Seen through a Turkish flag, people gather outside Istanbul's Vodafone Stadium to pay respects to those killed in a bombing, December 11, 2016. Turkish authorities imposed a ban on coverage of the attack. (AP/Emrah Gurel)
Seen through a Turkish flag, people gather outside Istanbul's Vodafone Stadium to pay respects to those killed in a bombing, December 11, 2016. Turkish authorities imposed a ban on coverage of the attack. (AP/Emrah Gurel)

Turkey Crackdown Chronicle: Week of December 11

Columnist jailed pending ‘insult’ trial for remarks on Syria
Istanbul’s Ninth Court of Penal Peace this evening ordered Hüsnü Mahalli, a columnist for the leftist newspaper Yurt, jailed pending trial on charges of “insulting the president” and “insulting a board of civil servants in the course of discharging their duties,” the official Anatolia Agency reported.

Yurt reported that the 67-year-old columnist was transferred to a hospital last night for an evaluation of his health. Yurt reported that the charges against the columnist stem from his criticisms of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s policies on Syria, as reflected in the court’s order to jail him, a photo of which the daily newspaper published on its website.

[December 15, 2016]

Reporter freed pending trial
Mersin’s Second Court for Serious Crimes yesterday ordered Evrensel reporter Cemil Uğur released, pending the conclusion of his trial on charges of “being a member of an armed terrorist organization” and “propagandizing for a terrorist organization,” the socialist daily newspaper reported. Uğur’s colleague Halil İbrahim Polat faces the same charges in the case, but was detained only briefly on October 12, before being released on probation. The court today also cancelled Polat’s probation. The two were initially detained while covering an August protest.

Both journalists denied the charges against them.

At the trial, Uğur said: “We had our cameras in hand when we were detained. I went to report news. The police’s order to disband [the protest] does not bind us; we have to report. We went to a teahouse to wash our faces since we were affected by the [tear] gas and we were detained there.”

The prosecutor yesterday asked the court to release Uğur. CPJ has found that street reporters in Turkey are frequently arrested on similar charges and released–often at the first hearing of their trials–after spending months in the jail, suggesting that pretrial detention often becomes a form of punishment for journalists.

Columnist detained for ‘insult’
The leftist daily Yurt reported that its columnist Hüsnü Mahalli was detained in Istanbul last night on suspicion of “insulting state officials on social media.” Police detained the journalist from his home and confiscated his computer and notebooks. Yurt later reported that the specific accusation was phrased as “insulting the legal person of the state,” in keeping with the applicable section of the Penal Code. Mahalli’s lawyer told Yurt that police interrogated the columnist about his remark on Halk TV yesterday that “Aleppo is being cleared of terrorists. I will explain tomorrow how this is being done,” not about his activity on social media.

Mahalli is 67 years old and has health problems, according to his lawyers.

BBC Turkish Service editor says false accusations on social media put reporters at risk
BBC Turkish editor Murat Nişancıoğlu yesterday wrote on Twitter that false accusation spread on social media risked jeopardizing the broadcasters’ journalists’ safety. Nişancıoğlu wrote that pro-government social media users, including the mayor of Ankara, İbrahim Melih Gökçek, accused the BBC Turkish Service of having foreknowledge of a December 10 bomb attack near a stadium in central Istanbul, that it rented an apartment near the site of the blast before it happened, and began covering the aftermath minutes after the attack took place.

Nişancıoğlu explained that the apartment in question is, in fact, the BBC Turkish Service’s longstanding office, and that it started broadcasting roughly 30 minutes after the attack.

Gökçek, the mayor of Ankara, yesterday wrote on Twitter, “The English have a hand in this!”

[December 14, 2016]

Police detain 235 people for social media posts
Turkish security forces detained at least 235 people for publishing material to the social media website Twitter regarding a December 10 bombing near a stadium in Istanbul, Reuters reported. Turkey’s official Anadolu news agency reported that authorities said the 235 people were detained on suspicion of spreading “terrorist propaganda” on social media by commenting on the attack, which killed at least 44 people. Authorities have not released a full list of those detained, but mayors and provincial officials accused of having links to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), as well as members of the opposition People’s Democratic Party (HDP), are among them, according to press reports.

Police detain radio station journalist
Fatma Ölmez, a journalist for the shuttered radio station Radyo Ses, was detained in the southern province of Mersin yesterday, the press freedom collective Ben Gazeteciyim (“I am a journalist”) reported on Twitter. It was not immediately clear if she had been charged with a crime. The journalist was on the air when authorities arrived to seal the radio station’s office after the government ordered it closed by decree in September. “They do not want the truth to spread,” she told the pro-Kurdish Dicle News Agency at the time. “For this, journalists are arrested, and television and radio stations are closed… We live in a country where they arrest you if you tell the truth.” The government also ordered Dicle News Agency closed by decree.

[December 13, 2016]

Journalist detained on anonymous tip
Police in Ankara detained Kenan Kırkaya, the representative of the shuttered, pro-Kurdish Dicle News Agency (DİHA) in the capital, from his home today, Dihaber reported. The police told Kırkaya that they have received an anonymous tip from a public phone that the journalist was a criminal, Dihaber reported.

Authorities ban reporting Istanbul bombing
Turkish regulators issued a ban on reporting any news or interviews about yesterday’s bombing near a stadium that does not come from official sources, the newspaper Hürriyet Daily News reported. The blast killed at least 44 people. Since the attack, Turkish police have detained 235 people on suspicion of acting on behalf of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which the Turkish government lists as a terrorist organization, according to media reports.

Columnist detained, fined for insulting president’s son
Police in the western Turkish province of Busra yesterday detained Seray Şahiner, a columnist for the daily newspaper Birgün, and made her pay a fine for insulting the president’s son, Bilal Erdoğan, the website Bianet reported.

Bianet reported that Şahiner was not aware that she had been found guilty of insulting Bilal Erdoğan’s intelligence in one of her columns and fined an unspecified amount. Police awoke her in the middle of the night as she slept in a hotel room to detain her, according to the Bianet report. blocked in Turkey
Turkish regulators blocked access to the video-sharing website, the English-language, pro-opposition website Turkish Minute reported yesterday.

Regulators also censored Yeşil Bursa, a news website focused on Turkey’s Bursa province, the leftist newspaper Evrensel reported on December 10. Authorities offered no explanation for either act of censorship, according to the reports.

Former news agency publishers questioned
Police in the southeastern city of Diyarbakır on December 10 detained Sarya Kader Gözüoğlu and Aycan Çakır, the last two publishers of the shuttered news agency JİNHA for questioning, Evrensel reported. Both were released without charge after interrogation.

[December 12, 2016]