A phone showing a Twitter error message in 2014. A member of Turkey's opposition party claims police are monitoring social media users as part of a planned crackdown. (Reuters/Dado Ruvic)
A phone showing a Twitter error message in 2014. A member of Turkey's opposition party claims police are monitoring social media users as part of a planned crackdown. (Reuters/Dado Ruvic)

Turkey Crackdown Chronicle: Week of January 15

Newspaper distributor says security officers abducted, beat him
Barış Boyraz, a former distributor for the shuttered Kurdish-language daily Azadiya Welat, told the daily newspaper Evrensel that men he believes to be plainclothes police on December 17, 2016, abducted him from the streets of Ankara and beat him.

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Boyraz told Evrensel that he was at the entrance of Güvenpark metro station in the capital at around 3 p.m. when men grabbed him from both sides, took his phone, and put him in a car. Boyraz asked who they were, but received no answer. He said the car then drove toward the neighboring province of Eskişehir while the men threatened and beat him.

At some point the men tied his jacket around his head to prevent him from seeing what was happening. Boyraz then said the men in the car started to talk about another car chasing them. Boyraz said he believed this to be a “good-cop, bad-cop” routine because he was then taken from the first vehicle and put in the second vehicle.

Boyraz told Evrensel that the men in the second car were friendly to him. He said they told him, “We took you from the hands of the executioners, treat us nicely.”

When Boyraz asked who they were, the men said: “We are those who can take you from the eyes of the police.”

The second group of men asked Boyraz to cooperate with them, the journalist told Evrensel, but said he refused to answer any of their questions. The second group of men then left Boyraz near the Kepekli neighborhood of Ankara’s Gölbaşı district, bruised and in tattered clothes, he told Evrensel.

Boyraz told Evrensel that when he asked the men in the second car for his phone, the first car appeared and the men inside gave it to him.

Boyraz told the newspaper that the men from the second car told him information about some journalists and said they were following everybody.

The journalist told Evrensel that he was planning to file a criminal complaint, adding, “If anything happens to me, the people who abducted me are responsible.”

Columnist charged with ‘insulting the president’ released pending trial
Istanbul’s 6th Court of First Instance today ordered Hüsnü Mahalli–a 67-year-old columnist for the leftist daily newspaper Yurt and a commentator for Halk TV, which is aligned with the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP)–released pending trial, Cumhuriyet newspaper reported. The columnist was arrested in December, CPJ reported at the time.

Prosecutors asked the court to indict Mahalli on charges of “insulting the president” and insulting civil servants in the course of doing their duties, the state-owned Anatolia Agency (AA) reported. The court is expected to rule on the request to indict Mahalli within 15 days.

The columnist is in poor health, and was moved to hospital soon after his detention. On December 17, Cumhuriyet reported that CHP Member of Parliament Ali Şeker, who is also a doctor, visited Mahalli and said the journalist risked paralysis if he did not receive physical therapy.

The court today justified its decision to release Mahalli pending trial on the grounds that the journalist was not a flight risk and that he could not put pressure on the supposed victim of the alleged crime, Cumhuriyet reported.

[January 20, 2017]

News agency reporter released on probation
Authorities in the coastal Turkish city of Izmir yesterday released Sultan Xylem Keleş—a former reporter for the all-female Jin News Agency (JİNHA), which the government closed by emergency decree in October—after the reporter spent two days in detention. Keleş was released on probation, and barred from leaving the country, the news website Sujin Gazete reported.

[January 19, 2017]

Terror charges for journalists detained in December

An Istanbul court last night arrested two journalists and a newspaper employee for allegedly “being members of a [terrorist] organization,” Bianet reported. Tunca Öğreten, a freelance journalist and former editor of the news website Diken in Istanbul; Ömer Çelik, news editor of Dihaber in Diyarbakır; and Mahir Kanaat, the accounting director for the daily Birgün, have been detained since December 25, as part of an investigation into leaked emails of Turkey’s Energy Minister Berat Albayrak, who is also the president’s son-in-law, according to reports. Three journalists detained alongside them–Metin Yoksu, a reporter for Dihaber; Derya Okatan, from the Etkin News Agency (ETHA) in Ankara; and Eray Sargın, a news editor for Yolculuk in Istanbul–were released under judicial control, reports said.

The journalists were questioned about different groups recognized as terrorists by Turkey, according to analysis in the daily Evrensel by chief editor Fatih Polat, who followed the case and interviewed defense lawyers. Öğreten’s terror allegation was linked to him working for the shuttered daily Taraf before he was at Diken, which prosecutors said was a “media organ of the FETÖ.” FETÖ, or the Fethullah Gülen Terrorist Organization is the name Turkish authorities gave to the Hizmet Movement, an international organization led by exiled cleric Fethullah Gülen. The prosecutor also accused the journalist of being a member of the extreme leftist group the Revolutionary People’s Salvation Party/Front (DHKP/C). Another report in Evrensel said the others were accused of having ties to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the Marxist Leninist Communist Party (MLKP). The report did not specify which accusations related to which defendant. The journalists denied the charges.

