accrued since April 27th, 2018, the date of publication of the news story. Basing itself on the Turkish Code of Obligations, the court “condemned the violation of Akar’s personal rights, and ruled that a summary of the verdict shall be published in a newspaper with a high circulation.”
The cost of the said publication was also charged from Müyesser Yıldız. ‘Bipolar disorder’ plea
A second press trial concerning Turkish Armed Forces’ operations in Libya was brought against Müyesser Yıldız, the Ankara News Manager for Oda TV’s news website and against İsmail Dukel, the Ankara representative of Tele 1 TV.
Yıldız and Dükel were detained on June 8th, 2020. Shortly before being detained, Yıldız had been condemned by Minister of Interior, Süleyman Soylu on his social media account.
Before her detention, Yıldız filed a lawsuit demanding 1 TL in non-pecuniary damages against Soylu, who she claimed had “insulted” her in his social media posts. The journalists thus detained in an investigation for “obtaining confidential information for espionage purposes” were then arrested on the charge of “disclosing confidential information”. Yıldız was arrested on June 11th, 2020, while Dükel was released.
Yıldız had to spend three and a half months in prison before the indictment against her was drafted. In the indictment, the prosecutor requested six years three months to 17 years in prison for the journalists, for allegedly “disclosing confidential information”.
When Yıldız appeared before a judge for the first time, on November 9th, 2020, she had spent five months behind bars. At the first hearing, the witness who allegedly provided confidential information to Dükel and Yıldız said that he was undergoing treatment for bipolar disorder: “I’m mentally ill. I exaggerate events in order to make them more credible”. As regards some of his words in the wiretapped recordings, he said, “There, I try to aggrandize myself through lies, I make things up.” Nonetheless, the hearing prosecutor requested that Yıldız remain in prison. However, the court ruled to release her. The trial will continue in 2021.
Verdict in MİT Trucks Trial: 27 years, 6 months for a single news story…
Can Dündar and Erdem Gül were taken into custody on November 26th, 2015 for three separate charges. The journalists were initially arrested, and then released when the Constitutional Court ruled that their rights had been violated. On May 6th, 2016, they were sentenced to prison for one of the charges against them. The case was split into two and the defendants appealed against the verdict at the Court of Cassation.
The trial continued on the basis of another charge. The Court of Cassation overturned the prison sentence. A retrial began: One of the charges against Erdem Gül was dropped, while the other resulted in acquittal.
The retrial was concluded on December 23rd, 2020. Dündar was sentenced to 27 years, six months in prison.
Before the trial against Can Dündar began, President Tayyip Erdoğan had said the following: “I gave instructions to my lawyer and immediately filed a lawsuit. The individual who penned that news story will pay a heavy price. I won’t let him get away with it.” The proceedings at the court of appeal and Court of Cassation will continue in 2021.
Prosecutors suing the journalist were dismissed, the case was dropped…
Seyhan Avşar’s new story titled “A FETÖ stock exchange?” was published on March 17th, 2019 by the daily Cumhuriyet. The story concerned the claim that two prosecutors with İstanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office “issued decisions of non-prosecution in FETÖ investigations, in return for money”.
According to the news story, two prosecutors were suspended due to this claim. Prosecutors filed a complaint about Avşar. In the indictment, Avşar was charged with “insulting a state official”. She faced a prison sentence up to four years and one month. The court stated that the case against Avşar was not launched within the four-month deadline stipulated by the Press Law and the case was dismissed.
The day the case against Avşar was dismissed, the prosecutors in question were suspended. One of the prosecutors who filed the complaint against Avşar had previously drafted the indictment in the trial against Zaman Newspaper writers such as journalists Şahin Alpay, Mümtazer Türköne,Ahmet Turan Alkan and Ali Bulaç.
A first in history: Journalist accused of violating Banking Law
Fatih Portakal had criticized the donation campaign launched by the government against the coronavirus pandemic on his social media account.
President Tayyip Erdoğan, and Banking Regulation and Supervision Agency (BDDK) -in charge of regulating the free market economy- filed a criminal complaint against Portakal.
Portakal became the first journalist in the last three years charged with “intentionally damaging the reputation, prestige or assets of a bank or disseminating inaccurate news.”
