Court rules journalists should be released, but they remain in custody
Turkey’s Constitutional Court on January 11 ruled that local courts should release from pre-trial 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, the daily Evrensel reported. Their trials are ongoing.
Turkish authorities separately accused Alpay and Altan of being followers of exiled preacher Fethullah Gülen, whom the government accuses of maintaining a terrorist organization and “parallel state structure” within Turkey, CPJ has documented.
The high court ruled that Alpay and Altan’s rights were violated because they were illegally arrested.
The court rebuffed the journalists’ claims that they were mistreated while in custody, and denied their requests for financial compensation for their time in prison.
However, the local courts on the same day indicated that they would not immediately comply with the Constitutional Court’s ruling that the journalists should be released from pretrial detention, according to news reports. The journalists’ lawyers applied for Alpay’s and Altan’s release to the 13th Istanbul Court of Serious Crimes and the 26th Istanbul Court of Serious Crimes, respectively. Both courts denied the applications, stating that they would consider releasing the journalists only after they received the high court’s justification for its verdict.
Journalists in custody
Police in the western city of Izmir on January 5 detained Fadıl Öztürk, a columnist for the leftist online news website Artı Gerçek, and questioned him about his social media posts, his employer reported. A court released Öztürk on January 9 under judicial control.
Istanbul police detained Veli Büyükşahin, another Artı Gerçek columnist and former chair of the ruling board of the shuttered TV10, on January 10, Artı Gerçek reported. Police took Büyükşahin and 29 other people from their homes in a series of morning raids, according to the paper. Turkish authorities have not charged those detained.
Istanbul police on January 9 took Ömer Turan, a pro-government journalist who writes for the news website manset24, into custody after Prime Minister Ahment Ahmet Davutoğlu filed a criminal complaint against Turan for insulting him, the daily Cumhuriyet reported. According to the article, authorities released Turan the same day.
The journalist has filed a complaint against the police over his detention, prompting the Istanbul Police Directorate to open an investigation into the matter, according to Cumhuriyet.
An Ankara court sentenced Ayşenur Arslan, a journalist from the pro-opposition TV channel Halk TV, to a suspended sentence of 11 months and 20 days in prison, the online newspaper Gazete Duvar reported on January 5, 2018.
In June 2015, Arslan criticized the confiscation of the now-shuttered news magazine Nokta on her television show, the daily Evrensel reported. Turkish authorities confiscated an issue of the magazine that featured a collage showing Erdoğan taking a selfie at a soldier’s funeral, according to media reports from the time.
During her trial, Arslan told the court she did not comment on Nokta‘s cover, and said that the confiscation was a violation of press freedom, according to the Evrensel report.
An Istanbul court on January 11 fined Ahmet Altan, a novelist and former chief editor of the shuttered daily Taraf, 7,000 Turkish lira (US$1,852) for “insulting” President Erdoğan on a television program, the daily Evrensel reported. Altan’s lawyers said that they plan to appeal.
Altan, who is imprisoned on terrorism charges in a separate case, attended the hearing from Istanbul’s Silivri Prison via teleconference, according to Evrensel.
‘Journalists cultivate terrorism’ Erdoğan says
President Erdoğan on January 5 told a French journalist that he was “speaking the language” of the Gulenist movement, which the government classifies as a terrorist organization, and said that journalists cultivate terrorism, according to media reports.
During a joint press conference in Paris with French President Emmanuel Macron, Erdoğan described newspaper columnists as “gardeners of terrorism.”
“Terror doesn’t form by itself,” he said. “These gardeners are those people viewed as thinkers. They water…from their newspaper columns. And one day, you find, these people show up as a terrorist in front of you.”
In a message published on Turkey’s Journalists’ Day on January 10, Erdoğan said that he wants and protects a free press the country’s official Anatolia Agency reported.
“Although I have been harmed by the media from time to time throughout my political life, I have always struggled, and still do struggle, to make sure that different voices and cultures are able to freely express themselves and voice their opinions,” Erdogan said.
Turkey remains the world’s worst jailer of journalists, with at least 73 imprisoned for their work at the time of CPJ’s latest prison census.
UPDATE: The heading of the first news item has been changed and an additional paragraph has been added to reflect that the lower courts did not immediately comply with the ruling to release the two journalists from pretrial detention.