Relatives mourn outside a hospital in the southern Turkish town of Gaziantep after a suicide bomb attack killed at least 30 people, August 20, 2016. A court banned all coverage of the attack the following day. (AFP/Ahmed Deeb)
Relatives mourn outside a hospital in the southern Turkish town of Gaziantep after a suicide bomb attack killed at least 30 people, August 20, 2016. A court banned all coverage of the attack the following day. (AFP/Ahmed Deeb)

Turkey Crackdown Chronicle: Week of August 21

Kurdish wire reporter, newspaper employee arraigned on terrorism charges
A court in Turkey’s eastern Van Province today arraigned Erdem Mühirci, a reporter for the pro-Kurdish Dicle News Agency (DİHA), and ordered him jailed, pending trial, on charges of “being a member of a [terrorist] organization” and “recruiting members for a [terrorist] organization,” DİHA reported. Mühirci was among seven people detained from their homes in the district of Başkale in a series of arrest raids on August 21.

According to the same report, a court in Van also arraigned Ali Aşikar, who works for the Kurdish-language daily newspaper Azadiya Welat, and ordered him jailed pending trial on charges of “committing crimes in the name of [terrorist] organizations” and possessing explosives.

Government issues partial ban on reporting news of bombing
The office of Turkey’s prime minister today temporarily banned reporting in all media about aspects of a truck bomb attack on a police checkpoint in the southeastern town of Cizre that killed at least 11 policemen and injured at least 78 other people, the Turkish broadcast regulator RTÜK announced. The ban applied to publishing images of the blast or its aftermath, its victims, civil servants working after the blast, or any information about the attackers that does not come from official statements.

[August 26, 2016]

Jailed columnist complains of mistreatment, health concerns
Author, columnist, and board member of the shuttered, pro-Kurdish newspaper Özgür Gündem Aslı Erdoğan complained of her treatment in Istanbul’s Bakırköy Women’s Prison in written responses to the opposition newspaper Cumhuriyet‘s questions her lawyer ferried in and out of prison. A court last week ordered the newspaper closed, and police jailed the writer pending trial on terrorism charges.

Erdoğan, who was detained from her home last week, said she was not beaten, unlike many of her colleagues detained in an August 16 raid of the newspaper’s office in Istanbul, but complained she had been denied medication or sufficient water for five days. She said she has problems with her digestive system, and is diabetic.

“The bed I have to sleep on has been urinated on. I was never taken into the open air, though I have asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. They treat me in a way that could leave permanent injury to my body,” she told Cumhuriyet.

Erdoğan is being kept in her own cell, and said she wants to be transferred to a cell with other inmates.

Prosecutors ask court to jail former editor pending terrorism trial
Prosecutors at Istanbul’s Çağlayan Courthouse today asked a judge to jail Eren Keskin, lawyer and former co-editor of Özgür Gündem, pending trial on terrorism charges, Dicle News Agency (DİHA) reported. Keskin went to the courthouse willingly to offer testimony to prosecutors, the news agency said. The court denied the prosecutors’ request, instead ordering her released on probation, pending trial.

Wire reporter on trial for terrorism charges
The trial of DİHA reporter Feyyaz İmrak on charges of “being a member of a [terrorist] organization” and “making propaganda for a [terrorist] organization,” — the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which the Turkish government classes as a terrorist group — began at Antalya’s Second High Criminal Court today, his employer reported. Police detained İmrak and raided his home on February 11, CPJ reported at the time. According to DİHA, the case against their journalist is based on an anonymous tip. The news agency also reported that the journalist requested to be allowed to defend himself in his native language, Kurdish.

News editor arraigned on charges of terrorism, involvement in murder of fellow journalist
An Istanbul court yesterday jailed former Fox TV news editor Ercan Gün pending trial on charges he is a member of the Hizmet movement, or FETÖ, which the government accuses of being a terrorist organization, maintaining a parallel state structure within Turkey, plotting a failed July 15 military coup, and involvement in the 2007 murder of journalist Hrant Dink, according to news reports. Police detained Gün on August 3.

Police detain former columnist on suspicion of membership in terrorist group
Police in the Mediterranean province of Izmir today detained Gültekin Avcı, a former prosecutor and columnist for the shuttered daily newspaper Bugün, the official Anatolia news agency reported. Police are questioning Avcı and his father in the scope of Turkey’s purge of suspected members of Hizmet movement, or FETÖ, as the government calls it following the failed July 15 coup attempt. The columnist was arrested in late 2015 in scope of a different investigation and released on June 9.

