Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan speaks at the G20 summit in Gangzhou, China, September 5, 2016. (Reuters/Damir Salgoj)
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan speaks at the G20 summit in Gangzhou, China, September 5, 2016. (Reuters/Damir Salgoj)

Turkey Crackdown Chronicle: Week of September 18

Taraf chief editor detained hours after release

Hours after his release from prison, the writer and journalist Ahmet Altan was detained again. Altan turned himself in late last night and was arrested after hearing that he was wanted by authorities, according to reports. According to a report in the daily, Hürriyet, the prosecution objected to Altan’s release under judicial control and argued that as the founding chief editor of the daily, Taraf, the journalist was a part of the FETÖ/PDY organization. The court ordered the journalist to be detained again under accusations of “attempting to eliminate the government of the Republic of Turkey or to prevent it from its duties” and “being member of a [terrorist] organization.” Despite some pro-government media reports on Altan being detained while on the run, other reports and accounts on social media said the journalist turned himself in. Both Altan brothers, Ahmet and Mehmet are at Silivri Prison in Istanbul, pending trial

Turkey’s Media Crackdown

Prime Minister denies rumors about newspaper closures

At a meeting in Ankara yesterday, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the main opposition Republican People’s Party leader, asked Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım if rumors that more critical dailies are to be shuttered were true, the online newspaper Gazete Duvar reported. The prime minister said rumors that Cumhuriyet, Evrensel, and Sözcü will be ordered closed were not true, the report said.

Özgür Gündem guest editor in court

Faruk Eren, head of the leftist union DİSK (The Revolutionary Worker Unions’ Confederation) for press workers, was in court yesterday over his participation in the solidarity campaign with the pro-Kurdish daily Özgür Gündem, Bianet reported. Eren is on trial due to three stories and columns featured in the newspaper on the day he was the symbolic chief editor. İnan Kızılkaya, the news editor who under Turkish law is legally responsible for the recently shuttered newspaper and is a defendant at every trial connected to the solidarity campaign, was not present at court. He is still under arrest. The journalists are charged with making propaganda of a [terrorist] organization, praising a crime and criminal, and provoking the people into committing crimes. The next hearing was scheduled for October 25. Four more participants in the campaign–Nadire Mater, of Bianet, Hasan Cemal, of T24, Tuğrul Eryılmaz, formerly with the daily Radikal, and freelancer Mehmet Güç–were at Çağlayan courthouse in Istanbul today, to testify in their case, Bianet reported. The journalists are free pending trial.

Also in court this week:

Mehmet Baransu. Yesterday, the prosecution made its closing statement at the trial of Baransu over a 2013 story in the daily, Taraf, about a document allegedly leaked from the National Security Board about the Gülen community in 2004. The story was about how the document allegedly recommended an action plan be formed to “end the Gülen community.” The prosecution asked for a prison sentence of 16 to 31 years for Baransu. The journalist is also under arrest for a separate accusation of obtaining secret government documents.
Canan Coşkun. Cumhuriyet journalist Coşkun was in court over a story alleging some judiciary members were being bribed by discounts for luxury housing. The next hearing is scheduled for October 20.
Ahmet Şık. The Odatv trial continued September 21, with the next hearing scheduled for October 24 according to a web report in Odatv titled “You won’t believe this but the Odatv trial still goes on.” The journalist on trial, Şık, reminded the court that the police who run the investigation, alongside the original prosecutors and judges are now either arrested or on the run due to alleged links to FETÖ/PDY. Şık added that the president should also be tried at the court due to his past partnership with the Gülen Community. The journalist and CPJ 2013 IPFA awardee Nedim Şener, who is also a defendant in the case, asked the court to “end this theater.”

Presidential pardon will not halt all insult cases

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan may have pardoned those whom he sued for “insulting” him, but the laws will not, according to an interview with the lawyer Selin Nakıpoğlu in Gazete Duvar. Nakıpoğlu said it was expected that the more than 3,000 trials for insulting the president would be dismissed but that applies to the cases the president sued for damages only, not the public cases. “Criminal court judges cannot dismiss [the cases] in scope of the Turkish Penal Law Article No: 299, which is not subject to complaints ” she said. Unless the Constitutional Court will dismiss Article 299 for insulting the president, the trials will continue.