Atilla Bahçıvan, a lawyer for Kanaat, told Polat that the evidence was either weak or not criminal under Turkish law. Bahçıvan said, “The case is there just because of the name Berat Albayrak. Nothing would come out [of this case] if it was about something else.”

DİHA reporter detained after police raid

Abdullah Kaya, reporter for the shuttered Dicle News Agency (DİHA), was detained today, Dihaber reported. Police surrounded Kaya’s house in the Diyadin district of the eastern province of Ağrı and detained the journalist after searching the house for about three hours, the report said. CPJ could not determine the reason for the arrest.

New York Times reporter Rod Nordland denied entry

Rod Nordland, a reporter for The New York Times, was denied entry to Turkey yesterday, after arriving at Istanbul’s airport from the U.K., The New York Times reported. Border police told Nordland the Interior Ministry had ordered that he be refused entry, and offered no further explanation, the paper reported. The article said that Turkish officials had been unhappy about reports Nordland wrote late last year about clashes between the government and PKK forces. Nordland tweeted yesterday, “Countries refusing me entry: Zaire (Mobuto), Iraq (Saddam), Iran, Burma (generals), N Korea & now Turkey.”

[Published January 18, 2017]

Two journalists arrested in separate cases

Ünal Tanık, the former editor-in-chief of the shuttered news website Rota Haber, was detained in the northwestern city of Yalova today, the daily Hürriyet reported. Tanık was wanted as part of the government’s post-attempted coup investigation for allegedly “being a member of an armed terrorist organization,” meaning the terrorist organization FETÖ/PDY that Turkey accuses the exiled preacher Fethullah Gülen of maintaining. Police received a tip as to where the journalist was hiding, according to Hürriyet. Tanık will be transferred to Istanbul.

Separately, police detained Sultan Eylem Keleş, a journalism student and former reporter for the shuttered all women’s JIN News Agency (JİNHA), in Izmir yesterday, the English-language news blog Turkish Minute reported. The reason for Keleş’s arrest is not known and she was not allowed to see her lawyer, according to the SoL news portal, which cited a statement given by friends of the reporter.

Reporter arrested for “provocative news”

Police detained Semra Turan, a reporter for the shuttered Dicle News Agency (DİHA), in the eastern province of Bingöl on January 13, for producing “provocative news,” according to Dihaber. She was released under judicial control on January 16. At a court hearing, the journalist’s notes for stories she has reported on in the provinces of Diyarbakır, Tunceli, and Bingöl, and her social media posts about the news were used as evidence against her, according to reports. Police considered her stories for DİHA and JİNHA as “provocative,” according to a report citing the police case against her. News stories cited in the police report included a piece about teachers fired from state service by government decrees after the failed attempted coup on July 15 and the removal of a statue erected in memory of the “Roboski massacre” during which Turkish fighter jets killed 34 smugglers in 2011, in what authorities said was an unintentional act. Turan defended herself, stating that her work was not criminal and that she shared it within the boundaries of freedom of speech and the people’s right to be informed.

Arrest warrant for Taraf publisher

An arrest warrant has been issued for Başar Arslan, publisher of the daily Taraf which was shuttered by a government decree after the failed attempted coup, T24 reported on January 14, in an article citing the pro-government daily Sabah. The Chief Prosecutor’s Office of Istanbul has included Arslan in an investigation in which two brothers who are also journalists–Ahmet and Mehmet Altan–have already been arrested, according to the report. In seeking an arrest warrant, the prosecutor claimed Arslan was receiving orders on how to present the news from Alaaddin Kaya, the publisher for the shuttered daily Zaman. Arslan is believed to be out of the country, the report said.

Social media crackdown claim

Barış Yarkadaş, a journalist and lawmaker in parliament from the main opposition Republican People’s Party claimed in Cumhuriyet that Turkish police were preparing for a massive crackdown on social media users and had formed a “social media watch unit,” the online English edition of the daily reported on January 14. “Police have compiled case reports covering 17,000 people who use social media, and are trying to identify the addresses of 45,000 users,” Yarkadaş told Cumhuriyet. He did not specify what content is allegedly being monitored. CPJ was unable to verify his claim.

Newspaper distributor says police beat and threatened him

Mesut Baylav, a volunteer distributor for the socialist daily Evrensel, says he was beaten by police in the city of Adana, the paper reported. Baylav told the paper he was stopped by two “Akrep” (scorpion) class armed police vehicles on January 15. Eight masked police officers got out of the vehicles and told Baylav that he needed to come to the station so they could check if there was a court order against the distribution of the paper, according to an account he gave in Evrensel. Baylav said he was detained for about an hour in one of the vehicles, during which police clubbed him and threatened to stick a baton in his anus, before finally releasing him. CPJ was unable to independently verify the account.

[Published January 17, 2016]