He faced from one to three years of imprisonment and from one thousand days to two thousand days of judiciary fine. Even as the trial continued, Portakal was further charged with “insulting the President”.
Before this case was filed, President Tayyip Erdoğan had said the following about Fatih Portakal in a comment: “Be sure to know your place. If you don’t, this nation will make you pay for it”.
Journalists sued for ‘news stories on Fuat Avni’
Between February 2014 and July 2016, during the period of escalating tension between the Gülen sect and the Justice and Development Party governments, five journalists were sued for reporting and publishing the allegations made via the Twitter account dubbed “Fuat Avni”. Back then, the said account’s messages shaped the public agenda with insider information from the government, courthouses and police.
For reporting on these tweets, journalists Doğan Akın,Erdal Güven,Barış İnce,Semin Sezerer and Can Uğur were charged with “knowingly and willingly aiding a terror organization without being part of its hierarchical structure”.
They faced between seven years, six months and 15 years in prison. The five journalists were acquitted in 2020.
In these cases, defense lawyers pointed out that the Sabah Newspaper had published 2 thousand 870 news stories based on the ‘Fuat Avni’ tweets, and stated, “If Sabah is not on trial, then neither should be my clients.”
Libya and ‘MİT news’
In February 2020, there appeared social media posts claiming that one Turkish soldier killed in Libya was a member of the National Intelligence Organization. These claims were reported by various media outlets. On March 3rd, 2020, the Oda TV news site published a news titled, “Odatv reveals funeral footage from the MİT member martyred in Libya, buried without a ceremony.” First Hülya Kılıç and Barış Terkoğlu, later on Fjerhat Çelik,Aydın Keser,Barış Pehlivan and Murat Ağırel were taken under custody. The six journalists were arrested on March 8th, 2020, on the charge of “disclosing the identity of a MİT member.”
While the journalists were in custody, the much-discussed law on criminal reinforcement was brought to the agenda of the Turkish parliament. The law, submitted by the ruling AKP and MHP, was considered to be an amnesty bill, as it claimed that the prisons had become risky due to the coronavirus epidemic. After the law was passed, nearly 90 thousand inmates started being released from prison. However, the charges most frequently leveled against journalists were excluded from the law. While the said law was discussed in the parliament at midnight, violation of the “MİT Law” was also excluded from its scope. As such, the six journalists were prevented from benefiting from the law.
In the indictment dated April 24th, 2020, the prosecutor requested eight to 19 years in prison for a total of seven journalists, including Erk Acarer, deemed to be a “suspect” in the same investigation.
When they first appeared before a judge, the journalists had been behind bars for nearly four months. Barış Terkoğlu, Aydın Keser and Ferhat Çelik were released pending trial; however, the court ruled to keep Murat Ağırel, Hülya Kılınç and Barış Pehlivan in prison.
The prosecutor submitted his judicial opinion as to the accusations to the court one day before the second hearing. The prison sentences requested for the journalists were increased from between eight to 19 years to between eight years, nine months to 25 years, nine months, on the pretext that “the alleged offense is committed in a continuous manner”.
When they appeared before the judge the second time, Barış Pehlivan, Murat Ağırel and Hülya Kılınç had spent six months in prison. Aydın Keser, Ferhat Çelik and Murat Ağırel were each sentenced to four years, eight months, seven days in prison; Barış Pehlivan and Hülya Kılıç were each sentenced to three years, nine months. Barış Terkoğlu was acquitted of all charges. Upon the verdict, Barış Pehlivan, Murat Ağırel and Hülya Kılınç were released from prison. The case file regarding Erk Acarer, who lives abroad, was separated.
A minister in press trials: Albayrak…
Berat Albayrak, the son-in-law of President Tayyip Erdoğan, announced his resignation from his post as Minister of Treasury and Finance on the evening of November 8th, 2020, via his Instagram account. In the lawsuits filed against various journalists upon Berat Albayrak’s complaint, there were interesting developments before and after this announcement.
A lawsuit was filed against the Cumhuriyet reporter Hazal Ocak for her news story titled “The Son-in-Law Knows His Way” concerning Berat Albayrak’s purchase of lands along the itinerary of the Istanbul Canal project. She was charged with “publicly insulting a state official”. The prosecutor requested a prison sentence from one year, two months to two years, four months. Ocak [was acquitted] about two weeks before Albayrak’s resignation. For the same news story, Albayrak had also filed a lawsuit of 200 thousand TL in non-pecuniary damages. Albayrak’s lawyers did not attend the first hearing of this trial after his resignation.
