Turkey's deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmuş, pictured in January 2016, said at a news conference this week that the media should be careful while covering sensitive issues. (Adem Altan/AFP)
Turkey's deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmuş, pictured in January 2016, said at a news conference this week that the media should be careful while covering sensitive issues. (Adem Altan/AFP)

Turkey Crackdown Chronicle: Week of December 25

Investigative reporter arrested on propaganda charges

The prominent investigative journalist Ahmet Şık was arrested yesterday on allegations of spreading terrorist propaganda. Şık, who was detained in relation to his published writings and posts on social media, was also accused of “publicly humiliating the Republic of Turkey, its judicial organs; military and police organizations,” Cumhuriyet reported. Prosecutors questioned Şık over his tweets, three published articles, a public statement, and an interview, according to Hürriyet.

Özgür Gündem journalists released from jail as trial continues

Arrested journalists Necmiye Alpay, Aslı Erdoğan, and Zana Bilir Kaya were released under judicial control after the first hearing in the trial of shuttered daily Özgür Gündem, the daily Evrensel reported. Responsible news editor İnan Kızılkaya is the only suspect in that trial who remains in custody and, as the editor considered legally responsible for the outlet’s content, is a defendant in dozens of other cases brought against Özgür Gündem, which was shut down by the government in August. Editor-in-chief Kaya and publishing board members Alpay and Erdoğan will be subject to a foreign travel ban as the trial proceeds.

State watchdog penalizes public broadcaster for assassination video

Turkey’s official radio and television watchdog RTÜK penalized the country’s national broadcaster, TRT, for broadcasting video of the assassination of Russian Ambassador Andrey Karlov, T24 reported. Representatives of the leading Justice and Development Party (AKP) also voted in favor of the penalties, alleging that the decision to broadcast the video is an instance of “praising terrorism,” the report said. The details of the penalty have not yet been publicized.

Detention periods for detained journalists extended

The detention periods for six journalists detained on December 25 were extended to 30 days, independent news outlet Bianet reported. Ömer Çelik, Metin Yoksu, Derya Okatan, Eray Saygın, Mahir Kanaat, and Tunca Öğreten were arrested for alleged connections to Redhack, a group claiming to be behind the leaked emails of a Turkish minister. The journalists had reportedly been denied access to a lawyer for five days. Lawyer Özcan Kılıç told Bianet that he was finally given access to Çelik, Okatan, and Yoksu today, adding that Okatan is on a hunger strike in protest of the charges.

[Published December 30]

Journalists arrested over Redhack email leaks

Six journalists were detained in Turkey December 25 for allegedly being connected to Redhack, a group that claims to be behind leaked emails of Turkey’s energy minister Berat Albayrak who is also the president’s son-in-law, according to the pro-government daily Sabah. The BBC named the arrested journalists as Tunca Öğreten, a freelance journalist and former editor of the news website Diken in Istanbul; Ömer Çelik, news editor of Dihaber in Diyarbakır; Metin Yoksu, a reporter for Dihaber; Eray Sargın, a news editor for Yolculuk in Istanbul; and Derya Okatan, from the Etkin News Agency (ETHA) in Ankara. Mahir Kanaat, the accounting director for the daily Birgün was also detained. Sabah reported that police wanted to question nine people about the leaked emails. Police threatened Çelik and beat him, according to a report in his paper, Dihaber. The journalists detained in Diyarbakır and Ankara were brought to Istanbul yesterday, according to reports.

‘Media should watch their step’ deputy prime minister warns

Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmuş today warned the media to be careful, the daily Cumhuriyet reported. Speaking about a video released by the militant group Islamic State on December 22, showing two Turkish soldiers being burned alive, he said, “There is not any confirmed information about these video scenes, we would have shared it with the public if there was… [Islamic State] try to scare the people, push them into helplessness by releasing videos. They want everybody to be afraid of each other. Some friends at the media should watch their step. Especially the social media is not a field that one can publish irresponsibly.” Turkey blocked social media last week following the release of the video, CPJ documented.

Arrest over no tea comment

Police detained the owner of a cafeteria at the Istanbul office of the daily Cumhuriyet December 25 for allegedly “insulting the president,” the BBC reported. Şenol Buran was arrested after allegedly saying he would refuse to serve tea to Recep Tayyip Erdoğan if the Turkish president visited the café.

Cumhuriyet columnist threatened

Aydın Engin, a columnist for the daily Cumhuriyet, said that he was threatened twice at the weekend according to reports. The journalist, who is on trial for allegedly creating terrorist propaganda, said he has asked for police protection. Engin was cited in reports as saying that three men stopped him in Istanbul’s Kadıköy District December 24 and that one of them said, “Take a good look at the sun. This will be the last time you see it.” Engin said he continued walking and the group did not follow him. The journalist said that the next day he received a call to his office phone at Cumhuriyet in which the caller told him, “Your days are numbered, ” reports said.

