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18 April

Freedom of Expression and the Press in Turkey - 290

Ahmet Altan released after 4.5 years behind bars; ECtHR issues long-awaited Ahmet Altan and Murat Aksoy judgments; retrial of Zaman columnists begins

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Ahmet Altan released by Supreme Court after 4 years 7 months behind bars

Novelist and journalist Ahmet Altan was released from the Silivri Prison on 14 April 2021 based on a decision by the Supreme Court of Appeals after spending 4 years and 7 months behind bars as part of the “Altans trial.”

Citing the trial court’s failure to apply the reductions prescribed by law in the sentence imposed on Altan at the retrial of the case in 2019, the Supreme Court of Appeals quashed Altan's 10.5-year sentence on the charge of “aiding a terrorist organization without being its member” (Article 220/7 of the Turkish Penal Code) and ordered his release. The Court also overturned the conviction of Altan’s co-defendant Nazlı Ilıcak on the same grounds. The Court’s decision was made public by the state-run Anadolu Agency.

The release order came one day after the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) issued its judgment concerning Altan's application.

A report on Ahmet Altan’s release can be accessed here.

 

ECtHR issues long-awaited Ahmet Altan and Murat Aksoy judgments after 4 years

 

The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) on 13 April 2021 issued its judgment concerning Ahmet Altan's application, which had been pending before the Court since January 2017.

The Strasbourg Court found multiple violations of the European Convention on Human Rights in Altan’s case, including the right to liberty and security, freedom of expression, and the right to have the lawfulness of his detention decided speedily by court. The court ruled that Turkey should pay Altan 16,000 euros in compensation.

Altan was arrested in September 2016 on “coup” and “terror” accusations stemming from his political commentary during a TV show that aired the night before the 15 July 2016 coup attempt and three articles he wrote that year. In 2018, he was sentenced to aggravated life imprisonment on the charge of “attempting to overthrow the constitutional order,” which was overturned in 2019 by the Supreme Court of Appeals. At the end of his retrial, Altan was given a 10.5-year sentence for “aiding a terrorist organization without being its member.”

A report on the ECtHR’s Ahmet Altan judgment can be accessed here.

Also issuing its judgment concerning journalist Murat Aksoy’s application on 13 April, the ECtHR found violations of the right to liberty and security and freedom of expression and the press.

Aksoy was one of 28 journalists who stood trial on “coup” and “terror” charges in the case publicly known as the “FETÖ media trial” over alleged ties with the Fethullah Gülen movement. Aksoy, who was arrested several weeks after the coup attempt, was released pending trial after spending nearly 14 months behind bars. At the end of the trial, in 2018, Aksoy was sentenced to 2 years and 1 month in prison for “aiding a terrorist organization without being its member.”

By a majority of 4 votes to 3, the Court held that there had been no violation of Article 5/4 (inability to access investigation file).

A report on the ECtHR’s Murat Aksoy judgment can be accessed here.

 

Actor Genco Erkal faces investigation on “insulting the president” allegation

 

Veteran stage actor Genco Erkal announced this week that he has been summoned to the courthouse to give his statement to a prosecutor as part of an investigation on the allegation of “insulting the president.” Speaking to BBC Turkish service, Erkal said his Twitter posts since 2016 were examined and some of these posts were held as evidence against him. Erkal said he will go to the courthouse on 19 April.

 

Trial against Aziz Oruç adjourned until September

 

The fourth hearing of the trial against journalist Aziz Oruç, who was arrested in the eastern Ağrı province on 11 December 2019 and released pending trial at his third hearing in November 2020, was held on 16 April 2021 at the Ağrı 2nd High Criminal Court.

Oruç, who is charged with "membership in a terrorist organization" and "terrorism propaganda,” was set to address the court from the Diyarbakır Courthouse via the judicial video-conferencing network SEGBİS. However, the court issued an interim ruling without establishing a SEGBİS connection and adjourned the trial until 10 September, awaiting the submission of requested documents.

 

Arrest warrant against Cengiz Çandar lifted 

 

The second hearing of journalist Cengiz Çandar and Kemal Işıktaş’s trial for allegedly “praising an offence or an offender” under Article 215 of the Turkish Penal Code (TCK) was held on 15 April 2021 at the Istanbul 30th Criminal Court of First Instance.

Çandar and Işıktaş are on trial over social media posts they shared in May 2017 about Ayşe Deniz Karacagil, who died in 2017 in the Syrian city of Raqqa after joining the PKK.

Issuing an interim ruling, the court lifted the arrest warrant for Çandar, who lives abroad, and adjourned the trial until 23 September.

A report on the hearing, monitored by P24, can be accessed here.