Albayrak filed a complaint against Mustafa Kömüş and Uğur Koç from Birgün Newspaper for their news story dated June 22nd, 2019 and titled “The Ekşi Sözlük entry on Berat Albayrak and Özge Ulusoy erased”. The journalists faced prison sentences of one year, two months to four years, eight months for “publicly insulting a state official”. The trial lasted five hearings. In the hearing held two weeks after Albayrak’s resignation, the journalists were acquitted.
Çalık Holding, where Albayrak used to serve as an executive, filed a lawsuit against Pelin Ünker for her news story “Off-Shore Brothers” published in Cumhuriyet on November 7th. The holding demanded 10 thousand TL in non-pecuniary damages. The trial began in December 2018, and in the hearing right after the resignation, the court rejected the demand for compensation.
The Director of Communications sues journalists…
Cumhuriyet Newspaper reporter Hazal Ocak published a news report titled “Illegal Construction Along the Bosphorus” in the newspaper on April 14th, 2020.
The news story was about Turkish Presidency Communications Director Fahrettin Altun’s home by the Bosphorus, in Kuzguncuk, Istanbul. Altun is in charge of establishing the communication between the bureaucracy and media outlets in Turkey. In the news story, it was claimed that Altun “rented the plot of land adjacent to his house from the General Directorate of Foundations, another state institution, initiated intensive work on the plot including landscaping, erecting of walls, and installation of razor wires”.
However, the news report also indicated that all sorts of construction were in fact banned on this plot. İstanbul Anadolu 8. Criminal Court of Peace issued a gag order for all news stories and social media posts concerning the incident.
As regards the news story, Altun filed a criminal complaint with the Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office. The prosecutor’s office, launched an investigation against Ocak and Büyüktaş Akça, as well as İpek Özbey, the editor-in-chief of the newspaper, and Vedat Arık, its photojournalist.
Journalists were accused of “targeting those who took part in the fight against terror” and “violation of privacy.” They faced five to 14 years in prison each.
Altun also requested a total of 250 thousand TL for non-pecuniary damages from reporter Hazal Ocak, the newspaper’s managing editor Olcay Büyüktaş Akça and the company publishing the newspaper.
On the other hand, on May 13th, 2020, the Press Bulletin Authority decided to deprive Cumhuriyet from official announcements and advertisements -a source of revenue for newspapers- for 35 days. This decision was also reached upon a complaint by Altun. The Press Bulletin Authority, in charge of regulating the advertisement relations between newspapers and government agencies which are legally obliged to announce certain actions to the public, justified this decision by claiming that “Cumhuriyet Newspaper exceeded the limits of freedom of reporting and expression”.
Legal proceedings for punitive damages will continue in 2021.
High courts: Seeking justice on higher ground
Appeal against the acquittal verdict in the Brunson Case
The trial launched on July 27th, 2018 against Duygu Güvenç, and Alican Uludağ for their news reports titled “Hostage diplomacy collapses”, “Justice adjusted for the USA” and “Is it the judiciary or the state that detained and released him?” continued in 2020.
In these reports, the journalists discussed the Turkish government’s influence in the release of Andrew Craig Brunson -a US citizen who was a priest with İzmir Resurrection Church- with house arrest. They were charged with “denigrating the judiciary organs of the state”, facing prison sentences of six months to two years.
The trial lasted for eight hearings. The two journalists were acquitted by the court on October 22nd, 2020. The court justified its verdict by arguing “that the news reports cover a current event and employ a critical and disturbing language”. However, the hearing prosecutor objected to the acquittal verdict at a court of appeal, claiming that it went “against the law”.
Ministry of National Defense objects to journalist’s acquittal
In his personal blog, Rahmi Yıldırım penned an article titled “I Feel So Sad for the Chief of Staff”. In response, the current Minister of National Defense, Hulusi Akar - who was the Chief of Staff at the time- filed a criminal complaint against him, and a lawsuit was launched. Yıldırım was acquitted at the end of 2019. However, minister Akar’s lawyers objected to the acquittal verdict. The review by the court of appeal has been continuing for over a year.
