Turkish President Recip Tayyip Erdoğan in Cannakale, Turkey, March 18, 2016 (Photo: Khayan Ozer/Presidential Press Service/AP)
Turkish President Recip Tayyip Erdoğan in Cannakale, Turkey, March 18, 2016 (Photo: Khayan Ozer/Presidential Press Service/AP)

Turkey Crackdown Chronicle: Week of April 3

Trial of 46 journalists, media workers resumes
The trial of 46 journalists and media workers arrested in December 2011 resumed in Istanbul today. CPJ attended the trial as an observer.

Turkey’s Media Crackdown

Police had accused the journalists and other staff of the pro-Kurdish newspapers Özgür Gündem and Azadiya Welat, the Dicle News Agency (DİHA), and other media outlets of being members of the Group of Communities of Kurdistan (KCK), an umbrella organization including the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which Turkey has classed a terrorist organization.

Courts over the following three years ordered the release of all of those arrested in the 2011 raids, a few at a time, until the last of those detained was released in May 2014.

At today’s brief hearing, which only 10 of the accused attended, the court accepted defense lawyers’ request for additional time, and adjourned the trial until July 15. The court rejected the defense team’s request to halt the trial until their appeal to the Constitutional Court could be heard.

News agency says website censored, again
The DİHA news agency reported that the Turkish telecommunications authority TİB had blocked access to its website today, for the 34th time since the website was first blocked in July 2015.

Journalist complains of mistreatment in prison
The DİHA news agency reported today that prison authorities had destroyed a letter from DİHA reporter Feyyaz İmrak, whom police arrested in February, detailing complaints about conditions in Antalya Prison, where he is held.

İmrak’s lawyer, Hakan Evcin, told DİHA that the confiscated letter described 38 people being held in a room designed for 24 people, hunger-striking prisoners being moved to solitary confinement, and other hardships. Evcin said the prison’s management had not answered his written requests for better treatment of his client.

Sealed indictment for attempted murder of newspaper chairman
A court sealed an indictment in the case of the attempted murder of Murat Sancak, the chairman of the pro-government Star newspaper, the daily Hürriyet reported today. Unidentified attackers rammed Sancak’s car from behind in Istanbul in August 2015, then shot at the car. Twenty one bullets hit the vehicle, according to press reports. Sancak, his driver, and his bodyguard escaped unharmed.

[April 8, 2016]

Prominent journalist Cengiz Çandar on trial for ‘insulting the president’
Istanbul’s 39th Court of First Instance in Bakırköy on Wednesday began trying prominent journalist Cengiz Çandar on charges of “insulting the president” in connection with seven columns he wrote for the newspapers Hürriyet and Radikal, according to press reports. Çandar refused to testify, arguing that Turkey’s law against insulting the president was unconstitutional, and the trial was adjourned until May 31, according to press reports.

Çandar announced he was retiring from journalism after 40 years in his column for Radikal‘s website Wednesday. The editor of the website, radikal.com.tr — the online edition of the newspaper which closed in 2014 — on March 23, 2016, announced that the website would also close. All columnists for the website also published their final columns Wednesday.

Turkish President Recip Tayyip Erdoğan on April 5 defended having filed more than 1,845 criminal complaints for “insulting the president” since he assumed office in 2014, according to press reports.

Court orders censorship of online news articles alleging corruption
Istanbul 10th Court of Penal Peace on Thursday ordered regulators to block Turkish readers’ access to online news articles it found “demean[ed] the dignity of the president’s son,” according to Turkish media reports.

Bilal Erdoğan had petitioned the court to block access to articles published on the news websites t24.com.tr, cumhuriyet.com.tr, radikal.com.tr, and patronlardunyasi.com alleging he was involved in corruption, Turkey’s Oda TV reported.

Comedian could face charges in Germany for insulting Erdoğan
German diplomats told the newspaper Der Tagesspiegel Wednesday that German Foreign Ministry officials had determined that it was “highly likely” that German comedian Jan Böhmermann had committed a crime in reading a profane poem about Erdoğan on his April 1 television show.

Article 103 of Germany’s Penal Code allows for penalties of up to three years in prison for insulting a foreign leader, or up to five years in prison if a court finds the insult was a deliberate slander, according to German press reports.

