Supporters of Cumhuriyet newspaper protest police's October 31, 2016, raid of the newspaper's office in Istanbul. (Reuters/Murad Sezer)
Supporters of Cumhuriyet newspaper protest police's October 31, 2016, raid of the newspaper's office in Istanbul. (Reuters/Murad Sezer)

Turkey Crackdown Chronicle: Week of November 6

Opposition newspaper CEO detained
Police at Istanbul’s Atatürk airport detained Akın Atalay, CEO of the embattled opposition newspaper Cumhuriyet, as he disembarked from his flight from Berlin today, Turkey’s official Anadolu News Agency reported. The Istanbul Chief Prosecutor’s Office for Press Crimes had issued a warrant for his arrest in the scope of authorities’ investigation into the newspaper on charges of producing propaganda for two rival groups the Turkish government lists as terrorist organizations: the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and what the government calls the Fethullah Gülen Terror Organization (FETÖ).

Police last week searched the executive’s home and jailed more than a dozen Cumhuriyet journalists and directors. A court subsequently ordered nine of those detained jailed, pending trial on charges of “committing crimes in the name of a terrorist organization without being a member of it.”

Bahri Bayram Belen, the newspaper’s lawyer, told the Anadolu News Agency that he expects Atalay to be jailed pending trial as well.

Magazine editor sentenced to prison on terrorism charges
Istanbul’s 14th Court for Serious Crimes yesterday sentenced Aslı Ceren Aslan, the managing editor of the socialist magazine Özgür Gelecek (Free Future), to two years and six months in prison on charges of “propagandizing for a [terrorist] organization,” according to court records reviewed by CPJ.

The court records show that prosecutors alleged that specific articles in the magazine spread propaganda for the PKK.

Magazine journalist jailed pending trial on terrorism charges
Istanbul’s Second Court of Penal Peace on November 8, 2016, arraigned Toğay Okay, a reporter with Ozgur Gelecek, on charges of being a member of a terrorist organization, according to court records reviewed by the Committee to Protect Journalists. Police arrested him on October 27, the magazine wrote on Twitter.

The charges stem from his coverage of the funerals of three fighters from two outlawed armed groups, the Communist Party of Turkey/Marxist-Leninist (TİKKO) and the Marxist-Leninist Communist Party (MLKP).

Okay said in his testimony that he attended the funerals as a reporter, but that he also personally knew one of the deceased, Cengiz İçli, because he would visit a publishing house where Okay worked when İçli was a student.

News website censored
Turkish regulators last night blocked access to the socialist news website, the website announced on its Twitter. The website said it was the 13th time authorities had censored its site. The last time was on October 24, reported.

In a statement published on its website, Turkey’s Information Technologies Institution (BTK) said access to the site had been blocked as an “administrative measure,” without elaborating.

The news website continues to publish reports from the alternative address

Minister: VPN internet access blocked to fight terrorism
Turkish Communications Minister Ahmet Arslan today said that the government is blocking access to Virtual Private Network (VPN) services–which allow internet users to browse the internet via a remote server, thereby evading online censorship in their countries–only to prevent the services to be used for terrorism.

Arslan said blocking the public’s access to social media and the internet could be necessary for public security. He asserted that France had taken similar precautions in the past.

[November 11, 2016]

Mehmet Baransu not provided with food, asks for hearing delay
The final hearing in a trial of Mehmet Baransu, who faces a range of charges and has been jailed since March 2015, was yesterday delayed until February 8, 2017, after Baransu alleged he was not provided with food for the entire day before the hearing and could not properly defend himself under the circumstance.

Istanbul’s 10th Court for Serious Crimes was expected to issue a verdict yesterday on charges of obtaining secret documents in relation to a story that Baransu wrote for the daily Taraf in 2013.

The journalist’s wife, Nesibe Baransu, told the daily Evrensel that her husband was transferred at 7 a.m. local time from the high-security Silivri prison, on the western edge of the European side of Istanbul, to the courthouse on the Asian side of the city. The hearing was supposed to start around 2:30 p.m. local time, but instead began around 6.30 p.m., she said. The prison administration is supposed to give the inmate’s food to military police accompanying the defendant, but his husband was not given any food the whole day, she told Evrensel.

Nesibe Baransu also said her husband has only 20 minutes each week to see his lawyer, and they are not allowed to exchange documents, which she said is another breach of his right to defense, Evrensel reported.

Prosecutor seeks life sentence for nine in Özgür Gündem case

A prosecutor in Istanbul asked for life sentences in the case of nine journalists and executives from the pro-Kurdish daily Özgür Gündem, which was closed down by governmental decree in October.

