Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan speaks to local officials at the presidential palace in Ankara, May 4, 2016. (Adem Altan/AFP)
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan speaks to local officials at the presidential palace in Ankara, May 4, 2016. (Adem Altan/AFP)

Turkey Crackdown Chronicle: Week of May 15

Veteran columnist pleads ‘not guilty’ to charges of insulting Erdoğan
Veteran journalist Hasan Cemal, a columnist for the news website T24 and a founder of the news website P24, today pleaded not guilty to charges of insulting Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan at Istanbul’s 12th Criminal Court of First Instance, T24 reported.

Turkey’s Media Crackdown

“My column [was] harshly critical. There was no insult [in it]. It [was] within the bounds of freedom of speech. The trials for insulting the president, which number almost 2000, as the justice minister stated, are causing deadly blows to freedom of speech in Turkey,” Cemal said in his defense, according to T24.

His trial is scheduled to begin on September 28. If convicted, Cemal could face up to 4 years and 8 months in prison.

Separately, Turkish prosecutors decided to cease pursuing two other charges against Cemal on charges of insulting the president for two other columns the journalist wrote in August and September 2015. Explaining his decision, prosecutor Umut Tepe said that Erdoğan should be more tolerant to criticism since the boundaries for criticism of politicians and public figures should be wider than for private citizens, according to T24. Prosecutor Emin Aydınç, who was investigating Cemal in the other case, said he was dropping the investigation because he found the column in question to be critical but not insulting, T24 reported.

[May 20, 2016]

Regulators censor pro-Kurdish news agency
Turkish telecommunications regulator TİB today censored the pro-Kurdish DİHA news agency’s website, DİHA reported. It was the 40th time the regulator blocked access to the site, the news agency reported.

Each time its website address has been blocked, DİHA has continued publishing at a new address. Today the news agency listed each of the 40 addresses regulators have blocked.

Authorities have subjected to DİHA to regular harassment. Since December 1, 2015, police have arrested at least 12 of the news agency’s reporters, most of them from the southeast region of Turkey where ethnic Kurdish youth have battled security forces.

[May 19, 2016]

Court sentences journalist to 20 months in prison, suspends custody of children
Tarsus’ Fifth Criminal Court of First Instance today sentenced Arzu Yıldız, a reporter for the news website Haberdar, to one year and eight months in prison for publishing a video on YouTube depicting prosecutors testifying at their closed-door trial in connection with the January 2014 stopping of trucks allegedly carrying a Turkish intelligence agency arms shipment bound for Syria, Haberdar reported.

The court also suspended Yıldız’s custody of her children, Haberdar and other Turkish news media reported, causing Turkish social media users to protest the sentence with the hashtag #ArzuYıldızAnnedir (“Arzu Yıldız is a mother”).

The journalist is free and has custody of her children, pending her appeal of the verdict.

“I thank everyone for their messages and support. I have no worries. I don’t care about whatever punishment they give me. I’m just doing my job,” Yıldız wrote on Twitter after the court’s decision, according to the English-language news website Turkish Minute, which is sympathetic to the Hizmet opposition movement.

The same court imposed a suspended fine of 12,600 Turkish lira ($4,442) on the news website Grihat.com for spreading the videos.

Journalist faces charges for insulting Erdoğan on Twitter
Istanbul’s 20th Criminal Court of First Instance is scheduled to try Fatih Yağmur, formerly a journalist with the shuttered newspaper Radikal, on October 5, 2016, on charges of insulting Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in posts to Twitter, Haberdar reported.

Among the posts the president’s lawyers deemed insulting were tweets reading, “The thieves are those who have flawed character,” and, “He who makes his child a thief,” according to press reports.

Journalists investigated for show of solidarity with beleaguered Kurdish daily
Authorities have opened criminal investigations against journalists who acted as guest co-editors of the pro-Kurdish daily newspaper Özgür Gündem to show solidarity with the newspaper, which has faced regular judicial harassment, one of the journalists wrote on Twitter.

Ertuğrul Mavioğlu, one of the journalists who has taken a turn acting as a visiting co-editor of the newspaper to protest the criminal charges frequently brought against those who occupy the post, tweeted yesterday that criminal investigations had been opened into him and fellow journalists Faruk Eren, Ayşe Düzkan, Mustafa Sönmez, and Melda Onur for their participation in the protest.

