A Turkish man in a 'freedom for journalists' T-shirt is thrown out of a press conference for Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin on September 28. (AP/Michael Sohn)
A Turkish man in a 'freedom for journalists' T-shirt is thrown out of a press conference for Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin on September 28. (AP/Michael Sohn)

Turkey Crackdown Chronicle: Week of September 27, 2018

Erdoğan in Germany
A Turkish man wearing a “freedom for journalists” T-shirt was thrown out of a press conference between President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin on September 28, video from Euronews and Özgürüz showed. The man was identified as Adil Yiğit, chief editor for the Turkish language news website Avrupa Postası, according to a report by the pro-government Turkish daily Hürriyet and other outlets.

During the press conference, Erdoğan accused exiled Turkish journalist and CPJ 2016 IPFA awardee Can Dündar of being “a convicted spy” who exposed state secrets, video from the conference shows. Erdoğan previously said that he would not attend the press conference if Dündar was present, reports said.

Dündar did not attend that press conference, but later that day he held one of his own during which said he would quit journalism if Erdoğan could prove that he is a spy, reports said. Dündar noted that the Supreme Court had not ruled on his prison sentence of five years and 10-month so he was not convicted. The video of the full press conference can be watched here.

According to reports about a state dinner, also on September 28, German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier said: “As we discussed this morning in detail, I am, as president of this country, concerned about German citizens who are imprisoned in Turkey for political reasons, and I am also concerned about Turkish journalists, trade unionists, lawyers, intellectuals and politicians who remain behind bars. Mr President, I trust that you will understand that we cannot simply gloss over this issue.”

Erdoğan responded by saying that Steinmeier was misinformed, according to reports. “We have no such duty of protecting terrorists” Erdoğan said, adding, “They are called intellectuals, it is necessary to define these intellectuals. If the journalist was involved with terrorism, if the judiciary convicted him, can we defend that?” Referring to Dündar, Erdoğan said, “One of them is a so-called journalist, sentenced to five years and 10 months, escaped by taking advantage of an opening and came to Germany. He was adored … [Germany] wanted three, five, six journalists. We did what was necessary. Our judiciary did what they were able to; released two of them to be tried and let one go.” Erdoğan did not specify which journalists he was referring to but it was likely a reference to German-Turkish dual citizen journalists Deniz Yücel and Meşale Tolu who were released to be tried without arrest. CPJ was unable to determine who the third journalist was.

Court upholds life sentences for Turkish journalists

An Istanbul court of appeals on October 2 upheld the sentences of life in prison without parole handed to four prominent Turkish journalists in February, media reported. Mehmet Altan, his brother Ahmet Altan, Nazlı Ilıcak, and Fevzi Yazıcı were convicted of having links to the U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gülen, whom Turkey accuses of being behind the failed 2016 attempted coup. The journalists, who deny the charges and cited a lack of evidence in their case, said they would appeal to the Supreme Court, according to reports.

Mehmet Altan said in court that the Constitutional Court ordered his release due to the lack of evidence and asked how the prosecutors are able to find evidence against him when the higher court could not. “Can an intangible threat be supported with substantial evidence?” his brother, Ahmet asked.

Light sentence for man who tried to shoot Can Dündar

An Istanbul Court on October 2 sentenced Murat Şahin to 10 months in prison and a 4,500 Turkish lira (US$750) fine for attempting to shoot Turkish journalist Can Dündar and wounding journalist Yağız Şenkal in front of an Istanbul Courthouse on May 6, 2016, reports said. Şahin, who spent six months in prison after the attack, will not serve any further jail term, according to a lawyer with whom CPJ spoke.

Şenkal, who was present at the hearing, said, “The punishment for shooting people in front of the courthouse is 4,500TL. My hospital expenses were higher,” according to reports. The journalist will appeal the verdict. Dündar tweeted after the verdict: “The gunman who shot at me & injured a journalist was acquitted of all charges for assaulting me, being sentenced to €650 for injury. He’s free to travel while my wife, who tackled him, remains under a travel ban. That’s how impunity prevails-need we say more 4 justice in Turkey?”

‘Democracy does not happen with media’ Erdoğan says

President Erdoğan argued on October 3 that media and democracy are not compatible, during a speech at the presidential palace in Ankara. Erdoğan said that in his experience, the media run “countries that we assume are strong.” The president said that when people say in meetings, “The media said this or that,” he responds by saying, “Don’t you care about what your people say? Forget about the media.” The president continued, “We had this too, once, you know. The media was governing our country. What do they say, ‘the fourth estate, the fourth arm?’ You say democracy on one hand, on the other hand, you put the people aside when saying democracy, you say media. The print media will write [this] tomorrow. Let them write. Our concern is our people. What do we give to our people? What do our people say? What are our people’s points for us? This is what matters. Democracy gets its power from the people. There is democracy if there is a people; there is no democracy without the people. Democracy does not happen with media and blah blah.”

Journalists in court

— A court in the southeastern city of Mardin on September 28 sentenced Abdülkadir Turay, a former reporter for the shuttered pro-Kurdish Dicle News Agency (DİHA) to nine years in prison for “being a member of a [terrorist] organization,” the daily Evrensel reported. Turay was arrested in May 2016, CPJ documented.

— An Izmir Court on October 2 handed Fadıl Öztürk, a columnist for the online newspaper Artı Gerçek a suspended sentenced of 13 months in prison for “making propaganda for a [terrorist] organization,” his employer reported. The journalist will not be jailed if he does not repeat the offense for five years. Öztürk was taken into custody in Izmir in January and later released under judicial control, CPJ documented.

— Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu is seeking civil damages from the ultranationalist news website Odatv over three news stories, Odatv reported on October 2. The stories, which alleged a connection between a criminal group called Sarallar and the minister and an alleged rivalry between the minister and the Istanbul Chief of Police, are no longer on Odatv’s website. In the complaint filed to a court, lawyers for the minister asked for 1 million Turkish lira (approx. US$161,000) in damages in one paragraph and 500,000 Turkish lira in another, which is most likely a mistake, Odatv reported. The minister asked the court to order Odatv to publish apology advertisements in the five top selling newspapers in Turkey.

State regulator fined journalism

Turkish broadcast regulator RTÜK fined two TV channels over their news coverage, the daily Evrensel reported on October 3. The Turkish branch of Fox TV was fined over a story about the state hospital in Mersin. RTÜK fined Fox TV Turkey for running the story “without verifying it” according to the report. The outlet is also being investigated by police over the story on accusations of”demeaning state institutions,” “insult,” and “slander” CPJ previously reported. Another channel named Tele1 was fined for “demeaning Turkey’s dignity” after commentators on a debate show said Turkey was supporting groups such as El Nusra and the Islamic State, the report said. The amount of the fines were not mentioned in the report.