 

Trial of ETHA journalists Şahin and Gayıp adjourned until July

 

The 13th hearing of a trial where Etkin news agency (ETHA) editor Semiha Şahin and reporter Pınar Gayıp are among four defendants charged with “membership in a terrorist organization” and “terrorism propaganda” was  held on 15 April 2021. 

Due to Covid-19, the Istanbul 23rd High Criminal Court did not allow press members and spectators to observe the hearing. Gayıp and her lawyer were present while Şahin did not attend. The court adjourned the trial until 14 July, awaiting the submission of requested documents.

 

Prosecutor demands sentence for Cem Şimşek

 

The trial against Evrensel daily’s former responsible managing editor Cem Şimşek on the charge of “insulting the president” (TCK 299) resumed on 15 April 2021 at the Bakırköy 27th Criminal Court of First Instance.

Şimşek is accused over a report published on 2 August 2015 about German cartoonists' depictions of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

Submitting his final opinion, the prosecutor demanded that Şimşek be sentenced as charged. Granting Şimşek and his lawyer Devrim Avcı additional time for their final defense statement, the court adjourned the trial until 8 July.

 

Indictment against jailed journalist Mehmet Aslan accepted

 

The indictment against Mezopotamya news agency reporter Mehmet Aslan, who has been jailed pending trial since January, was accepted by the Istanbul 24th High Criminal Court. Aslan's first hearing will be held on 26 May.

Aslan has been jailed since 9 January in the Antalya L Type Closed Prison. The indictment against Aslan, drafted by the Antalya Chief Public Prosecutor's Office, accuses the journalist of “membership in a terrorist organization.” Initially submitted to the Antalya 2nd High Criminal Court, the indictment was sent to Istanbul based on geographical jurisdiction.

 

Prosecutor demands lifting of Ahmet Şık’s immunity

 

The Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor's Office has demanded the lifting of the parliamentary immunity of Independent lawmaker Ahmet Şık due to his public remarks concerning the Boğaziçi University protests.

The Office of the Chief Public Prosecutor had initiated an investigation against Şık on 5 February 2021 with the allegation of “public incitement to commit a crime” (TCK 214), citing Şık’s remarks.

 

Journalist Buse Söğütlü facing additional charge

 

The fourth hearing of the trial against Gazete Yolculuk reporter Buse Söğütlü on the charge of “targeting public officials involved in the fight against terrorism” (TMK 6/1) was held on 14 April 2021 at the Istanbul 23rd High Criminal Court.

Söğütlü and her lawyers were present at the hearing, where the press and the audience were not allowed due to Covid-19. The court decided to send the file to the prosecutor's office for the drafting of their final opinion. The court panel told Söğütlü to also prepare a defense statement in response to the additional charge of “insulting a public official” (TCK 125/3), which is not included in the indictment. The trial was adjourned until 14 September.

Söğütlü is on trial over a Twitter post dated 18 March 2019, in which she quoted an article published on Gazete Yolculuk and commented on a decision rendered by judge Akın Gürlek.

 

Trial against Arafat Dayan adjourned 

 

The trial against journalist Arafat Dayan on the charge of “terrorism propaganda” over articles published in Demokratik Ulus, the weekly supplement of the now defunct Özgür Gündemnewspaper, was scheduled to resume on 14 April 2021 at the Istanbul 2nd High Criminal Court. Dayan and his lawyers submitted letters of excuse and the trial was postponed until a later date.

 

MA reporters İdris Sayılğan and Naci Kaya acquitted

 

The third hearing of the trial against Mezopotamya news agency (MA) reporters İdris Sayılğan and Naci Kaya, who were detained in February 2020 while they were covering the refugee crisis at the Turkish-Greek border, was held on 14 April 2021 at the Edirne 8th Criminal Court of First Instance.

In their final opinion, the prosecutor demanded that Sayılğan and Kaya be sentenced for “trespassing upon land which is restricted by virtue of the State’s military interest” pursuant to Article 332/1 of the Turkish Penal Code (TCK). Issuing its judgment, the court acquitted both journalists for lack of conclusive and credible evidence requiring conviction.

A report on the hearing can be accessed here.

 

Local journalist Özgür Boğatekin acquitted of “libel”

 

Journalist Özgür Boğatekin, the news manager of the Adıyaman-based local newspaper Gerger Fırat, was acquitted of “libel” (TCK 267/1) at the final hearing of his retrial over a video report posted in 2011 on the newspaper's website. The hearing was held on 14 April 2021 at the Gerger Criminal Court of First Instance.

Boğatekin did not attend the hearing. Presenting their final opinion, the prosecutor demanded Boğatekin’s acquittal on the grounds that his report was within the scope of freedom of the press and there was no criminal intent. Issuing its judgment, the court acquitted Boğatekin on the grounds that the legal elements of the crime did not occur.