Court orders items seized in newspaper raid to be held as evidence
Istanbul’s Third Court of Penal Peace yesterday ordered everything police seized in their raid of Özgür Gündem‘s Istanbul office to be held as evidence, DİHA reported. The confiscated items include computers, boxes of documents, the newspaper’s archive, and mobile phones belonging to Özgür Gündem journalists detained in the raid and subsequently released.

Regulators censor TV station website
Turkey’s internet and communications technology regulator, the BTK, yesterday blocked access to the website of Özgür Gün TV from within Turkey, DİHA reported. This is the third time the broadcaster’s website has been censored in the past six months, according to the report.

[August 25, 2016]

Court orders all future special editions of newspaper seized
Istanbul’s Ninth Court of Penal Peace yesterday ordered all future special editions of the socialist weekly newspaper Atılım produced by staff from the pro-Kurdish newspaper Özgür Gündem under the shuttered daily’s logo to be seized, Etkin News Agency (ETHA) reported today. Atılım has published the daily special editions to allow Özgür Gündem to continue publishing since a court shuttered the paper on charges of terrorism and fomenting separatism on August 16. “All [such] issues that are published and will be published are to be confiscated,” the court ordered today, ETHA reported.

News agency websites censored
Turkey’s internet and communications technology regulator, the BTK, today blocked access to the web sites of pro-Kurdish news agencies DİHA and JİNHA, according to news reports. This is the 44th time regulators have blocked access to DİHA’s website, and the ninth time they have blocked access to JİNHA’s website, the reports said.

TV reporter detained on terrorism charges, released on probation
Police yesterday detained Serkan Kaya, Hakkari province reporter for the regional Van TV station, while Kaya was reporting, DİHA reported. Police asked a court to order him detained pending trial on charges of “making propaganda for a [terrorist] organization” in his Facebook posts, but the court instead ordered him released on probation pending trial.

Wire reporter detained from home
Police detained DİHA reporter Erdem Mühirci from his home in Başkale, in Turkey’s eastern Van province, as part of a series of arrest raids, the news agency reported yesterday. The reasons for the raids were not immediately clear.

Two newspaper reporters detained without access to lawyer
Daily Evrensel reporters Cemil Uğur and Halil Polat were detained while working in Turkey’s eastern Mersin province yesterday, the newspaper reported. The journalists were covering a protest in the Çay neighborhood of Akdeniz demanding the arrest of convicted PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan at the time of their arrest, Evrensel reported.

Today the newspaper reported that police did not allow its lawyer to visit the two journalists. Lawyer Ali Bozan told the daily that emergency powers put in place shortly after a failed July 15 military coup allow police to hold suspects without access to a lawyer for up to five days.

[August 24, 2016]

Two editors arraigned on terrorism charges
A duty court at Istanbul’s Çağlayan Courthouse last night arraigned Bilir Kaya and İnan Kızılkaya, editor and news editor of Özgür Gündem, respectively, the pro-Kurdish newspaper reported on its website. A court last week ordered the newspaper to stop publishing and police sealed its offices. A prosecutor interrogated the two at midday yesterday and asked the court to hold them on charges of “being a member of a [terrorist] organization,” and “violating the unity of the state.” The court discarded the “violating the unity of the state” charge, but upheld the terrorism charge and sent the journalists to Istanbul’s Metris Prison, pending trial. Authorities have for years subjected the newspaper and its staff to relentless judicial harassment, accusing it of fomenting separatism and affiliation with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which the Turkish government classes as a terrorist group.

Newspapers protest censorship
In a joint statement released yesterday, Özgür Gündem and the socialist weekly Atılım were defiant in the face of a court’s order to confiscate all copies of yesterday’s special edition of Atılım produced by Özgür Gündem‘s staff under its logo. Özgür Gündem has been published in daily special editions of Atılım since Özgür Gündem was shut down last week.

“We condemn such practices of shutting down, confiscation and detention, which would be considered as examples of coup law… Özgür Gündem, one of the important fronts of the free press tradition, and Atılım declare that we will increase [our] solidarity in the upcoming period, and will act guided by the responsibility of bringing the truth to the people,” the joint statement vowed.