Over 1,600 arrests for social media use

More than 1,600 people were arrested in Turkey in the past six months for social media activity, according to data released in a memo by the Interior Ministry. The news website Diken reported that according to the data, of the 1,656 people arrested, 1,203 were released under judicial control, 767 were released from detention without seeing a judge, and 84 are still in jail. Legal investigations and judicial procedures are being carried out for about 10,000 people over social media activity, according to the ministry memo. The accusations or charges are related to “provoking people into hatred and rioting over social media,” “praising a terrorist organization,” “making propaganda of a terrorist organization,” “openly announcing having ties with a terrorist organization,” “insulting state officials,” and “acting against the indivisible unity of the state or the safety of the public.” The ministry said that it is working with platforms including Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube as part of its investigations.

Editor on trial over insult charge

A trial date has been set for Gökhan Kaya, an editor and columnist for the leftist news website Turnusol, who faces charges of insulting the president and “making propaganda of a [terrorist] organization” on social media, his website reported. The first hearing is scheduled for January 17. The communist magazine Boyun Eğme is also facing trial over allegedly “insulting the president,” according to the news website SoL.

ANF news director released on bail

Maxime Azadi, the news director for Firat News Agency (ANF), has been released on bail after paying 5,000 euros (US$5,200), according to reports. Belgium police executed a Turkish arrest warrant for the journalist December 15 over terror charges, according to reports.

Poor prison conditions

Three journalists from the daily Cumhuriyet–Güray Öz, Hakan Kara and Önder Çelik–were held in a prison cell without heat and with no insulation at the windows, their employer reported December 24. The journalists, who were arrested early November, are being held in Silivri prison in Istanbul. Temperatures in the city at the time were around 46F (7C).

More journalists accused of terrorism

Police questioned staff at the shuttered local television station Van TV about their broadcasts, and the microphone of a radio journalist was cited as evidence of her alleged membership to a terrorist organization, according to the local press. The daily Evrensel reported December 24 that terrorism police called four journalists who had worked for Van TV in to testify. Serdar Altan, general broadcast coordinator of Van TV, was cited in the report as saying that the news presenters were questioned under the suspicion of “terrorism propaganda.” Kadir Cesur, presenter for the morning news show “Gündoğumu” (Sunrise), said he was questioned about broadcasts where he read the headlines of newspapers, including the daily Özgür Gündem, and was told by police that Van TV’s reports about the banned Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK) and the leading Justice and Development Party (AKP) were considered “indirect terrorism propaganda.” Cesur said he was also questioned about a live broadcast with Lezgin Botan, a parliamentary deputy in Van from the legal, pro-Kurdish The Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP). He added that RTÜK, the radio and television watchdog, fined the channel at the time for reading Özgür Gündem on air and the live broadcast. Separately, Dihaber reported December 25 that Fatma Ölmez, a former employee of the shuttered radio station SES Radyo who was arrested December 21 for allegedly “being a member of a [terrorist] organization,” was questioned at the police and the prosecutor’s office about the press conferences of political groups and non-governmental organizations, and political rallies of the HDP in 2014 and 2015. The microphone and headphones she used for these broadcasts were among items cited as evidence, the report said.

Press advertisement regulation dropped

The Council of State canceled a recently added article to the regulation of Turkey’s Press Advertisement Institution, the authority for distributing official advertisements to newspapers, that would have prevented adverts being placed with news outlets that have staff on trial for terrorism charges, the daily Evrensel reported. State advertising is one of the main sources of income for small publications in Turkey.

Dutch broadcaster blocked

Turkey’s internet regulator BTK has blocked access to the website of Dutch public broadcaster NOS because of its coverage of the assassination in Turkey of the Russian ambassador last week, according to a tweet from indepedent journalist Efe Kerem Sözeri. The 7th Istanbul Court of Penal Peace issued a news ban about the assassination one week after the event. All news about the assassination is banned on every media platform in Turkey.

Journalists blocked from trial

Several journalists and news outlets were barred today from covering the trial of 29 police officers accused of being involved in the failed coup attempt in July, Evrensel reported. Officers at the court in Silivri had a list of press approved to cover the trial and that only 20 journalists would be allowed in. While journalists from Akit TV, CNN Türk, TRT, Anatolia Agency, Hürriyet, Milliyet, Cumhuriyet and Sabah was permitted access, those from Evrensel, Birgün and Özgürlükçü Demokrasi were not.

[Published December 27]