Participants in an August 7, 2016, pro-government rally in Istanbul wear masks depicting Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (Reuters/Umit Bektas)
Participants in an August 7, 2016, pro-government rally in Istanbul wear masks depicting Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (Reuters/Umit Bektas)

Turkey Crackdown Chronicle: Week of August 7, 2016

Police detain 42 employees of state broadcaster
The official Anatolia News Agency reported today that police detained 42 employees of state broadcaster TRT on suspicion of affiliation with the Hizment movement, which the Turkish government alleges orchestrated a July 15 failed military coup. Anatolia did not named the detainees or their positions at TRT but said they include “inspectors” and a “news reader.”

Lawyer: Journalists detained covering bomb aftermath beaten in custody
Police beat four journalists detained near the scene of an August 10 bomb attack in the southeastern city of Diyarbakır in custody, their lawyer told Evrensel newspaper. Lawyer Rengin Ergül met with Evrensel journalists Hasan Akbaş, Fırat Topal, and Serpil Berk, as well as freelance photographer Sertaç Kayar yesterday, and relayed their account of their detention the night before to the newspaper.

Ergül said the journalists told him they were at a nearby café when the bomb went off, so they rushed to the scene, took photographs and video, and left. Police stopped them at two checkpoints, but allowed them to pass. At a third checkpoint, police forced the journalists out of their vehicle, made them kneel, and handcuffed them. The journalists said they waited for roughly an hour and a half in this position while the police hit them, swore at them, and threatened them, saying, “If anyone lifts his head, shoot him in the head,” and “Is this the press? You should shoot them,” according to Evrensel.

Police took Berk, the photographer, to the women’s detention cells late at night, but left the male journalists handcuffed in the back of the police station for another three or four hours until roughly 7 a.m. local time, when police took the three to cells, Ergül told Evrensel.

According to the reports, police asked Akbaş how he survived the October 10, 2015, Ankara bombing, implying he was involved. They proposed that Kayar and Topal should become police informants and offered Topal money to do so. The three handcuffed journalists were not allowed to lift their heads throughout the interrogation, and continued beating them.

Evrensel reported that police asked Berk why the three took photographs of the site of the attack, to which she replied that this was their job.

As this report went to press, Evrensel editor-in-chief Fatih Polat wrote on Twitter that police had released the four journalists. Further details were not immediately available.

Two Ankara journalists arraigned on terrorism charges
Ankara’s First Court of Penal Peace yesterday arraigned former Zaman newspaper reporter Ayşenur Parlak, according to broadcaster T24 and the news website Bianet. Police detained the journalist on August 4 on suspicion of affiliation with the Hizmet movement, which the government also accuses of being a terrorist organization and maintaining a “parallel state structure.”

An Ankara court of penal peace also arraigned Erdal Şen, former Ankara correspondent for the daily newspaper Habertürk, on August 10, alongside two others, on suspicion of assisting an alleged high-ranking member of the Hizmet movement to escape after the failed coup, according to the broadcaster CNNTurk. Şen was close to President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, traveling with him on official visits abroad, as news website Gazeteport recalled in its report today.

Journalist detained in sex-tape investigation
Police in Ankara on August 10 detained Yener Dönmez, former Ankara correspondent for the daily newspaper Akit, in the scope of an investigation into the publication of a sex tape featuring former leader of the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) Deniz Baykal, Cumhuriyet reported. The video was first published on Akit‘s unofficial website Habervaktim in 2010. An investigation at the time produced no arrests, but police are now seeking the arrest of a second journalist, whose name was not reported, in connection with an investigation into the tape’s publication, according to Cumhuriyet.

[August 12, 2016]

Police detain two journalists from state broadcaster
Police detained two correspondents for Turkey’s state-owned broadcaster TRT last night and this morning, the news website Bianet reported today. Police detained Bertan Golal from his home in Istanbul. Police attempted to detain Özcan Keser from his home in Istanbul, but the journalist was not at home when they arrived, so they phoned him and asked him to turn himself in. Keser did so, arriving at Istanbul’s Vatan Street Police Station this morning. Both journalists had previously worked for the pro-Hizmet movement Cihan News Agency, according to Bianet. The government accuses the Hizmet movement of planning a July 15 failed military coup.

