Can Dündar (right) and Erdem Gül speak to reporters before their trial resumes in Istanbul, April 1, 2016. (Özgür Öğret)
Can Dündar (center) and Erdem Gül (left) speak to reporters before their trial resumes in Istanbul, April 1, 2016. (Özgür Öğret)

Turkey Crackdown Chronicle: Week of March 27

Erdoğan, in Washington, says not at war with press; bodyguards insult, harass journalists
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, visiting Washington, on Thursday told the American television station CNN that he and his government were “not at war with the press,” in remarks broadcast after his security detail harassed, insulted, and attempted to forcibly eject critical Turkish journalists from a speaking event, according to press reports and videos posted to social media websites.

Turkey’s Media Crackdown

Speaking at the Brookings Institute, a think-tank, Erdoğan insisted that “there are no journalists in prison” in Turkey, in response to a question from the audience. The Brookings Institution had almost canceled the speaking engagement after confrontations broke out between Erdoğan’s security team and Turkish journalists, London’s Guardian newspaper reported.

The Turkish president’s bodyguards forcibly ejected Adam Yavuz, the Washington correspondent for the newspaper Ozgür Düşünce, from Brookings’ offices, in an incident captured on video. Brookings staff insisted Yavuz be allowed to attend, and the journalist eventually listened to Erdoğan’s remarks in an overflow room, Yavuz wrote on his personal blog.

Journalist Amberin Zaman, who is now in Washington on a fellowship with the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Peace, wrote on Twitter that a member of Erdoğan’s security team had called her a “PKK whore” ahead of the event, referring to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which the Turkish government has classed as a terrorist organization.

The president’s security team called other journalists “traitors,” witnesses wrote on Twitter.

The Washington-based National Press Club protested Erdoğan’s bodyguard’s behavior.

“We have increasingly seen disrespect for basic human rights and press freedom in Turkey,” National Press Club President Thomas Burr said Thursday. “Erdogan doesn’t get to export such abuse.”

Cumhuriyet trial resumes behind closed doors
The trial of Can Dündar and Erdem Gül, the editor and Ankara bureau chief for Cumhuriyet newspaper, respectively, resumed behind closed doors at Istanbul’s 14th Court for Serious Crimes today. The journalists could potentially face multiple life sentences if convicted of espionage, aiding a terrorist organization, and revealing state secrets in connection with Cumhuriyet reports alleging Turkey’s intelligence agency sought to supply Syrian rebels with weapons.

In a March 25 hearing, which CPJ attended, the court ruled that the rest of the trial should be held in secret on the grounds that national secrets would be discussed.

The court today allowed members of Dündar and Gül’s families to attend the hearing, but denied a petition from members of parliament to be allowed to attend. Engin Özkoç, Tuncay Özkan, Hilmi Yarayıcı, and Barış Yarkadaş, of the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), on Thursday had argued that their membership in the parliament’s Security and Intelligence Committee required them to observe the trial.

[April 1, 2016]

Court orders censorship of stories alleging corruption
Istanbul’s Fifth Court of Penal Peace on Wednesday ordered the censorship of 18 news stories published online alleging corruption, news websites reported today. The court agreed to a request from Bilal Erdoğan, son of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, to censor the stories on the grounds that they were “untrue” and of “a libelous quality.”

CPJ was unable to access the stories today from Istanbul using the country’s leading Internet service provider, Turk Telekom, or mobile data browsing, using the mobile phone operator Turkcell.

The censored stories, which CPJ was able to access using a virtual private network, discussed recordings of phone conversations, allegedly between Erdoğan and his son, discussing the bribe a businessman should pay to win a state contract. Those recordings surfaced in December 2014 as police and judicial officials announced a broadening series of investigations into allegations of government corruption that led to a purge of what the government said were members of the “Fethullah Gülen Terrorist Organization/Parallel State Structure” — followers of Fethullah Gülen, a preacher now living in exile in the United States — from the Interior Ministry and judiciary.

Opposition MPs petition to attend closed trial of Cumhuriyet journalists
Four members of parliament from the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) today petitioned Istanbul’s 14th Court for Serious Crimes to be able to attend tomorrow’s session of the trial of Can Dündar and Erdem Gül, the editor and Ankara bureau chief of Cumhuriyet newspaper, respectively, the newspaper reported.

The court on March 25 ruled that the rest of the trial should be held in secret on the grounds that national secrets would be discussed.

Engin Özkoç, Tuncay Özkan, Hilmi Yarayıcı, and Barış Yarkadaş today petitioned the court to attend, arguing their membership in the parliament’s Security and Intelligence Committee required them to observe the trial of the journalists for articles alleging that Turkey’s intelligence service sought to Syrian rebels with weapons.

[March 31, 2016]

Journalist detained on suspicion of ‘making terrorist propaganda’
Police in Erzurum briefly detained Manolya Bulut, a journalist for the JİNHA news agency, from the Faculty of Communications at Erzurum Atatürk University, the agency reported today. JİNHA, which employs only women, said police questioned their journalist at a nearby police station on suspicion of “making terrorist propaganda,” then released her. The news agency did not provide any further details, and it was not immediately clear why police had detained Bulut, or what they viewed as potential “terrorist propaganda.” Authorities have frequently harassed and detained JİNHA’s journalists in the recent past, according to CPJ research.

