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11 October

Freedom of Expression and the Press in Turkey – 263

Four journalists jailed in Van; new indictment seeks aggravated life sentence for Osman Kavala; Can Dündar’s personal assets seized

https://expressioninterrupted.com/

Four journalists imprisoned in Van

Four journalists, including reporters of the pro-Kurdish Mezopotamya news agency, were jailed pending trial by a court on 9 October 2020, four days after they were arrested in police raids on their homes in the eastern province of Van. On the same day the journalists’ homes were raided, the Van bureau of Mezopotamya was also raided and searched by police teams. 

Mezopotamya reported that the journalists were imprisoned on the charge of “membership in a terrorist organization” for “reporting on social events against the state.” 

The jailed journalists are Mezopotamya reporters Cemil Uğur and Adnan Bilen, all-female news agency Jinnews reporter Şehriban Abi and journalist Nazan Sala. Mezopotamya reporters were involved in investigating and reporting on the alleged torture of two villagers after they were arrested by troops, raising suspicions that their arrests could be linked to the coverage of the case. One of the villagers allegedly tortured in military custody and thrown off a low-flying helicopter, Servet Turgut, died of his injuries last week, after spending 20 days at an intensive care unit. 

New indictment against Osman Kavala 

Imprisoned businessman and leading civil society figure Osman Kavala faces aggravated life sentence and a prison term of up to 20 years on new “coup” and “espionage” charges, according to a new indictment prepared by the Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office. The indictment also names US academic and former State Department official Henri Barkey as a co-defendant facing the same charges as Kavala.

The indictment was sent to the Istanbul 36th High Criminal Court, which will oversee the new trial against Kavala, who has been in pre-trial detention for nearly two years. Kavala and Barkey are charged with “attempting to overthrow the constitutional order” under Article 309 of the Turkish Criminal Code, “attempting to abolish the Turkish Grand

National Assembly or to prevent, in part or in full, the fulfilment of its duties” under Article 311 and “attempting to overthrow the Turkish government or to prevent, in part or in full, the fulfillment of its duties” under Article 312. Each provision carries an aggravated life sentence. Article 328 of the Turkish Criminal Code, regarding “political or military espionage,” carries up to 20 years in prison. 

The indictment alleges that Barkey maintains “deep connections with terrorist groups” while describing Kavala as Barkey’s “local collaborator.”

In February, Kavala was acquitted of coup charges in the Gezi Park Trial but he was re-arrested as part of a new investigation into the 15 July 2016 coup attempt. The new indictment purports to include findings of that investigation. 

The new indictment against Kavala comes as the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, responsible for monitoring implementation of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) judgements, reiterated its call for Kavala’s release as per a judgment of the Strasbourg court in December 2019. The Committee issued a decision at the end of its meeting on 29 September – 1 October, “strongly urging” the Turkish authorities for immediate release of Kavala and ordering a draft interim resolution for consideration by the Committee at its next meeting on 1-3 December. 

Kavala’s application against his ongoing detention at the Constitutional Court, on the other hand, is still pending after the top court decided at the last minute to delay its review, scheduled for 29 December, upon receiving information that the indictment was ready. 

Can Dündar’s personal assets seized by court order 

An Istanbul court ruled on 7 October to order confiscation of all properties owned by exiled journalist Can Dündar and bank accounts in his name, citing his failure to appear before the court to testify in his ongoing trial into coverage of alleged shipment of arms to Syrian groups. Dündar was the editor-in-chief of Cumhuriyet when the newspaper published in 2015 reports and footage regarding the alleged arms transfer by trucks operated by the Turkish National Intelligence Agency (MİT).

In its interim decision, the Istanbul 14th High Criminal Court formally declared Dündar a fugitive under Article 247/2-a of the Turkish Criminal Procedure Code. It had given Dündar 15 days to return to Turkey at the previous hearing.

ETHA reporter arrested in raids targeting leftist group

Pınar Gayıp, a reporter for the Etkin News Agency (ETHA), was among dozens of people arrested in Istanbul in coordinated police raids targeting socialist political and youth groups on 7 October 2020. Gayıp was arrested for covering a funeral that took place in Istanbul’s Gazi neighborhood, ETHA reported

Gayıp was released on 9 October, after she was questioned by the prosecutor in charge of the investigation. 

Journalist Ayşegül Doğan faces up to 15 years in jail 

Fifth hearing in trial of Ayşegül Doğan, the former program coordinator at the İMC TV that was closed down by an emergency decree, was held at the Diyarbakır 9th High Criminal Court on 7 October. Prosecutor presented to the court his final opinion on the case at the hearing, requesting up to 15 years in prison for Doğan on the charge of “membership in a terrorist organization.”

