A view of Istanbul through the window of a passenger aircraft on December 29, 2017. (Reuters/Marko Djurica)
A view of Istanbul through the window of a passenger aircraft on December 29, 2017. (Reuters/Marko Djurica)

Turkey Crackdown Chronicle: Week of January 15

Journalists in custody

Police the southeastern city of Diyarbakır on January 12 detained Selman Keleş, a former reporter for the shuttered, pro-Kurdish Dihaber News Agency, and released him the next day on order of a local court, online newspaper Gazete Karınca reported.

Local authorities originally detained Keleş in March 2017 after he photographed a Van regional municipality building, and accused him of being a member of a “terrorist organization,” Dihaber reported at the time. Arif Aslan, a municipality employee, was detained alongside Keleş. The court then released Keleş and Aslan from pretrial detention on November 21, the daily Evrensel reported at the time.

A court on December 5 revoked the earlier decision to release Keleş and Aslan from pretrial detention, and ordered that the pair be detained for the remainder of the trial, the daily Evrensel reported. Until January 12, authorities had not taken them back into custody, and the local court’s January 13 decision to release Keleş nullifies the December 5 decision to keep him, according to the news report.

Their trial is due to resume on February 22, 2018, according to Evrensel.

Police in the southeastern city of Mersin detained Semra Özlü, former chief editor for the shuttered leftist radio station Radyo Ses, the daily Evrensel reported on January 17. Authorities have not said why.

Journalists sentenced

An Istanbul court on January 16 sentenced to prison five journalists and writers on charges of “making propaganda for a [terrorist] organization,” according to the daily Cumhuriyet.

The court sentenced Hüseyin Aykol, who used to work for the pro-Kurdish daily Özgür Gündem before it was shuttered, to three years and nine months in prison. Ragıp Duran, a veteran journalist, Mehmet Ali Çelebi, a former Özgür Gündem editor, Ayşe Düzkan, a reporter for online newspaper Artı Gerçek, and Hüseyin Bektaş an Özgür Gündem columnist, were sentenced to 18 months each, according to Cumhuriyet.

Turkish authorities have not arrested the defendants and the appeals process is ongoing.

The journalists are among at least 44 individuals who served as token chief editors of Özgür Gündem for a day to protest authorities’ repeated judicial harassment of the newspaper and its staff, CPJ has documented.

European court orders Turkey to pay newspaper compensation for 2001 suspension

The European Court of Human Rights sentenced Turkey to pay 5,000 euros in compensation to the publishers of the since-renamed daily Yeni Evrensel for temporarily shuttering the paper in 2001, the Evrensel reported on January 16.

Yeni Evrensel went on to reopen under the name of Evrensel.

In 2001, Turkish authorities ordered the paper to close after it published names of police officers who were tried, convicted, and briefly jailed for beating a reporter to death in 1996, the report said.

Journalist sued

A privately owned company is suing Çiğdem Toker, an economics columnist for the daily Cumhuriyet, for 1.5 million Turkish liras (US$398,190) in damages over a column alleging the company’s involvement in irregular export practices of tomatoes to Russia, according to a post from Toker on Twitter.

Journalist hacked

Hackers broke into the Twitter account of Klaus Brinkbäumer, editor-in-chief of Der Spiegel magazine, and posted an apology for the German outlet’s coverage of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on January 14, according to the German news agency Deutsche Welle.

The message, in Turkish and German, read: “We would like to apologize for the bad news that we have reported and published up till now about Turkey and [President] Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.”

Spiegel soon issued its own tweet to explain what happened and said the tweet was not Brinkbäumer’s.

Judicial crisis

Turkey’s Constitutional Court on January 12 ruled that local courts should release from pretrial detention Şahin Alpay, a former columnist for the shuttered daily Zaman, and Mehmet Altan, a former host for the shuttered Can Erzincan TV and columnist for the shuttered daily Özgür Düşünce, but local officials have still not released the two journalists, according to the daily Cumhuriyet.

After the journalists’ lawyers applied separately for their clients to Istanbul’s 13th and 26th Courts of Serious Crimes, they then applied to the 14th and 27th courts, according to Cumhuriyet. The courts refused to comply, stating that Alpay and Altan’s arrests are legal, despite the high court’s ruling.

The high court ruled that Alpay and Altan’s rights were violated because they were illegally arrested, the daily Evrensel reported.

In a third case, the Constitutional Court ruled that Cumhuriyet journalist Turhan Güney’s arrest was illegal, based on the same arguments used in Alpay and Altan’s cases. Güney was then released, Cumhuriyet reported on January 12.

Government spokesperson and former Justice Minister Bekir Bozdağ criticized the Constitutional Court, arguing the high court has “exceeded its authority” the daily Evrensel reported on January 14.

Altan and Alpay’s lawyers argued that Güney’s arrest is similar in legal terms to the other Cumhuriyet staff still in jail and they should also be released. The court denied this application, too, Cumhuriyet reported on January 16.