Germany tells Turkey free speech not negotiable
A German Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said today that German diplomats told their Turkish counterparts that the German government would not ask German public broadcaster ARD to remove from its website a song satirizing Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Turkey’s crackdown on the press, according to press reports. Turkey had summoned the diplomats yesterday to demand that the German government ask the broadcaster to remove the song from its website.

German Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Sawsan Chebli said “Germany’s position on freedom of the press and expression is not negotiable,” in remarks carried by news wires. She further said that German ambassador Martin Erdmann had attended the March 25 trial of Can Dündar and Erdem Gül, the editor and Ankara bureau chief of Cumhuriyet newspaper, respectively, to “send a signal” about press freedom.

[March 30, 2016]

Two journalists released, still face terrorism charges
Turkish authorities have released two Kurdish journalists from the JİNHA news agency, which employs only female journalists, according to press reports. Rojda Oğuz was released from prison in Van Province on Monday, according to press reports. A court ordered her colleague, Beritan Canözer, released from prison in Diyarbakır province Tuesday, according to JİNHA’s Twitter account and press reports. Police arrested Canözer in December 2015, Oğuz in January 2016. Both still face charges of belonging to the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK), which the Turkish government has classed a terrorist organization.

Freelance journalist Tuğba Tekerek was briefly detained but quickly released today for taking a picture in the Diyarbakır courthouse where Canözer’s case was being heard, she wrote on Twitter.

Court sentences journalist to one year in prison for insulting police
The Erciş Court of Penal Peace in Turkey’s eastern Van Province today sentenced Ömer Yılmaz, a journalist for Ajans Erciş, a community news agency, to one year in prison on charges he insulted police while attempting to prevent plainclothes police officers from arresting Idris Yılmaz, a journalist for the Dicle news agency, in November 2015, JİNHA reported. Ömer Yılmaz is free, pending appeal.

The same court today also acquitted Vildan Atmaca, a journalist for JİNHA, of charges of resisting police in relation to the same incident, JİNHA reported. Atmaca still faces charges of spreading terrorist propaganda on the social media website Facebook.

Court-appointed trustees fire more journalists from Zaman and Today’s Zaman
Court-appointed trustees today 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.

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

Foreign Ministry lashes out at foreign satirists, diplomats
Turkey’s Foreign Ministry summoned Germany’s ambassador last week over a satirical broadcast by German television station ARD that the Turkish government felt negatively depicted Erdoğan, the German newsmagazine Der Spiegel reported on its website Tuesday.

Turkey’s Foreign Ministry on Monday sent a note to embassies that sent diplomats to monitor the March 25 trial of Can Dündar and Erdem Gül, the editor and Ankara bureau chief of Cumhuriyet newspaper, respectively, protesting the move, according to press reports.

In a speech at the Turkey’s War College on Monday, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan criticized Leigh Turner, the British consul general in Istanbul, in particular, for posting a self-portrait with Dündar to the social media website Twitter.

“A country’s consul attends the hearing of a journalist who is tried on charges of espionage and supports him there,” Erdoğan said. “As if that weren’t enough, he publishes cheek-to-cheek photo with him and shares unacceptable expressions in social media such as ‘Turkey has to decide what kind of a country it wants to be.’ If that person still keeps his post in our country, it is thanks to Turkey’s generosity and hospitality. No other country would keep accommodating a diplomat with this kind of manner, even for one day.”

[March 29, 2016]

Prosecutors seek life sentence for jailed journalist
Prosecutors are seeking sentences of life in prison and 75 years in prison for columnist Gültekin Avcı, Turkish news websites reported Friday. Police arrested Avcı in September 2015 on suspicion of “establishing a terrorist group” and “plotting to topple the government” in connection with a series of columns he wrote over the course of 2013 and 2014, in which he alleged that Turkey’s intelligence agency had links to the group Tawhid-Salam, which Turkey has classed as a terrorist organization, CPJ reported at the time.

Turkish president, premier rail against international support for journalists on trial
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Saturday had sharp words for international diplomats who joined representatives of the Committee to Protect Journalists and other free-expression groups at the March 25 trial of Cumhuriyet journalists Can Dündar and Erdem Gül in Istanbul.

“Who are you? What business do you have there?” Erdoğan asked rhetorically, in remarks to the World Turkish Entrepreneurs Assembly reported on the Turkish presidency’s website. “You can move within the boundaries of your consulates but elsewhere is subject to permission. They overstepped their boundaries by making a show of strength in our country.”

Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu picked up a similar theme in remarks reported Sunday, casting international diplomats’ presence at the trial as interference in the Turkish judiciary.

“It is not right and consistent with diplomatic courtesy or professional practices to display a stance in a way that puts pressure on the judiciary, as if there is international pressure,” Davutoğlu said, according to press reports.

[March 28, 2016]

EDITOR’S NOTE: This text has been updated to correct the name of the German broadcaster that aired the satire of Erdoğan and Turkey’s crackdown on the press.