In Turkey, Odatv publisher conditionally released

Istanbul, December 28, 2012–Turkish authorities on Thursday released Soner Yalçın, owner and publisher of the ultranationalist-leftist news website Odatv, from prison for the duration of his trial, according to news reports. Yalçın, who has been jailed since February 2011 on anti-state charges, could be re-arrested and jailed if he is convicted.

Yalçın is facing trial on accusations of having ties to the alleged Ergenekon plot, a shadowy conspiracy that authorities claimed was aimed at overthrowing the government through a military coup. The journalist was also accused of attempting to influence court proceedings, inciting hatred, violating privacy rights, and disclosing classified documents. Yalçın has denied the allegations and repeatedly said that the evidence against him includes his journalistic articles and tapped professional conversations.

The 16th Court of Serious Crimes in the capital, Istanbul, banned Yalçın from traveling internationally and also ordered him to report weekly to a local police station. The court did not say why it decided to release Yalçın at this time. The journalist’s defense lawyers have repeatedly filed appeals for such a release in previous months.

In an October report, “Turkey’s Press Freedom Crisis,” CPJ found that highly repressive laws and a harsh anti-press tone at the highest levels of government have contributed to widespread criminal prosecutions and journalist imprisonments in Turkey. CPJ documented 49 journalists, including Yalçın, in prison in its annual census conducted on December 1, 2012.

“While we are relieved that Soner Yalçın is out of custody, albeit conditionally, we remain gravely concerned at the continued imprisonment of dozens of other Turkish journalists in retaliation for their work,” CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova said from New York. “We call on Turkish authorities to remove the conditions of Yalçın’s release, scrap the charges against him, and free all remaining journalists held behind bars for their professional activities.”

Evidence against Odatv and Yalçın include digital documents Turkish police said were found on staff computers that allegedly implicate the staff in participating in the Ergenekon purported plot. However, the authenticity of those documents has been challenged by several independent expert reviews, which have found Trojan viruses in the Odatv computers–a fact that suggests the documents may have been planted.

  • For more data and analysis on Turkey, visit CPJ’s Turkey page here.