Police detain four journalists arriving at scene of bombing
Police last night detained four journalists who quickly arrived at the scene of a bomb attack that killed at least five people and would 12 others in the southeastern city of Diyarbakır, the left-wing daily Evrensel reported. Evrensel reported that three of the newspapers’ correspondents, Hasan Akbaş, Fırat Topal, and Serpil Berk, were having tea at a nearby café with freelance photojournalist Sertaç Kayar, when the bomb exploded. Anti-Terrorism Police were still questioning the journalists and testing their clothes for explosives residue at the time of publication, the daily newspaper Hürriyet reported.

State journalists must apply for permission to travel
The BYEGM, the authority within the Turkish prime minister’s office responsible for credentialing journalists, announced that journalists employed by state-owned media outlets, such as TRT or the Anatolia News Agency, must apply for prior permission to travel outside the country, Bianet reported.

[August 11, 2016]

Trial begins for journalist facing life sentence for reporting
Şermin Soydan, a correspondent for the pro-Kurdish DİHA news agency, went on trial at Hakkari’s Second Court of Serious Crimes today, DİHA reported. The journalist has been jailed, awaiting trial, since mid-May on charges of “obtaining secret documents regarding the security of the state,” “endangering military facilities of the state,” “being a member of a [terrorist] organization,” and “aiding and abetting a [terrorist] organization,” a reference to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which the Turkish government classes as a terrorist group, in connection with her reporting on military operations in the town Yüksekova.

Soydan, speaking to the court via a video feed rather than in person for “security reasons,” refused to offer a defense and demanded to brought to the court in person, her employer reported. The court agreed to her request and ordered her to be brought to her next trial date on September 30.

The other two defendants in the trial, Hakkari Red Crescent Branch head Fadıl Alçiçek and the co-chair of the Hakkari branch of the legal, pro-Kurdish opposition Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), Metin Besi, pleaded not guilty. Alçiçek denied having leaked the secret documents in question and was released on probation pending the conclusion of the trial.

[August 10, 2016]

Twitter accounts of Pro-Kurdish news sites censored
The Twitter accounts of pro-Kurdish DİHA and Firat news agencies, and of the newspaper Özgür Gündem were censored in Turkey today, DİHA and Turkish journalists reported. Readers around the world can see the Twitter accounts, but Internet users in Turkey trying to access them see a message saying, “This account has been withheld in: Turkey.” Özgür Gündem tweeted that the newspaper had opened an alternative account to circumvent the censorship.

Court orders cancelation of six journalists’ passports
Istanbul’s 14th Court of Serious Crimes ordered authorities to cancel the passports of six staff members of embattled pro-Kurdish daily newspaper Özgür Gündem, the left-wing newspaper Evrensel reported today. Former editors-in-chief Eren Keskin and Hüseyin Aykol, former responsible news editor Reyhan Çapan, writers Ayşe Berktay and Reyhan Hacıoğlu, and lawyer Nuray Özdoğan, who has also written for the newspaper, face charges or investigations for terrorism because of the newspaper’s coverage. Authorities have already confiscated Özdoğan’s passport, Evrensel reported. Özgür Gündem and its staff have for years been the subject of relentless judicial harassment.

[August 9, 2016]

Prosecutors seek life sentence for wire reporter
Prosecutors in the southeastern Turkish town of Hakkari today asked a judge to impose a life sentence on Dicle News Agency (DİHA) reporter Şermin Soydan, DİHA reported.

Soydan has been jailed, awaiting trial, since mid-May on charges of “obtaining secret documents regarding the security of the state,” “endangering military facilities of the state,” “being a member of a [terrorist] organization,” and “aiding and abetting a [terrorist] organization,” a reference to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which the Turkish government classes as a terrorist group. She is scheduled to stand trial at Hakkari’s Second Court of Serious Crimes on August 10.

Turkey’s Media Crackdown

Prosecutors introduced as evidence an article Soydan wrote about military operations in the town Yüksekova, near Turkey’s border with Iran, transcripts of her phone conversations with arrested journalist Nedim Türfent, and transcripts of her calls to DİHA’s offices about developments in the area, DİHA reported.

