People use an internet cafe in Ankara, April 16, 2015. Turkish authorities have censored social media and news websites, and have sought to block access to tools for circumventing that censorship. (Reuters/Umit Bektas)
People use an internet cafe in Ankara, April 16, 2015. Turkish authorities have censored social media and news websites, and have sought to block access to tools for circumventing that censorship. (Reuters/Umit Bektas)

Turkey Crackdown Chronicle: Week of December 18

Court confiscates assets of 54 journalists
Istanbul’s 11th Court of Penal Peace court confiscated the assets of 54 journalists, media workers, and writers, saying there was a “strong suspicion” that they were followers of exiled preacher Fethullah Gülen, whom the Turkish government accuses of maintaining a terrorist organization and “parallel state structure” (FETÖ/PDY, by its Turkish acronym), the news website Bianet reported today.

None of the 54 have been convicted of terrorism, most have not been charged with a crime, but most have been previously reported to be under investigation in the scope of a sweeping purge of suspected Gülenists that intensified after a July 15, 2016, failed military coup that the government blamed on the Hizmet movement, as its sympathizers call it. Of the 54, only Nuriye Akman and Lale Kemal were arrested, though subsequently released pending the conclusion of their trial. The other journalists, writers, and media workers whose assets the court froze are as follows: Zafer Özsoy, Yüksel Durgut, Veysel Ayhan, Şeref Yılmaz, Şenol Kahraman, Süleyman Sargın, Şahin Alpay, Sevgi Akarçeşme, Sedat Yetişkin, Ömer Karakaş, Osman Nuri Öztürk, Oktay Vızvız, Nuriye Ural, Nevzat Güner, Mümtazer Türköne, Mustafa Ünal, Murat Avcıoğlu, Mehmet Akif Afşar, Mehmet Kamış, Lale Kemal, Kemal Soydemir, Hüseyin Döğme, Hilmi Yavuz, Hamit Çiçek, Hakan Taşdelen, Fevzi Yazıcı, Faruk Akkan, Faruk Kardıç, Erkam Tufan Aytav, Melih Kılıç, Ekrem Dumanlı, Cuma Kaya, Cevdet Türkyolu, Bülent Korucu, Bülent Keneş, Ali Bulaç, Ali Ünal, Ali Akbulut, Alaattin Güner, Ahmet Turan Alkan, Ahmet Metin Sekizkardeş, Zeki Önal, Osman Nuri Arslan, Metin Tamer Gökçeoğlu, Mehmet Özdemir, İhsan Duran Dağı, Hamit Bilici, Behçet Akyar, Adil Gülçek, Abdullah Katırcıoğlu, Abdullah Aymaz, Hüseyin Turan, İbrahim Karayeğen, and Mehmet Özdemir.

Social media websites blocked following ISIS video
The volunteer internet censorship monitoring group Turkey Blocks today reported that social media websites were blocked in Turkey following the Islamic State group’s publication of a video showing two Turkish soldiers being burned alive. The Turkish government has repeatedly blocked or throttled access to social media websites following bombings or other attacks by militant groups.

[December 23, 2016]

DİHA journalist released after 10 days in jail

Kenan Kırkaya, a journalist for the now-shuttered Dicle News Agency (DİHA), was released under judicial control yesterday after spending 10 days in detention in Ankara, the daily Evrensel reported. Under the terms of his release, Kırkaya has to report regularly at a police station, the report said. Police arrested Kırkay December 12 after receiving an anonymous tip, according to reports. He has not been charged.

Arrest order for IPFA honoree Can Dündar

Authorities issued an arrest order for Can Dündar, the former editor-in-chief of the Turkish daily Cumhuriyet, for his participation in a solidarity campaign for the daily Özgür Gündem, Cumhuriyet reported. Since last summer, dozens of journalists and activists have participated in the campaign to protest the harassment of the now-defunct pro-Kurdish daily by becoming symbolic editors for a day. CPJ has documented how many of those who took part have been prosecuted for their action. Dündar, one of CPJ’s 2016 International Press Freedom Awardees, is living in exile.

Staff at state-owned broadcaster detained over encrypted ByLock app

At least 35 former employees at TRT, the state-owned Turkish Radio and Television Corporation, were detained during parallel operations in 12 Turkish provinces, Cumhuriyet reported. The staff, who were dismissed in July after the coup, are accused of using the encrypted chat app ByLock. They will be brought to Ankara, where the investigation is based, the report said. Turkish officials have said that ByLock was developed and used by the coup plotters in July, according to reports.