Court of appeal overturns acquittal verdict upon the prosecutor’s objection: Journalists to undergo retrial
In reaction to the trial against the executives of Özgür Gündem Newspaper, Erol Önderoğlu,Şebnem Korur Fincancı and Ahmet Nesin had participated in the “Editor-in-Chief on Watch” campaign, each serving as the editor-in-chief of the newspaper for one day. The trial ended in 2019 with the acquittal of Önderoğlu, Fincancı and Nesin. The hearing prosecutor considered that the acquittal verdict was “against the law” and filed an appeal. The court of appeal overturned the acquittal decision and a retrial began.
Court of appeal rejects objections by both prosecutor and journalists
A similar trial was launched against Faruk Eren, Ertuğrul Mavioğlu, Celal BaşlangıçCelalettin Can,Fehim Işık,Hüseyin Aykol,İhsan Çaralan,Ömer Ağın and Öncü Akgül who had likewise served as editor-in-chief of Özgür Gündem for one day. The trial ended in the first quarter of 2019. Many of the journalists were charged with “spreading propaganda for a terror organization” and sentenced to prison. The court of appeal rejected the journalists’ appeals against the prison sentences. Yet the court of appeal also rejected the prosecutor’s appeal against the acquittal verdicts, and deferment of the announcement of the verdicts. As such, it upheld all the verdicts by the district court.
Journalist was acquitted, Erdoğan’s lawyers objected, and court of appeal issued a prison sentence
The trial where Faruk Arhan was charged with “insulting the President” began in 2017. Arhan risked a prison sentence of up to eight years, two months. The trial began in June 2018 and Arhan was acquitted at the first hearing.
However, President Tayyip Erdoğan’s lawyers objected to the acquittal verdict, and applied to the court of appeal. The appeal proceedings continued into 2020. At the hearing on February 26th, 2020, the hearing prosecutor demanded that the court reject the objection by Erdoğan’s lawyers and uphold the acquittal verdict for Arhan. However, the court of appeal ruled that Arhan shall be sentenced to one year, two months, 17 days in prison for “publicly insulting the President”. The announcement of the prison sentence was deferred.
Mümtazer Türköne to stand trial ‘again, meticulously’
In the trial against the columnists of the now shuttered Zaman Newspaper Mümtazer Türköne had been sentenced to 10 years, six months in prison; his lawyers had appealed against the verdict at the Court of Cassation.
While the verdict of the Court of Cassation was pending, on June 23rd, 2020, the leader of the Nationalist Action Party (MHP), Devlet Bahçeli talked about Türköne’s imprisonment pending trial: “My wish is for any injustice to be remedied immediately. Problematic individuals such as Osman Kavala, the Altan brothers and Nazlı Ilıcak are being portrayed as innocent; the case of Mümtazer Türköne -the elder brother of a martyr- must be assessed again, meticulously.
Afterwards, when asked to elaborate on his remarks, Bahçeli said, “I didn’t say he is guilty or innocent. It is the Turkish justice system which shall decide that.”
In its verdict dated September 24th, 2019, the Court of Cassation overturned Türköne’s prison sentence. As a result, Türköne was released. Arrested on August 4th, 2016, he thus remained behind bars for more than four years.
Court of Cassation alludes to Nazi Propaganda Minister in verdict
In its same verdict, the Court of Cassation also overturned the prison sentences for Şahin Alpay and Ali Bulaç. The acquittal verdict for Mehmet Özdemir was likewise overturned, and the trial against Alpay, Bulaç and Özdemir resumed.
The Court of Cassation upheld the prison sentences of Ahmet Turan Alkan,İbrahim Karayeğen and Mustafa Ünal for “membership of an armed terror organization” as well as the acquittal of Lalezar Sarıibrahimoğlu,Nuriye Akman,İnsan Duran Dağı and Orhan Kemal Cengiz.
The verdict provided a definition of the freedom of press and expression, and stated, “this freedom is not an unlimited right”. It was stated that the media is the fourth pillar, since the press and media have immense power in influencing and orienting the masses: “If the press and media are abused by those in control, there may arise serious threats towards democracy and individual rights and freedoms.”