More than 20 people in Germany have brought lawsuits against the comedian in response to the poem, Der Tagesspiegel reported, but in order for prosecutors to act, Turkey would need to formally press charges. German officials saw that as less likely following a Sunday telephone conversation between German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, in which Merkel condemned the poem as “deliberately hurtful,” Der Tagesspiegel reported.

Unknown vandals on April 2 pelted the Istanbul offices of the German broadcaster ZDF, which airs Böhmermann’s show, with rotten eggs and left a black wreath at the offices’ front door to protest the previous evening’s broadcast, the Turkish press reported.

Erdoğan himself in 1999 served time in prison for “inciting hatred based on religious differences” in a poem he read publicly.

[April 7, 2016]

Erdoğan says terrorists masquerade as journalists, lawyers, academics
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Tuesday told a group of lawyers that journalists, academics, and lawyers can work in the service of terrorist organizations, a theme he has stressed before, according to press reports.

“Academic-looking supporters, journalist-looking spies, politician-looking activists, civil-servant-looking militias are no different from terrorists with bombs in their hands,” Erdoğan said, according to the daily newspaper Yeni Şafak.

Erdoğan called suggestions from activists and professors that academics might face trial while not in state custody “nonsense,” according to press reports. The Turkish government’s crackdown on the press coincided with moves against politically active academics, according to press reports. Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, himself a former professor, last week said that academics could be tried while not in custody, a recommendation he has previously made regarding some journalists as well, according to press reports.

Journalists questioned
Police on Tuesday detained at least four media workers as part of a renewed crackdown on suspected supporters of exiled preacher Fethullah Gülen, whom the government accuses of maintaining a terrorist organization and parallel state structure within Turkey, according to press reports. At least 120 people were arrested in 22 provinces as part of that crackdown on Tuesday, according to press accounts.

The same day, police detained Turan Ababey, former owner of the defunct newspaper Karşı, Ufuk Emin Köroğlu, and Emre Erciş, former reporters for the newspaper, and Karşı‘s former general coordinator, Kutlu Esendemir, according to press reports. All four were released by court order after questioning.

The court banned all the journalists–except Esendemir, who had flown back to Turkey to face questioning upon hearing he was wanted–from travel until investigations were complete, according to press reports.

Esendemir said he was questioned about stories published in Karşı that police said had angered the government, according to news accounts.

Three other journalists detained in dawn raids Monday were released. A court on Tuesday ordered the release of Mehmet Bozkurt, the former news editor at Karşı and now a reporter for the daily Aydınlık, and Bayram Kaya, a reporter for Zaman newspaper, which was taken over by pro-government figures last month. Prosecutors also ordered the release of Değer Özergün, the former editor of the defunct Millet newspaper, before he saw a judge.

Eren Erdem, Karşı’s former editor-in-chief and now a member of parliament for the opposition Republican People’s Party, on Tuesday told reporters he believed the questioning of the newspaper’s former staff was part of a conspiracy against him and retaliation for stories the newspaper ran alleging corruption.

New pro-government leadership fires two more Zaman journalists
The new leadership of the daily, Zaman, fired Bayram Kaya today while the journalist was detained by police for questioning, the daily newspaper Özgür Düşünce reported. CPJ is seeking confirmation from Kaya.

Emre Soncan, another journalist at the newspaper, wrote on Twitter today that he had also been fired from the newspaper.

The newspaper’s new leadership on March 29 fired six veteran journalists from the daily newspapers Zaman and Today’s Zaman, according to press reports. Trustees fired Bülent Korucu, Hasan Sutay, Celil Sağır, Mehmet Özdemir, Yakup Şimşek, and Mustafa Edip Yılmaz for “abusing the trust of the employer” and “acting against the good will and morals, as well as the company’s image,” the reports said.

On March 4, 2016, police raided the offices of Feza media group–which owns Today’s Zaman, Zaman, and the Cihan news agency–following a court order appointing new trustees for the group. On March 24, 2016 an Istanbul court sentenced Bülent Keneş, the founding editor of Today’s Zaman, to two years and seven months in prison on charges of insulting Erdoğan. Keneş was not present at the hearing. Sevgi Akarcesme, the paper’s editor before the takeover, left the country for Brussels.