Doğan is on trial on the basis of her contacts and interviews with executives of the Democratic Society Congress (DTK) and her participation in activities organized by the DTK. The trial was adjourned until 7 December 2020. 

Journalists stand trial for coverage of refugee crisis near Greek border 

Mesopotamia Agency reporters İdris Sayılğan and Naci Kaya, who were briefly detained in Edirne while following a refugee crisis near the border with Greece in February and were later charged with "entering a military forbidden zone," appeared before an Edirne court on 8 October at the first hearing in their trial. 

Sayılğan and Kaya attended the court hearing through judicial videoconferencing system SEGBİS from the Istanbul 53rd Criminal Court of First Instance. At the hearing followed by P24, the journalists said they went to the border to cover the developments near the border and that there was no indication that they were in a military restricted zone. The court decided to hear the soldiers who made the arrests in February and adjourned the hearing to 27 January 2021.

Court rules for Sertaç Kayar’s acquittal after 3 years of trial

Journalist Sertaç Kayar was acquitted in nearly three years of trial on charges of "establishing or leading a terrorist organization" for allegedly participating in the activities of the Democratic Society Congress (DTK).

At the final hearing held at Diyarbakır 10th High Criminal Court on 9 October 2020, the prosecutor presented his final opinion and demanded that Kayar be punished for the imputed crime. Kayar's lawyer, on the other hand, stated that the person mentioned in the case file is not his client, but a member of the DTK Permanent Council with a similar name. Kayar, for his part, demanded his acquittal by stating that he had never participated in DTK activities and only followed them as a journalist.

Announcing its verdict at the end of the hearing, the court ruled that it could not be established without a doubt that the alleged crime had been committed by Kayar, and ruled for Kayar's acquittal.

Prosecutor seeks jail term for Evrensel columnist

The second hearing in a case where Evrensel columnist Ender İmrek is charged with “publicly insulting” First Lady Emine Erdoğan in an article from June 2019 was held at Bakırköy 2nd Criminal Court of First Instance on 8 October. The session was closed to the audience, due to social distancing requirements. 

The prosecutor of the case presented his final opinion to the court, demanding that İmrek be convicted of the imputed crime. İmrek’s lawyers objected, saying the prosecutor was required to present a justification as to why he requested conviction but the prosecutor refused to respond, saying only that the “reason is clear.” The court adjourned the trial until 2 December 2020.

Journalist Ayser Çınar acquitted 

Journalist Ayser Çınar, who was charged with "spreading propaganda for a terrorist organization" on the basis of her Twitter posts from 2018, was acquitted at the first hearing held on 8 October 2020. 

In her defense statement to the court, Çınar said the posts cited in the indictment contained links to news stories and were within the framework of journalistic activities. Submitting his final opinion on the case, the prosecutor requested Çınar’s acquittal saying it could not be established that a crime had been committed. The court followed the prosecutor’s request and ruled for Çınar’s acquittal. 

Prosecutor requests Necla Demir’s acquittal in “insult” case 

Second hearing in trial of journalist Necla Demir, a former executive of online newspaper Gazete Karınca, was held on 8 October 2020 at the Bakırköy 8th Criminal Court of First Instance. Demir is on trial for two articles published in Gazete Karınca on the charges of “incitement to hatred and animosity” and “insulting the president.”

Demir denied the accusations, saying the articles did not contain insult or incitement and demanded her acquittal. Her lawyer agreed, saying the president is a political figure and his policies were open to legitimate criticism. Following the defense statements, prosecutor in the case presented his final opinion, requesting Demir’s acquittal since the articles in question did not constitute the crime of insult. The court adjourned the trial until 28 October 2020. 

Arafat Dayan’s trial adjourned 

The second hearing of the trial in which Arafat Dayan, former editor-in-chief of Demokratik Ulus weekly, was charged with "printing or publishing the publications of terrorist organizations" and "terrorism propaganda," was held on 6 October at the Istanbul 23rd High Criminal Court. Arafat Dayan did not attend the hearing, followed by P24 at the courtroom. The trial was adjourned to 13 October.

The case against Dayan is originally based on eight different indictments merged into one. It was first concluded by the Istanbul 23rd High Criminal Court on 21 May 2015, when Dayan was sentenced to 5 years and 10 months in prison for "spreading propaganda for a terrorist organization." Following a Supreme Court of Appeals decision on 12 May 2016 upholding the conviction, Dayan was arrested and sent to a prison to serve his sentence. In 2019, his lawyers applied to the Istanbul 23rd High Criminal Court demanding a retrial based on an amendment to Article 7/2 of the Anti-Terror Law as part of the First Judicial Reform Package announced in October 2019. The said amendment states that “expressions of thoughts that fall within the scope of reporting or criticism do not constitute a crime.” The court accepted the request and ordered Dayan’s release pending outcome of the re-trial. First hearing of the re-trial took place on 27 February 2020. 