Broadcasters fined for coverage

The state broadcast regulator, RTÜK fined Hayatın Sesi TV and two pro-Kurdish local channels Van TV and Özgür Gün TV over their broadcasts, the socialist daily Evrensel reported today. Hayatın Sesi was fined for “PKK propaganda” on two occasions. One of the instances was a politician not naming the PKK while evaluating the clashes between the banned organization and Turkish security forces in southeastern Turkey. Speaking on these clashes without naming the PKK constitutes PKK propaganda, according to the RTÜK, because it was an attempt to make it sound like the people were fighting the security forces. The details of the broadcasts that led to the other channels’ fines were not included in the Evrensel report and website, or on the RTÜK’s website.

Erdoğan: Headlines supporting coup attempt are a crime

In an interview today with Bloomberg, President Erdoğan was asked about press freedom in Turkey and the more than 100 journalists in jail there. His response to the question starts at the 26.15 minute of the video. Erdoğan also criticized the world media for not supporting Turkey. According to a translation of the Bloomberg interview, Erdoğan said:

“Before anything else, these figures you have given about the media aren’t correct. I have to say this very clearly: whenever some media member is arrested in the U.S., I can’t get up and blame the administration. Why? Because the judiciary made such a decision and we respect that. Do media members have such a special feature that they can’t commit a crime? They also commit crimes. For example, if a media member; with the writing, with the headlines they sent, supported a coup attempt. Within our legal system, this is a crime. And since this is a crime, the price has to be paid. When a politician commits a crime, they pay the price. Why shouldn’t some member of the media pay the price? The one who gives the punishment isn’t me, it’s the court. And aside from that, there are columnists who support armed terrorist organizations. There are journalists who have been caught with weapons. Are they not going to pay for it? This is what the judiciary is doing in Turkey now. Those who have been laid off, those who have left their positions, it doesn’t just happen overnight or arbitrarily. Right now, the judiciary, along with the police force, the intelligence agency, they are following the process. Turkey, on July 15, experienced a very serious blow. We are experiencing such things. The PKK is a terrorist organization. Can a member of the PKK terrorist organization be a policeman? Can they be an official in a state office? In the same fashion, can they be from Al-Qaeda, from the militant group Islamic State? What is happening now is the judiciary, in co-operation with the police, is rounding them up and doing what is necessary. That is what’s happening.”

Prominent writer jailed pending trial, brother freed on probation
Istanbul’s 10th Court of Penal Peace early this morning ordered writer and journalist Ahmet Altan freed, pending trial, on probation. The court ordered his brother and fellow author and journalist, Mehmet Altan, jailed pending trial, the news website T24 reported. They face charges of knowingly producing propaganda for the failed July 15 attempted coup. Both deny the charges.

Turkey world’s leading Twitter censor
Turkey made more requests of Twitter to censor accounts and individual tweets than any other country by far, Twitter reported in its 2016 transparency report. In the first half of 2016, Turkey reported 14,953 accounts to the social media website, or 73 percent of the total accounts reported by all the world’s governments, according to Twitter’s data.

Cumhuriyet wins international prize
The newspaper Cumhuriyet is among this year’s recipients of the Right Livelihood Award, or “the alternative Nobel prize,” as it is known, German broadcaster Deustche Welle reported today. The opposition daily was granted the award “for fighting for freedom of the press in Turkey,” according to the report.

Can Dündar, the newspaper’s editor until he went into exile last month, is a 2016 recipient of The Committee to Protect Journalists’ 2016 International Press Freedom Award.

Socialist newspaper files criminal complaint against Islamist daily
The socialist daily Evrensel reported yesterday that its lawyers had filed a criminal complaint against Islamist daily Yeni Akit regarding an unsourced August 14 Yeni Akit report that authorities would close Evrensel for producing propaganda for the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which Turkey classes as a terrorist organization. Yeni Akit, whose coverage is strongly supportive of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), accused Evrensel of being the “spokesperson for the PKK” in its August 14 report.

In its criminal complaint, Evrensel asked prosecutors to try Yeni Akit for “provoking people to commit crimes, provoking the people to hatred and animosity, threat, insult, and preventing people from exercising their [rights] to freedom of thought and opinion,” Evrensel reported.

[September 22, 2016]

Interior Ministry cancels passports of 46 Kurdish journalists, media workers
The Turkish Interior Ministry has cancelled the passports of 46 journalists and media workers, the pro-Kurdish Dicle News Agency (DİHA) reported. The 46 journalists and other staff of pro-Kurdish media organizations are defendants in what the Turkish press calls the “KCK press trial.” Dozens of ethnic-Kurdish journalists, lawyers, and politicians stand accused in the trial of backing the Kurdish umbrella group, the Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK), which includes the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which Turkey has classed as a terrorist group.