Journalist detained on suspicion of terrorism
Police detained Fırat Duymak, a reporter for the pro-Kurdish Dicle News Agency (DİHA), in Şirnak, southeastern Turkey, this morning and released him around noon local time, the press freedom group Haber Nöbeti reported on Twitter. DİHA later reported police said they had detained Duymak because they believed his car contained a bomb.

[April 6, 2016]

Detained editor released
A prosecutor ordered the release of Değer Özergün, the former editor of the shuttered Millet newspaper, journalist Mürsel Genç, writing from outside the prosecutor’s office, reported on Twitter today. Millet closed last month after a court hollowed out the leadership of the company that owned it.

Özergün was among three journalists police detained in dawn raids yesterday. Prosecutors today ordered his release after questioning him, Genç and others at the prosecutor’s office reported on Twitter.

Police also detained Bayram Kaya, a reporter for Zaman newspaper, which was also taken over by pro-government figures last month, and Mehmet Bozkurt, reporter for the daily Aydınlık, yesterday, according to news reports. The reasons for the journalists’ detentions were not immediately clear. The news website Haberdar reported on Monday that the journalists had each written about corruption allegations in December 2014.

Erdoğan defends having filed more than 1,845 criminal complaints for ‘insulting the president’
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan defended having filed more than 1845 criminal complaints against people for “insulting the president” since he took power in 2014, in remarks to the Turkish Red Crescent today, the news website Diken reported.

“Somebody was sentenced to three years for insulting [US President Barack] Obama just recently,” Erdoğan said, according to Diken. “Somebody in Germany was sentenced to two years for insulting [German Chancellor Angela] Merkel.”

Diken noted that a U.S. court last month sentenced Brian Dutcher on charges of threatening to assassinate Obama, and that a German court in October sentenced an unidentified, 31-year-old man to 2 years and 3 months in prison for demanding that Merkel be put in front of a firing squad. Diken also noted that neither leader was a party to those cases.

[April 5, 2016]

Police detain three journalists in dawn raids
Police detained three journalists in early morning raids on Monday, according to press reports. Değer Özergün, who was the editor of Millet newspaper before a court hollowed out its leadership and it closed, Bayram Kaya, a reporter for Zaman newspaper, which was also taken over by pro-government figures last month, and Mehmet Bozkurt, reporter for the daily Aydınlık, were all detained today, according to news reports.

Police also raided the home of Ufuk Köroğlu, who formerly worked with the defunct newspapers Karşı and Millet, but the journalist escaped capture because he was out of country, Köroğlu wrote on Twitter.

The reasons for the arrest raids were not immediately clear. Haberdar reported on Monday that all four journalists had written about corruption allegations in December 2014 that led to a purge of security and judicial officials alleged to be loyal to exiled preacher Fethullah Gülen, whom the government accuses of maintaining a parallel state structure and terrorist organization within Turkey.

The news website Medya Radar reported that it was the financial police who conducted the Monday morning raids.

Obama ‘talked behind my back’ about press freedom, Erdoğan says
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Saturday told reporters he was “saddened” that US President Barack Obama had “talked behind his back” about press freedom in Turkey. Erdoğan disputed Obama’s contention that the two had discussed these issues directly.

“In our previous telephone conversations, we agreed that talking face to face would be more useful rather than talking through press,” Erdoğan said. “As I have stated in my speech at the Brookings Institute, there is need to make a distinction between criticism and insult… In some newspapers in Turkey, headlines calling the president a ‘murderer, robber’ are being written…If it [were] true that there was a dictatorship in Turkey, then how could such publications come out?”

Court censors website at Erdoğan’s request
The communist news website soL reported Saturday that a court had ordered authorities to censor a petition on the site titled “The truths are stronger than Erdoğan,” the newspaper’s editorial about the petition, and all articles from the website’s domestic news section. According to soL, the court agreed with the president that the material was “insulting,” and that it “violated the rights and demeaned the dignity of the complainant,” and exceeded the limits of freedoms of speech and media.

[April 4, 2016]