It was stated that this argument was not a groundless fear or projection. The verdict read, “there are various past examples of the abuse of the media in the past”, before citing Joseph Goebbels, Adolf Hitler’s Propaganda Minister:
“Give me an unscrupulous media, I will show you an unconscious public”; “Lie, some will surely believe you; if not, simply lie more”; “People believe more in big lies than in small lies”.
The Court of Cassation to rule in the Sözcü trial
The trial against Sözcü Newspaper’s Metin Yılmaz,Necati Doğru,Emin Çölaşan,Mustafa Çetin,Mediha Olgun and Gökmen Ulu ended in late 2019.
The journalists were condemned to prison sentences for “knowingly and willingly aiding a terror organization without being part of its hierarchical structure”. Mediha Olgun was acquitted. Their lawyers appealed against the sentences at a court of appeal, demanding that the verdict be overturned. However, the court of appeal upheld the prison sentenceas it was “not unlawful.”
The last stage in justice: How did the Constitutional Court rule?
The Constitutional Court has been reviewing journalists’ applications regarding rights violations for many years. The court reached a verdict in some of these cases in late 2020.
Prisoned pending trial for nearly 2 years in the case against the columnists of the now shuttered Zaman Newspaper, Ahmet Turan Alkan, had filed an individual application with the Constitutional Court, before the district court condemned him to eight years, nine months in prison, on March 23rd, 2018. The Constitutional Court released its verdict after the prison sentence against Alkan was upheld by the Court of Cassation, on November 4th, 2020.
Muhammet Said Kuloğlu, had been detained on July 25th, 2016 with the allegation of “having ties to FETÖ’s media organization”, had been arrested on the same day for alleged “membership of an armed organization”, and spent about six months in prison before the drafting of the indictment against him. In the indictment completed on January 16th, 2017, the prosecutor accused him of “membership of an armed organization”, requesting five to 10 years in prison. At the end of the trial, on March 8th, 2018, he was sentenced to seven years, six months in prison on the charge of “membership of an armed terror organization”. The verdict was upheld by the court of appeal on October 22nd, 2018. The Court of Cassation finalized the verdict on March 16th, 2020. He had been in prison for more than three years, seven months when the sentence of seven years, six months became final. Kuloğlu filed an application with the Constitutional Court twice, on February 5th, 2018 and then on April 26th, 2018, before and after the prison sentence was announced. The Constitutional Court announced its decision on Kuloğlu’s application on November 4th, 2020, after his verdict became final. The Supreme Court ruled that Kuloğlu’s allegations of violation of his “personal liberty and security” and his “freedom of expression and press” were “clearly without ground”.
Ahmet Altan applied to the Constitutional Court for the second time on November 21st, 2019 when he was arrested once again, upon the Court of Cassation’s decision to overturn the previous sentence. The Constitutional Court rejected Altan’s claim that his rights were violated, with a verdict published on October 21st, 2020.
The Constitutional Court had also rejected Altan’s first application on May 3rd, 2019. The European Court of Human Rights continues to review Altan’s application.
Europe, save us: How did ECHR rule?
The former columnists and executives of Cumhuriyet Newspaper had applied to the European Court of Human Rights regarding their trial and a verdict was reached four years later. ECHR ruled that the rights of Musa Kart,Güray Öz,Murat Sabuncu,Akın Atalay and Hakan Kara, as well as three newspaper executives were violated. ECHR ruled that Turkey shall pay 16 thousand euros in compensation to each journalist. European Court of Human Rights stated that the “right to freedom and security” set forth in Article 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights, and the “freedom of expression” in the Article 10 were violated.
However, the European Court of Human Rights did not confirm the journalists’ claim that “the arrests were politically motivated”.
The European Court of Human Rights also found that Turkey had violated the “right to freedom and security” and “freedom of expression” of Ahmet Şık, who had previously been detained under the “Cumhuriyet Newspaper Trial”.
The court refused the claim that his arrest was politically motivated.
Had the ECHR ruled that the investigation and trial of the journalists were politically motivated as per Article 18 of the European Convention on Human Rights, this would go down in history as a first in journalists’ trials in Turkey.
The world in turmoil: Coronavirus quarantine!
The coronavirus pandemic wreaking havoc across the world had a severe impact on Turkey as well. From the first half of March onwards, numerous measures were adopted, such as curfews, shutting down businesses like cafés and bars, travel restrictions as well as the postponement of trials with the shutdown of courthouses.