 

Former Zaman columnists Alpay, Bulaç, Türköne appear in court for retrial

 

The retrial of former Zaman columnists Şahin Alpay, Ali Bulaç, Mümtazer Türköne and editor Mehmet Özdemir got underway on 13 April 2021 at the Istanbul 13th High Criminal Court. The retrial was ordered by the Supreme Court of Appeals, which reversed Özdemir’s acquittal and the sentences Alpay, Bulaç and Türköne were given on the charge of “membership in a terrorist organization.”

The Supreme Court of Appeals held that Alpay, Bulaç and Türköne should have been charged with "aiding a terrorist organization without being its member" (TCK 220/7) and Özdemir should have been convicted of “membership in a terrorist organization” (TCK 314/2).

Issuing an interim ruling, the court decided to issue an arrest warrant for Özdemir, who did not attend the hearing, and rejected Türköne’s request for the lifting of the judicial control measures at this point. Also ruling to hear Hüseyin Gülerce, Binnaz Toprak, Ümit Erol and Zekeriya Tüzen as witnesses, the court set 9 September 2021 as the date for the second hearing of the retrial.

A report on the hearing, monitored by P24, can be accessed here.

 

“Insulting the president” trial against Mustafa Sönmez to resume in May

 

The trial of journalist and economist Mustafa Sönmez on the charge of “insulting the president” (TCK 299) based on three social media posts he shared in 2015 and 2016 resumed at Istanbul’s Anadolu 26th Criminal Court of First Instance on 13 April 2021.

Sönmez did not attend the hearing. He was represented by his lawyers Hüsna Aydın and Ahu Arslan Fişenk. Accepting the lawyers’ request for additional time to make a statement regarding the deferral of the announcement of the sentence, the court adjourned the trial until 5 May.

 

Journalist Cihan Ölmez charged with “propaganda” in new indictment

 

Journalist Cihan Ölmez is charged with “terrorism propaganda” in a new indictment, where the statements he made to the press regarding the curfews imposed in 2015 and 2016 in Diyarbakır are cited as the grounds for the accusation. Ölmez, a former reporter for DİHA, was arrested along with 151 people within the scope of an investigation initiated in October 2020 based on testimony by secret witnesses.

Drafted by the Diyarbakır Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office, the indictment defines Evrenselnewspaper and the portal Bianet as “so-called media outlets supporting an illegal organization.” Reports published in February 2016 in Evrensel, in March 2016 on Demokrat Haber and in January 2016 on Bianet, which Ölmez had shared on social media, are held as evidence against him.

The Diyarbakır 5th High Criminal Court, which accepted the indictment, will hold the first hearing of the trial on 13 July 2021.

 

Court issues reasoned judgment in Demirtaş’s “insulting the president” trial

 

The Bakırköy 46th Criminal Court of First Instance, which sentenced Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) former Co-Chair Selahattin Demirtaş to 3 years and 6 months in prison for “insulting the president” (TCK 299) on 22 March, has issued its reasoned judgment in writing. The accusation stemmed from a statement Demirtaş made to press members on 24 December 2015 at the Atatürk Airport in Istanbul.

In the reasoned judgment, the court wrote: “Certainly, the freedom of a lawmaker to express his political views should be safeguarded. However, freedom of political debate is not absolute. It should be handled within the scope of freedom of expression. Consequently, criminal acts are not subject to parliamentary immunity. As a matter of fact, Constitutional safeguard is a privilege that provides assurance to a lawmaker under the roof of the Parliament, not individually. In this respect, although the defendant’s lawyers claimed that similar expressions were used in the Parliament, since these statements are not exactly the same with the content of the speech in question, it is not possible for the defendant to defend his act with legislative immunity within the scope of Article 83/1 of the Constitution.”

It added: “In order for an act to not be punished, the right to criticism should not be abused; derogatory, hurtful and exaggerated expressions should be avoided. In case any of the above is present, the right to inform and criticize cannot be present.”

 

Cartoonist Öznur Kalender acquitted of “insulting the president”

 

Cartoonist Öznur Kalender was acquitted of “systematically insulting the president” charge (TCK 299) at the final hearing of his trial, held on 8 April 2021 at the Anadolu 27th Criminal Court of First Instance. Kalender was on trial over three cartoons in which he depicted President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

 

Cartoonist Nuri Kurtcebe sentenced for “insulting the president”

 

Cartoonist and comic book artist Nuri Kurtcebe was sentenced to 2 years in prison for “insulting the president” (TCK 299) at the final hearing of his trial, recently held at the Fethiye 1st Criminal Court of First Instance. The case against Kurtcebe was launched in February 2020. He was accused over five Facebook posts he had shared in 2017 and 2018.

 

At least 68 journalists and media workers in prison

 

As of 16 April 2021, at least 68 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.



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