Turkish President Recip Tayyip Erdoğan removes his earpiece after speaking at the Brookings Institution, in Washington, March 31, 2016 (Joshua Roberts/Reuters).
Turkish President Recip Tayyip Erdoğan removes his earpiece after speaking at the Brookings Institution, in Washington, March 31, 2016 (Joshua Roberts/Reuters).

Turkey Crackdown Chronicle: Week of April 17

Trial resumes for journalists facing multiple life sentences
The trial of Can Dündar and Erdem Gül, editor and Ankara bureau chief, respectively, of Cumhuriyet newspaper resumed behind closed doors in Istanbul today. The court today denied prosecutors’ request to combine the case with another case targeting alleged supporters of exiled preacher Fethullah Gülen, whom the Turkish government accuses of maintaining a terrorist organization and “parallel state structure” within Turkey, according to press reports and the journalists’ lawyers, who posted updates from the trial to the social media website Twitter. The trial is expected to resume on May 6.

Turkey’s Media Crackdown

If convicted, the two face multiple life sentences for charges of exposing state secrets and aiding a terrorist organization in connection with a 2015 report alleging the Turkish intelligence agency was sending weapons to Syrian rebels.

[April 22, 2016]

Journalist detained in eastern Turkey
Police in the eastern Turkish town of Karlıova detained Doğan Akdamar, a journalist with the pro-Kurdish DİHA news agency, today, his employer reported. Police in civilian clothes apprehended the journalist and brought him to Karlıova Police Station, in Bingöl province, DİHA said. The reasons for Akdamar’s detention were not immediately clear. The news agency said he was expected to see a prosecutor today.

Court orders censorship of news article
Ankara’s First Court of Penal Peace today ordered the censorship of an article on the news website Haberdar, the website reported.

The censored article said the government had transferred students to dormitories run by the Ensar Foundation, a religious charity with connections to the government, because there was no room in state dormitories, and said it was possible the government was funding the charities, Haberdar said in a second article today. Turkish law stipulates dormitories for elementary school students must be run by the state, according to press reports.

Allegations that minors in the dormitories were sexually abused have caused a scandal in the Turkish press in recent weeks. A 54-year-old teacher went on trial on April 20 on charges he sexually abused 10 children in the dormitories, according to press reports. The Ensar Foundation told the BBC it had suspended operations at the dormitory in question, is investigating the allegations, and would take necessary steps if needed.

[April 21, 2016]

Police detain Kurdish journalists
Police detained Süheyla Ölmez and Mahsum Molak, journalists with the pro-Kurdish Dicle News Agency’s (DİHA), in İdil, in southeastern Turkey, near the border of Syria and Iraq, DİHA reported. The two were reporting on a memorial meeting for people killed amid clashes between ethnic Kurdish youth and Turkish security forces in the town when police raided the meeting at the Şırnak Municipality Cultural Center and detained the journalists and three other people, according to DİHA. The reason for the detention was not immediately clear.

A court in Sakarya, west of Istanbul, today formally arrested Muhammed Doğru, a trainee reporter for DİHA and a student at Sakarya University, DİHA reported. Police detained Doğru and 10 other Sakarya University students on April 15 and face charges of membership in a terrorist organization and propagandizing for a terrorist organization in connection with a March 2016 Women’s Day rally.

Turkey has classed the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) as a terrorist organization.

Russian journalist denied entry
Istanbul airport security officials on Tuesday night detained Tural Kerimov, a senior journalist from the Russian news website Sputnik, the website’s Turkish editor Mahir Boztepe told Reuters. Security officials confiscated Kerimov’s press card and residence permit, and denied him entry to the country, Boztepe said.

Turkish government spokesman and Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus cited “security concerns,” Reuters reported, but did not elaborate.

Airport security officials yesterday denied entry to German television journalist Volker Schwenck, who had flown to Turkey in the hope of interviewing Syrian refugees.

Kurtulmus today said Schwenck had been denied entry because he was not accredited as a journalist in Turkey and had not applied to be accredited.

“This decision of deportation is a decision taken because of security,” he said in remarks reported by CNNTurk, without elaborating.

[April 20, 2016]

Court acquits pair on charges of insulting Erdoğan
Istanbul’s Second Criminal Court today acquitted Arif Koşar and Vural Nasuhbeyoğlu, the owner and news editor, respectively, of Evrensel newspaper, on charges that they had insulted Turkish President Recip Tayyip Erdoğan, Evrensel reported.