TURKSAT ordered to drop station for allegedly insulting president

The board of Turkey’s broadcast regulator Radio and Television, (RTÜK), asked the state-controlled satellite signal provider TURKSAT to stop broadcasting Yol TV, a pro-Alevi media outlet, Bianet reported today. The Alevi is the country’s largest religious minority. According to the report, RTÜK cannot shutdown the channel directly because it is not based in Turkey, so the regulator asked TURKSAT to drop it. RTÜK said that the broadcasts of Yol TV must be stopped because they insult the president and “[promote] discrimination within the society while praising terrorist organizations,” according to the official news agency Anatolia’s report also from today. CPJ could not determine if TURKSAT has acted on the request.

[December 22, 2016]

Radio journalist formally arrested in Mersin

Fatma Ölmez from the shuttered radio station Radyo Ses was formally arrested yesterday in the southeastern city of Mersin, according to a tweet from press freedom group Ben Gazeteciyim (“I am a journalist”) and a report by local news website Mersin İmece Gazetesi . Neither provided details regarding the arrest. Ölmez was detained on December 11, CPJ reported at the time.

Jailed journalist taken to hospital

Imprisoned journalist Hüsnü Mahalli was transferred to Cerrahpaşa Hospital in Istanbul, the daily Evrensel reported today. Mahalli is 67 years old and has chronic health problems; CPJ reported when he was arrested last week. He is a columnist for the leftist daily Yurt.

Journalist detained overnight
Police detained Pınar Gayıp, Istanbul reporter for the socialist Etkin News Agency (ETHA), in the Kadıköy neighborhood on the evening of December 19 and released the next day, her employer reported. The journalist was on her way to cover a street protest but was detained before it started; she spent the night in jail and was freed without charge after testifying to a prosecutor, ETHA reported.

[December 21, 2016]

Columnist acquitted of ‘insulting the president’
Ankara’s fifth and 33rd courts of first instance today both acquitted veteran journalist and T24 columnist Hasan Cemal of insulting Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in two separate trials the news website Gazete Duvar reported.

News of Russian ambassador’s assassination banned
The prime minister’s office ordered a temporary ban on reporting news of Russian Ambassador to Turkey Andrei Karlov’s assassination last night, the Turkish broadcast regulator the RTÜK announced. The ban applies to “all media service providers” and bars them from featuring “news, visuals, and comments” about the assassination, except for official statements from the government. The ban was largely ignored because the media was present and filming when the diplomat was murdered.

Social media disrupted following Russian ambassador’s murder
Internet users in Turkey experience difficulty logging on to Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube after Russia’s ambassador to Turkey was killed, according to the daily newspaper Hürriyet reported. The volunteer online censorship group Turkey Blocks reported that a “social media slowdown” had been “detected in Turkey after the assassination.”

Belgium executes Interpol warrant for Turkish journalist on terrorism charges
Police in Brussels arrested Firat News Agency (ANF) News Director Maxime Azadi, executing a Turkish warrant, ANF reported today. The Belgian daily Le Soir reported that police arrested Azadi on December 15, and that Turkish authorities sought his arrest on terrorism charges.

[December 20, 2016]

Turkish authorities target Tor, other means of circumventing online censorship
The monitoring group Turkey Blocks yesterday reported a dramatic spike in users of Tor, software that anonymizes internet traffic and allows users to bypass national efforts at internet censorship, being kicked off the network, the group and the website Security Affairs reported. Regulators in November ordered internet service providers to block access to Tor and virtual private network (VPN) services that allow internet users in Turkey to bypass online censorship in the country.

News website censored for 15th time
Turkish authorities blocked access to the socialist news portal, the website announced on Twitter on December 17. The website said this was the 15th time authorities had censored the website, which is now publishing at a new address,

Leading mobile phone company’s Swedish partner criticizes online censorship
A spokeswoman for Swedish mobile phone company Telia described its Turkish partner Turkcell’s readiness to block users’ access to Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, YouTube, and WordPress at the government’s request as “a problem that we view as very serious,” Bloomberg reported on December 14. Telia is the largest shareholder in Turkcell, but the spokeswoman told Bloomberg that “[the company’s] ability to influence is limited” because it currently does not sit on the board of Turkcell.

[December 19, 2016]