Since the campaign began on May 3, experienced journalists, also including Nevin Erdemir, Hakkı Boltan, Eşber Yağmurdereli, Erol Önderoğlu, Fehim Işık, Yıldırım Türker, Ahmet Abakay, Celal Başlangıç, Uğur Güç, Nurcan Baysal, and Ragıp Duran, have taken turns acting as co-editor of the newspaper. The campaign is to continue for at least another month, according to media reports.

[May 18, 2016]

Constitutional Court refuses to order journalist’s release
Turkey’s Constitutional Court today rejected a petition from Mehmet Baransu, a columnist and correspondent for the privately-owned daily newspaper Taraf, to be released from prison on the grounds that his detention violates his rights to liberty, security of the person, freedom of expression, and the Turkish constitution’s guarantees of press freedom, according to press reports. Police raided Baransu’s home and detained him on March 1, 2015, on charges of obtaining secret government documents, CPJ reported at the time. The journalist faces up to eight years in prison if convicted. The documents were the basis for a widely reported investigation and trial related to an alleged military coup plot known as Sledgehammer.

[May 17, 2016]

DİHA reporter accused of espionage
Şermin Soydan, a reporter for the pro-Kurdish Dicle News Agency (DİHA) was detained by police May 12, and questioned after reporting on an apparent leaked military document about an operation in southeastern Turkey, her outlet reported. Soydan was accused of “obtaining state information that is supposed to stay secret, for the means of political and military espionage” and “exposing information related to the security of the state for the means of espionage,” DİHA reported. Soydan is being held in pretrial detention in Van prison, after a court approved her arrest May 14.

Court rejects call to arrest suspects allegedly linked to Can Dündar attack
An Istanbul court has rejected a prosecutor’s call to order the arrest of two suspects allegedly involved in an attack in which a man attempted to shoot Can Dündar, of Cumhuriyet, as he entered the court house on May 6, the daily Cumhuriyet reported late on May 13. A judge at the court that had ordered the arrest of Erdem Gül and Dündar rejected a call for the arrest of of Sabri Boyacı, who is suspected of giving a gun to the alleged assailant, Murat Şahin, and Ergün Celep, who is suspected of “organizing certain groups in the underworld” according to Cumhuriyet.

The court released the two men under judicial control, which means they have to register at a police station each week. The police have video evidence that Boyacı met with Şahin before the attack and Celep after, the report said. The men denied the accusations, telling the court they are friends who regularly meet and call each other. Two other suspects, Sedat Boyacı and Selçuk Mutlu, were released after being questioned by the prosecution due to lack of evidence, Cumhuriyet reported. Şahin, who is accused of carrying out the attack, in which a stray bullet injured a NTV reporter, is in jail on accusations of violating the firearms law and “threatening with a weapon,” reports said.

Verdict due in case of Mehmet Baransu
The Constitutional Court is due to announce its verdict tomorrow on an application for jailed journalist Mehmet Baransu to be released while waiting trial, according to reports. More than 70 journalists released a joint statement today calling on the high court to release Baransu, who used to work for the privately owned daily Taraf, to be freed while waiting trial, the Daily Meydan reported. Police detained Baransu on March 1, 2015 on accusations of obtaining secret documents, CPJ research shows.

DİHA reporter detained for alleged terrorism links
Police stopped Nedim Türfent, a DİHA reporter, while he was driving outside the city of Van May 12, and detained him, the leftist Etkin News Agency (ETHA) reported. The next day a court ordered that he be held in detention for allegedly being a member of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which Turkey describes as a terrorist organization. The news agency cited DİHA as saying that a lawyer was initially barred from seeing Türfent in custody. A court order has ruled that the investigation is to be held in secret. He is being held at Hakkari Prison pending trial.

DİHA reported in February that Türfent had received threats. He said that people who claimed to be police threatened him at his home and that police officers told relatives, “Nedim should be careful.” Türfent said he also received death threats on social media, according to the report. CPJ could not immediately verify the journalist’s claims.

[May 16, 2016]