Police arrested most of those accused in December 2011, according to press reports and CPJ research at the time. 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. The trial resumed last April. According to the DİHA report, the travel bans came to light when some of those facing trial attempted to travel.

Trial resumes for Cumhuriyet journalists, lawmaker
Istanbul’s 14th Court for Serious Crimes today merged the trials of Can Dündar and Erdem Gül, the former editor and the Ankara bureau chief, respectively, of the opposition newspaper Cumhuriyet, with that of Enis Berberoğlu, a member of parliament for the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) and former editor of the daily newspaper Hürriyet, according to the independent news website Bianet.

Today, the 14th Istanbul Court of Serious Crimes continued to hear the case of the journalists regarding the reports on Turkey smuggling weapons to Syria and merged the trial with another case, say. Prosecutors claim Berberoğlu passed former Cumhuriyet editor and 2016 CPJ International Freedom of the Press Award recipient Dündar video purportedly showing trucks carrying weapons from the Turkish intelligence agency to Islamist Syrian rebels in 2015.

Dündar is being tried in absentia, having said he will not return to Turkey until the state of emergency imposed after July’s failed coup attempt is lifted. Gül was present at the hearing. The court adjourned until October 16, Bianet reported.

News agency reporter released, pending trial
Antalya’s Second Court for Serious Crimes yesterday ordered Feyyaz İmrak, the pro-Kurdish Dicle News Agency (DİHA)’s correspondent in Turkey’s southern Antalya province, released from prison pending trial on charges of “being a member of a [terrorist] organization,” and “propagandizing for a [terrorist] organization,” his employer reported. Police detained İmrak, who is also a student at Akdeniz University, on February 11.

[September 21, 2016]

Trials begin for journalists who protested harassment of newspaper staff
The trial of Ayşe Düzkan and Ragıp Duran — two veteran journalists who symbolically acted as co-editors of the pro-Kurdish daily newspaper Özgür Gündem for a day to protest authorities’ persistent judicial harassment of its staff before a court ordered it closed in August — began at Istanbul’s Çağlayan Courthouse today, the independent news website Bianet reported. Istanbul’s 13th Court for Serious Crimes merged their cases into one trial, as it did the trials of former Özgür Gündem editors Eren Keskin and Hüseyin Aykol.

İnan KızılkayaÖzgür Gündem‘s responsible news editor, who has been jailed since police raided the newspaper’s office on August 16 — is a co-defendant in both cases, and in all other cases, because his position makes him responsible for everything published in the newspaper according to Turkish law.

Düzkan, Duran, and Kızılkaya’s trials adjourned until December 15. The trial of Faruk Eren, head of the leftist union DİSK (The Revolutionary Worker Unions’ Confederation) for press workers, is scheduled to begin on September 22.

The trials on terrorism charges of at least 19 of the more than 100 journalists and press-freedom activists who face criminal investigations in connection the newspaper’s coverage when they symbolically acted as co-editors of the newspaper are expected to begin before October 8, according to Bianet.

[September 20, 2016]

Authorities prevent journalist, wife from traveling
Journalist and author Çağdaş Ulus wrote on Twitter today that police at Istanbul’s Sabiha Gökçen Airport prevented him and his wife from traveling. The writer, who has worked for the daily newspaper Vatan, said he and his wife learned their passports had been canceled on September 1 because they were suspected of being supporters of the Gülenist movement when airport police prevented them from traveling and brought them instead to a prosecutor’s office for interrogation. Prosecutors released Ulus and his wife after questioning them, Ulus subsequently wrote on Twitter.

Ban on reporting arrest campaign in Mediterranean city
Turkey’s broadcast regulator the RTÜK on September 16 announced that Izmir’s Second Court of Penal Peace announced a ban on “any kind of news story or interview” regarding an arrest campaign in the Mediterranean city targeting suspected supporters of preacher Fethullah Gülen, whom the Turkish government accuses of maintaining a terrorist organization, “parallel state structure,” and of orchestrating a failed military coup in July.

New agency website censored
The Information Technologies and Communication Institution (BTK) yesterday blocked to access to the pro-Kurdish Dicle News Agency (DİHA), according to press reports. According to the independent news website Bianet, it was the 45th time authorities had censored the news agency’s website.

[September 19, 2016]