According to the state-run Anadolu Agency, the journalists are accused of membership in a terror organization, demolishing the country’s unity, and spreading terror propaganda. In his indictment, the prosecutor alleged that the editorial policy of the newspaper aims to change the political, legal, social, and economic order in Turkey, jeopardizing the state’s existence by weakening, demolishing, or seizing state authority, Anadolu reported.

Four of the nine journalists are already in jail, including editorial board members Aslı Erdoğan, a prominent novelist, and Necmiye Alpay, a well-known linguist; Editor-in-Chief İnan Kızılkaya; and responsible editor Bilir Kaya. The other five charged in the case are Eren Keskin, Ragıp Zarakolu, Filiz Koçali, Kemal Sancılı, and Bilge Akut.

[November 10, 2016]

Newspaper reporter faces terrorism charges

Prosecutors in Turkey’s southeastern province of Diyarbakır have opened a criminal case against Mahmut Oral, now a journalist with the embattled opposition newspaper Cumhuriyet, on charges of “propagandizing for a [terrorist] organization” in connection with a story published a year and a half ago in the local newspaper Diyarbakır Özgür Haber, Oral wrote on Twitter. Oral was the editor of Diyarbakır Özgür Haber at the time.

The investigation against Oral was opened after a police officer filed a criminal complaint against the journalist because the police officer’s face can be seen clearly in a photograph run with a story on the murder of Tahir Elçi, the late head of the Diyarbakır Bar Association and a leading human rights activist, according to Oral’s Twitter timeline. Oral also wrote that two of his former colleagues from Diyarbakır Özgür Haber, whom he did not name, were also suspects in the criminal case.

[November 9, 2016]

Court rules trial of RSF representative, two writers will continue
Istanbul’s 13th Court for Serious Crimes today rejected a motion to acquit Erol Önderoğlu, Turkey representative of the press freedom organization Reporters Without Borders (RSF), author Ahmet Nesin, and columnist Şebnem Koru Fincancı of terrorism, incitement, and separatism charges, the leftist Evrensel newspaper reported today.

The charges stem from the coverage of the now-shuttered pro-Kurdish daily newspaper Özgür Gündem on the days when each symbolically acted as co-editor of the publication to protest authorities’ relentless judicial harassment of its staff. A court ordered the newspaper closed and police raided its Istanbul office on August 16, CPJ reported at the time.

The court adjourned the trial of the three until January 11. They are free, pending the conclusion of their trials. The newspaper’s responsible news editor, İnan Kızılkaya, is a codefendant in each case, as his position made him responsible for everything the newspaper published. He is jailed, pending the conclusion of dozens of trials against him.

[November 8, 2016]

Court jails nine newspaper journalists, directors pending trial
Istanbul’s Ninth Court of Penal Peace on November 4 ordered nine journalists and directors of the embattled opposition newspaper Cumhuriyet jailed pending trial on charges of “committing a crime in support of a terrorist organization without being a member” through the newspaper’s reporting, Cumhuriyet reported.

The nine–including Cumhuriyet’s editor-in-chief, Murat Sabuncu–are accused of aiding the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and followers of exiled preacher Fethullah Gülen, whom the Turkish government accuses of maintaining a terrorist organization and parallel state structure within Turkey that it blames for a failed July 2016 military coup.

In addition to Sabuncu, the court jailed columnist and editorial consultant Kadri Gürsel, cartoonist Musa Kart, and Turhan Günay, the editor of Cumhuriyet‘s literary supplement, jailed pending trial. The court further ordered Önder Çelik, Bülent Utku, Mustafa Kemal Güngör, Güray Öz, and Hakan Kara, all members of the board of directors of the foundation that owns Cumhuriyet jailed pending trial. The court ordered columnists Aydın Engin and Hikmet Çetinkaya released on probation.

Turkey attempts to block tools for circumventing online censorship: report
Turkey late on November 4 attempted to prevent internet users in Turkey from circumventing the government’s censorship of social media websites by using software to bypass the normal channels for accessing the internet, according to press reports.

Turkey attempted to block access to the Tor Project, VPN Master, Hotspot Shield, Psiphon, Zenmate, TunnelBear, Zero, VyprVPN, Private Internet Access, Espress, and IPVanish by instructing Turkish internet service providers to block the services, the news website T24 reported.

Government tells Kurdish cartoon TV channel to use Turkish
The Turkish government on November 5 reversed its September 28 decree closing Zarok TV, which broadcasts children’s cartoons dubbed into Kurdish, and Yön Radyo, using emergency powers it assumed after a July 2016 failed military coup.

The government urged Zarok TV to “reflect Turkish culture” in its editorial policy and to use the Turkish language.

[November 7, 2016]