TV reporter released on probation
A court released Yusuf İba — a reporter for Denge TV, a regional station in the eastern Turkish province of Van – on probation, the pro-Kurdish Dicle News Agency (DİHA) reported today. İba was detained on August 17. Prosecutors had asked the court to jail him pending trial on charges of “being member of a [terrorist] organization.”

Wire reporter detained from home
DİHA reported today that police detained its reporter Sebahattin Koyuncu from his home in the Silopi district of Şırnak province as part of a wave of arrests and house raids. The reasons for the reporter’s detention were not immediately clear.

Lawmaker accused of terrorism, leaking secret documents
Prosecutors accused Enis Berberoğlu, a member of parliament for the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) and former editor of the daily newspaper Hürriyet, of having ties to the FETÖ organization, or Hizmet movement, which the government accuses of being a terrorist organization that maintains a “parallel state structure” within Turkey and of orchestrating the July 15 failed coup attempt, Hürriyet Daily News reported.

Prosecutors claim Berberoğlu passed former Cumhuriyet editor and 2016 CPJ International Freedom of the Press Award recipient Can Dündar video purportedly showing trucks carrying weapons from the Turkish intelligence agency to Islamist Syrian rebels in 2015. In his book Tutuklandık (“We were arrested”), written while the journalist was jailed pending trial last year and published in March, Dündar said that “a leftist lawmaker” gave him the footage. Prosecutors believe that lawmaker was Berberoğlu based on Dündar’s phone records.

The indictment was presented to the Istanbul’s 14th Court of Serious Crimes for review.

Berberoğlu today told Hürriyet that “the claims are not serious,” and that he could easily prove he was neither a spy nor a terrorist.

[August 23, 2016]

Columnist arraigned on terrorism charges
An Istanbul court on August 19 arraigned Aslı Erdoğan, columnist and a member of the suspended, pro-Kurdish newspaper Özgür Gündem‘s publishing board, on charges of “being member of a terrorist organization,” and “provoking the people to animosity and hatred,” Özgür Gündem reported. The journalist and novelist denied the charges against her.

Police last week raided Özgür Gündem‘s offices following a court order temporarily shuttering the beleaguered newspaper.

Turkey’s Media Crackdown

Court orders confiscation of newspaper
Istanbul’s Eighth Court of Penal Peace today ordered a special edition of the socialist weekly Atılım produced by Özgür Gündem‘s staff under Özgür Gündem‘s logo to be confiscated from newsstands, Özgür Gündem reported.

Journalist detained for taking photographs questioned about social media activity
Police last night detained freelance journalist Tuğba Tekerek outside Istanbul’s Gayrettepe police station as she photographed the street near the station’s entrance, according to news reports. Police accused her of “insulting the president” in a tweet they found on her mobile phone, but a prosecutor today ordered her release. Tekerek told the news website Bianet that she took photographs of people outside of the police station because she thought they were relatives of people jailed inside, and that police detained her because they thought she was photographing them.

Coverage of Gaziantep suicide bombing banned
Turkey’s broadcast regulator, the RTÜK, announced bans on reporting an August 20 suicide bomb attack in Gaziantep, near the Syrian border, that killed at least 30 people. The prime minister’s office on Saturday night temporarily banned any coverage of the attack, save official statements. On Sunday, Gaziantep’s First Court of Penal Peace banned reporting “any kind of news, interviews, [or] criticism” of the attack until the legal investigation into the bombing ends.

Award-winning editor fears being caught in post-coup purge
Can Dündar, a 2016 recipient of the Committee to Protect Journalists’ International Press Freedom Award, told Reuters yesterday that he feared being prosecuted for aiding followers of preacher Fethullah Gülen, whom the Turkish government accuses of maintaining a terrorist organization and “parallel state structure” within Turkey that orchestrated a failed military coup on July 15.

“I will be prosecuted for helping, with our coverage, the organization accused of the coup,” Dündar told Reuters. “I was the editor of a paper that spent years warning against [Gülen’s] organization.”

“The government was [the Gülenist organization’s] partner, and is solely responsible for the expanse it reached… but there’s an attempt to make us culpable for their crimes,” Dündar said.

[August 22, 2016]

EDITOR’S NOTE: The August 26 entry has been updated to clarify that the prime minister’s office banned reporting only some aspects of the aftermath of the truck bomb attack in Cizre.