Compensation case against Ceren Sözeri postponed to February

Trial of academic and Evrensel columnist Ceren Sözeri for an article published on 7 April 2019 resumed on 7 October at the Istanbul 2nd Commercial Court of First Instance. The court adjourned the trial until 3 February 2021, waiting for submission of previously requested documents. 

The plaintiff in the case, Serhat Albayrak, seeks up to TL 200,000 in damages from Sözeri and the Evrenselnewspaper because of the column, which contained criticism of Sabah newspaper and ATV broadcaster. Serhat Albayrak, brother of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s son-in-law and Energy Minister Berat Albayrak, is a senior executive of the Turkuvaz Media Group, which owns Sabah and ATV. 

İnan Ketenciler fined for Twitter post 

Artı TV foreign news editor İnan Ketenciler was fined TL 500 by a court for posting on his Twitter account a video recording of neighborhood guards detaining a restaurant employee after a verbal exchange. The decision came at the end of the second hearing of a trial overseen by the Istanbul 55th Criminal Court of First Instance on 8 October.

Ketenciler was originally charged with “illegally obtaining and disseminating personal data” at the start of the trial. On 8 October, prosecutor of the case presented his final opinion on the case, changing the charge to “unauthorized recording during criminal investigation or prosecution.” The court convicted Ketenciler of the new charge, first sentencing him to 25 days in jail and then converting it to a fine of TL 500. The sentence was deferred.

Journalist Can Ataklı’s trial adjourned 

First hearing in trial of journalist Can Ataklı for televised comments criticizing appearance of a teacher wearing headscarf on remote education channel EBA TV was held on 7 October at the Istanbul 22nd Criminal Court of First Instance. Ataklı is charged with “denigrating a segment of the society on the basis of social class, religion, sect and regional differences” for his remarks broadcast on Tele1 TV on 23 March 2020. 

Can Ataklı and his lawyer did not attend the hearing, which was followed by P24 at the courtroom. The trial was adjourned until 13 January 2021.

Trial of Cumhuriyet and Sözcü journalists postponed

On 7 October, the Istanbul 29th High Criminal Court adjourned trial of Cumhuriyet reporter Seyhan Avşar and Sözcünewspaper’s Responsible Managing Editor Necdet Önemli to 11 March 2021, waiting for final charges to be submitted by prosecutor of the case. 

The two journalists are charged with “exposing identities of officials involved in fighting terrorism” for a news report penned by Avşar and published in Cumhuriyet, as well as Sözcü’s website, because the report included name of the prosecutor in a case against Sözcü executives and columnists. 

Hakkı Boltan’s “insult” case postponed 

Fourth hearing in trial of journalist Hakkı Boltan on charges of “insulting the president” and “insulting a state official” was held on 6 October at the Diyarbakır 12th High Criminal Court. Boltan is on trial for a press statement he made in Kurdish in 2016, following the killing of Kurdish newspaper Azadiye Welat’s former Managing Editor Rohat Aktaş at a basement of a building during a military operation in Şırnak’s Cizre district. The session was closed to the audience due to Covid-19 measures. Trial was adjourned until 24 December 2020. 

Journalist Oktay Candemir’s trial adjourned until March 

The second hearing of the trial in which journalist Oktay Candemir was charged with "insulting the president" based on a tweet he posted on 5 September 2019 was held on 8 October 2020 at the Van 3rd Criminal Court of First Instance.

The court sent the file to the Van Chief Public Prosecutor's Office for preparation of the final opinion and adjourned the hearing until 4 March 2021.

Journalists’ trial over banned protests resumes 

Trial of 38 people who were detained during protests in August 2019 in Istanbul, including Özgür Gelecek reporter Taylan Özgür Öztaş and Etkin News Agency (ETHA) reporter Tunahan Turhan, resumed at the Anadolu 13th Criminal Court of First Instance in Istanbul on 6 October. 

The 38 people are charged with “violating the Law on Public Demonstrations” for attempting to protest appointment of trustees to take over municipalities run by the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) in two demonstrations in Kadıköy, Istanbul. Tunahan Turhan did not attend the hearing. Taylan Öztaş, who was present at the courtroom, said he was at the venue of the protest to cover it, not to participate in it, and demanded his acquittal. The trial was adjourned until 4 March 2021. 

At least 89 journalists and media workers in prison

Following the imprisonment of Mezopotamya Agency reporters Cemil Uğur and Adnan Bilen, Jinnews reporter Şehriban Abi and journalist Nazan Sala, at least 89 journalists and media workers are in prison in Turkey, either in pre-trial detention or serving a sentence, as of 9 October 2020.

The full list can be accessed here.



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