Wire reporter beaten, mistreated in custody, lawyers allege
Security officers beat DİHA reporter Feyyaz İmrak in Antalya Prison, his lawyer, Hakan Evcin, told DİHA in remarks published August 6. Evcin said the journalist had marks from handcuffs on his wrists, that his right eye was swollen, and that he had apparently been beaten with batons on the head and the back. Police arrested İmrak, who is also a university student, in February 2016 on suspicion of being a member of the PKK.

News agency website censored
The pro-Kurdish all-women Jin News Agency (JİNHA) reported yesterday that regulators had censored its website for the eighth time in total, and for the third time in one week. According to another report from JİNHA, regulators on Friday also censored the website of Turkey’s sole Kurdish-language daily newspaper, Azadiya Welat.

Regulators cease censoring Kremlin news agency
The Russian government Sputnik news agency’s Turkish service, citing Turkey’s official Anadolu news agency, reported today that Turkey’s telecommunications regulator, the TİB, had ceased blocking Sputnik’s web address in Turkey, noting that it was “striking” that the move came just before Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s expected meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin tomorrow.

TİB blocked access to Sputnik’s Turkish website in April 2016. Relations between Russia and Turkey have been particularly strained since Turkey downed a Russian fighter plane near the Turkish-Syrian border in November 2015, but Erdoğan today called for a “new page” in Turkish relations with Russia and his “friend Vladimir” Putin, according to press reports.

Tural Kerimov, the editor in chief of Sputnik’s Turkish service before Turkish authorities barred him entry to the country in April 2016, told Sputnik Turkish that he hoped the ban against his entry to Turkey would soon be lifted.

Opposition MP says police told her all journalists’ passports cancelled
“According to information given by the police, all journalists’ passports were cancelled after July 15,” Selina Doğan, a member of parliament for the opposition secularist CHP party, wrote on Twitter today.

She was writing after passport control officers briefly detained broadcast journalist Hayko Bağdat as he re-entered Turkey at Istanbul’s Atatürk airport on Saturday, releasing him only after confiscating his passport.

The journalist, who now works for the pro-Kurdish IMC TV and is a columnist for the news website Diken, formerly worked for Bugün TV, one of the media outlets a court in October 2015 ordered to be put into trusteeship on charges it was affiliated with the Hizmet movement, which the government now accuses of having planned the failed July 15 coup attempt.

“It was said that some of [the cancellations] will be corrected, including [in the case of Hayko Bağdat],” Doğan wrote on Twitter.

Bağdat today tweeted that authorities had informed him there were no ongoing investigations into him, and that his passport would be returned.

In an account of his brief detention published on Diken yesterday, Bağdat wrote, “Two cops stopped me and took my passport. The cops did not know who I was, and they wanted to know what my profession was. I said I was a journalist. They then asked what television channel I am at. ‘IMC TV,’ I said. When they asked me if it is a [Gülen] community channel I answered, ‘No. It is a channel of Kurds. Which is more dangerous?’ They laughed and said, ‘Right now, both are dangerous.’ I was let go after they confiscated my passport because there was no warrant for my arrest.”

News agency reporters released
Police on Friday released DİHA reporters Selman Keleş and İdris Yılmaz, after holding them for several hours in Yüksekova, DİHA reported.

Keleş and Yılmaz told colleagues that police had asked them, “Why are you not afraid? Is your salary worth the job you do? Are the journalists recently arrested reason enough for you to be afraid?” and told them, “Do not oppose the [ruling] AKP [party]. No opposition has any chance against strong governments. It will be bad for you.”

Security harasses photographer from critical newspaper
Security at yesterday’s mass pro-government rally in Istanbul harassed Recep Yılmaz, a photographer for the leftist daily newspaper Birgün, as he attempted to cover the rally, the newspaper reported, based on Yılmaz’s account on Twitter. The journalist wrote that security at the rally initially refused to accredit him because of his employer, which has been critical of the government, then eventually relented, only to revoke accreditation an hour later.

[August 8, 2016]