Eighteen Turkish journalists face jail terms on terrorism allegations

Istanbul, August 6, 2015–Eighteen editors from nine outlets in Turkey have been accused of terrorism in connection with publishing a photograph, according to Turkish and international news reports.

“Once again, Turkish authorities are conflating genuine news reporting with terrorism,” said CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova from New York. “Freedom of the press entails journalists’ ability to cover any sensitive issue or story without fear of reprisal. We call on Turkish authorities to stop legally harassing the journalists and drop all allegations against them.”

Istanbul’s Chief Prosecutor’s Office filed an indictment with the 1st Court of Serious Crimes, accusing the journalists of “disseminating terrorist propaganda,” Turkish and international press reported. According to The Associated Press, the court has not yet decided whether to accept the indictment. The journalists, who denied the allegations, are not in state custody. If convicted, they face up to 7.5 years in jail, reports said.

Al-Jazeera reported that the editors named in the indictment include Kaan Özbek and Orhan Duman, from the daily Şok; Sedat Gülmez and Cuma Ulus, from the daily Milliyet; Seçil Şengelir Güler and Mehmet Emin Öztürk, from the daily Posta; Başak Günseven and Orhan Şahin, from the daily Yurt; Gökhan Çorbacı and Temel Tanadalan, from the daily Bugün; Abbas Yalçın and Can Dündar, from the daily Cumhuriyet; Reyhan Çapan and Emine Eren Keskin, from the daily Özgür Gündem; Murat Şimşek and Mehmet Sabuncu, from the daily Aydınlık; and Berkant Gültekin and İbrahim Aydın, from the daily Birgün.

The allegations stem from a photograph published by the news outlets that showed a masked militant from the outlawed leftist group Revolutionary People’s Salvation Party/Front, or DHKP/C, holding a gun to the head of local prosecutor Mehmet Selim Kiraz, according to news reports. The prosecutor was taken hostage by the militants at an Istanbul courthouse in March and died following a shootout, according to news reports.

The DHKP/C has been classified as a terrorist organization in Turkey. Following the shootout, the group released the photo on social media and it was then circulated widely online, according to reports.

The news outlets named in the indictment published the photo without blurring Selim Kiraz’s face. Authorities said publishing the photo without “blurring or darkening it in any way” was considered “propaganda of a terrorist organization via the press,” according to the indictment which was signed by Prosecutor Umut Tepe of the Istanbul’s Chief Prosecutor’s Office and was reviewed by CPJ.

One of the editors, Dündar of the daily Cumhuriyet, was cited by the German broadcaster Deutsche Welle as saying that he was not endorsing DHKP/C but had chosen to publish the image only “to demonstrate the ugly face of terrorism.” Other journalists also denied supporting militants and said that the image was widely carried by local broadcasters and shared on social networks, reports said.

The move comes amid increased violence in Turkey as the country in July said it was joining the fight against the militant group Islamic State in Syria and northern Iraq. Some critics say that the government is using the opportunity to fight the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the DHKP-C, news reports said.

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