The two faced up to four years in prison in connection with Evrensel‘s January 21, 2015, front-page headline, which quoted a lawyer for the family of a protester killed during the 2013 protests as saying the president was the victim’s real killer, according to press reports.

Erdoğan on April 5 defended having filed more than 1845 criminal complaints against people for “insulting the president” since he took power in 2014.

German journalist detained at Istanbul airport
Security officials today detained Volker Schwenk, a journalist for the German broadcaster SWR, part of the ARD network, as he attempted to enter Turkey, Schwenk wrote on the social media website Twitter.

“Final stop Istanbul. Entry to Turkey denied. There’s a note with my name. I’m a journalist. Problem?” he tweeted.

SWR said officials gave the Cairo-based correspondent no reason for his detention, and that he was being held in the deportation room, according to press reports. Schwenk had planned to travel to the Syrian border to interview refugees from the Syrian conflict, according to news reports.

Sports journalist detained
Police detained Ekrem Açıkel, a former journalist for the broadcaster Kanal D TV, at dawn today on suspicion that he contributed to an alleged conspiracy to falsely accuse Istanbul’s Fenerbahçe sports club of match-fixing in a 2013 bid to take control of the club, the pro-government Daily Sabah newspaper reported today.

The journalist, who reported on the alleged match-fixing, was among 38 people arrested in connection with the alleged conspiracy. In total, police seek the arrest of 64 people, including 48 police officers, five lawyers, and three journalists, including Açıkel, in the case. Prosecutors also seek the arrest of Ekrem Dumanlı, former editor of the now-defunct Zaman newspaper, but he remains free, Daily Sabah reported.

Prosecutors accuse the suspects of running a terrorist organization, membership in a terrorist organization, and illegal wiretapping. The terrorism charges are a reference to the “parallel state structure” the Turkish government accuses exiled preacher Fethullah Gülen of maintaining in Turkey, according to press reports.

Fenerbahçe president Aziz Yıldırım and six others were acquitted of match-fixing charges last year after the government removed the prosecutors in the case as part of a purge of officials it accused of belonging to the “parallel structure,” Daily Sabah reported.

[April 19, 2016]

A man and woman embrace after a bomb exploded in Ankara, October 15, 2015 (Reuters).
A man and woman embrace after a bomb exploded in Ankara, October 15, 2015 (Reuters).

Prosecutors investigate journalists who alleged security failures ahead of Ankara attack
Prosecutors in Ankara have launched an investigation into three journalists who reported on alleged security failures ahead of an October 10, 2015, bomb attack in the capital, according to press reports.

Prosecutors notified Kemal Göktaş, from the newspaper Cumhuriyet, and Evrensel reporters Cem Gurbetoğlu and Tamer Arda Erşin that they were under investigation on suspicion that they made the governor, chief prosecutor, and other security officials targets for attack by publishing their names and that they had published confidential documents, Evrensel and Cumhuriyet reported. The journalists had reported that security agencies had not processed intelligence that contained advanced warning of the October attack, including the attackers’ names.

Gurbetoğlu defended the decision to run the story in remarks published by the news website Bianet today.

“Any development regarding a massacre [that] claimed lives of hundreds qualifies [as] news. [The] inspectors’ report was indeed qualifying as news. We didn’t point [to] anyone as a target,” he said.

Journalist detained for crossing legs says police trashed home
Zeki Dara, the journalist detained April 14 for crossing his legs while covering a meeting attended by the governor of Turkey’s southeastern Hakkâri province, wrote on Twitter that police had ransacked his home during his brief detention.

Dara, news editor for the website Yüksekova Haber, on April 15 posted a photograph of his living room in disarray, saying police had trashed the house during his brief detention at Hakkâri’s Atatürk Police Station.

Dara was covering an event organized by the Hakkâri Provincial Mufti Directorate, a quasi-official religious institution tasked with offering religious opinions, when he crossed his legs. Governor Yakup Canbolat, in comments published April 15, said Dara’s crossing his legs was disrespectful to him and to religion. The governor said he asked his bodyguards to escort Dara out, Yüksekova Haber reported.

Court orders censorship of citizen journalist website
Ötekilerin Postası, a group of citizen journalists, on April 16 wrote on Twitter that the Gölbaşı Court of Penal Peace had ordered their website to be blocked in Turkey, but that they would continue publishing with a new web address.

The same court last week ordered the censorship of Russian news website Sputnik, the websites of the pro-Kurdish news agencies DIHA and JINHA, the newspapers Azadiya Welat and Ozgur Gündem, and others, according to press reports.

[April 18, 2016]