Nonetheless, the pressure on journalists continued to mount.
In this period when the legal proceedings were suspended (March 17th– June 15th), according to Press in Arrest’s figures,
At least 61 journalists were summoned to testify, taken into custody or faced a criminal complaint.
New lawsuits were brought against 18 journalists.
At least 92 journalists prosecuted in 59 trials in 9 provinces faced a total of 5 aggravated life sentences, 1 life sentence and at least 587 years 3 months to 1513 years 15 days in prison. All of the hearings were subsequently adjourned.
‘Publicity of trial’ principle violated on the pretext of the coronavirus…
Press in Arrest observed that, in the press trials held in Turkey since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic in Turkey, hearings are closed to observers and the public in an arbitrary manner, under the pretext of ‘protection measures’.
Since March 2020, under the pretext of the Covid-19 outbreak, but without complying with a specific criterion or a legal regulation shared with the public, the courts prevent observers, journalists and public from attending various hearings. This compromises the principle of the “publicity of the trial”, an important component of the right to a fair trial, which is secured by national legislation and human rights conventions.
In the period from March to the end of December, in 50 hearings concerning journalists, observers were not admitted to the courtroom or a restriction was imposed on the number of observers attending the hearings, under the pretext of the coronavirus outbreak.
Meanwhile in the home front: What did Press in Arrest do in 2020?
In 2020, the Press in Arrest team followed, reported, documented and covered 289 hearings in 15 provinces, with 12 rapporteurs.
On the first Friday of every month, we published the “Press Freedom Report” concerning the previous month. In total, we issued 10 reports, 8 of which were monthly reports.
A report titled “Journalism is a ‘Crime’ in Turkey” was issued on World Press Freedom Day, May 3rd. The report documents how many journalists were charged under which laws in the press trials of the last 2 years.
The remaining report is the 7-Month Press Freedom Report. In this report, we documented the developments concerning press freedom in the first 7 months of 2020, after the judiciary recess began in July 2020.
(The judiciary recess corresponds to a leave for all judiciary personnel, and as per the Law on Legal Procedures, Article, 102, “The judiciary recess starts on July 20th and ends on August 31st every year. The new court year begins on September 1st.)
Press in Arrest also issued 3 news analyses in 2020.
In 2020, there occurred a first as regards the history of press in Turkey. Journalist Oktay Candemir was taken into custody for his social media post about the TV series “Resurrection: Ertuğrul” broadcast on TRT. He was charged with “defaming a deceased person’s memory”. Article 130 of the Turkish Penal Code stipulates that a complaint must be presented for the initiation of an investigation for “defaming a deceased person’s memory”; however, no one had filed a “complaint” against Candemir: Journalist detained for offence prosecutable on complaint, but without complaint
How does Press in Arrest work?
Press in Arrest is an initiative founded to monitor, document, and commit to memory the prosecution of journalists in Turkey. Its objective is helping to restore the freedoms of press, thought and expression, and the people’s right to receive news.
Our monitoring efforts cover the entirety of legal proceedings, from the investigation stage to the conclusion of the trial.
We collect information on indictments, decisions reached in hearings, demands by the prosecutors and defense lawyers, district courts’ verdicts, and the appeal procedures at the courts of appeal and Court of Cassation.
We gather this information through the analysis of the indictments, first-hand observation of hearings, direct interviews with the journalists on trial and their lawyers, as well as media monitoring.
Press in Arrest also issues “Hearing Observation Reports” concerning the hearings that it follows.
These hearing observation reports about the trials against journalists feature information on the circumstances prior to the hearing, procedures in the courtroom and during the hearing, demands by the prosecutors and lawyers; general observations about the hearings; as well as an evaluation of compliance with the criteria for “the right to a fair trial”.
Press in Arrest has gathered all the information it has collected during 2 years of monitoring efforts in its “Journalist Trials Database”.
Press in Arrest shares this information with the domestic and international community via the “Press Freedom Reports” issued on a monthly basis.
These reports are based on the information accessed by Press in Arrest, and do not claim to be exhaustive of all the information across Turkey.
The data does not include the category of “media professionals” such as advertising specialists, concessionaires, graphic designers and distributors.