A street vendor in Istanbul sells Turkish flags on December 31. Turkey's media regulator has fined two news broadcasters over their critical commentary. (Reuters/Murad Sezer)
A street vendor in Istanbul sells Turkish flags on December 31. Turkey's media regulator has fined two news broadcasters over their critical commentary. (Reuters/Murad Sezer)

Turkey Crackdown Chronicle: Week of December 31, 2018

Media watchdog fines and blocks two critical stations
Turkey’s official media watchdog RTÜK has fined and censored the critical channels Halk TV and FOX TV Turkey for allegedly “provoking the people into hatred and animosity,” reports said.

According to reports, RTÜK banned Halk TV, a pro-main opposition (CHP) channel, from broadcasting the next five episodes of its popular talk show “Halk Arenası” (The Arena of the People) and fined the broadcaster 80,000 Turkish lira (US$15,114). It banned FOX TV prime time news for three days and fined the channel 1 million Turkish lira (US$188,935). Both channels could lose their broadcast licenses if they are fined for the same reason for a second time, according to the reports.

FOX TV Turkey’s prime news show, anchored by Fatih Portakal, is one of the few critical news beacons in Turkey. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has complained about the station while speaking at several rallies recently. The president accused Portakal of trying to provoke the public, according to reports last month. His comment was in response to comments Portakal made on air in early December that “peaceful protest is a right that cannot be exercised [in Turkey] now because the people live in fear,” according to reports. Portakal is under investigation for “openly inciting others to commit a crime,” over his comments, according to reports.

A pro-government group protested against Portakal in front of the FOX TV studios in Istanbul on December 26. The group’s leader said, “You should know that the 52 percent is watching you with gritted teeth,” a reference to the average government vote, reports said.

The regulator fined Halk TV over a broadcast of “Halk Arenası.” The show’s host, veteran journalist Uğur Dündar, discusses current affairs with celebrity guests in front of an audience. In the episode aired on December 21, the guests included comedians and government critics Metin Akpınar and Müjdat Gezen who criticized Erdoğan’s recent statements and politics as usual.

Two days after the show aired, Akpınar and Gezen were taken in custody, questioned by a prosecutor and put under judicial control by a court, reports said.

Mine Kırıkkkanat, a columnist for the opposition daily Cumhuriyet, who appeared as a guest alongside Gezen and Akpınar, is also under investigation for allegedly “demeaning the people” in her comments on the show, the daily Evrensel reported.

Journalists in court

  • An Istanbul court on December 26 found Nazlı Ilıcak guilty of “insulting the president” and sentenced her to 14 months in prison, the news website Diken reported. In a tweet commenting on politics on February 23, 2016, Ilıcak called Erdoğan a “murderer,” the report said. Ilıcak, who worked for the now shuttered Özgür Düşünce and television channel Can Erzincan TV, has been in custody since July 2016 as part of a sweeping purge of journalists and others suspected of following exiled preacher Fethullah Gülen, according to CPJ research.
  • Tuba Bulut, a media worker for the pro-Kurdish daily Yeni Hayat, was arrested pending trial in Istanbul on December 25 alongside seven other people on suspicion of “being member of a [terrorist] organization” reports said.
  • A court in the eastern province of Van on January 3 sentenced local journalist İdris Yılmaz to six years and three months in prison for “being member of a [terrorist] organization” (PKK), Evrensel reported. The journalist pleaded not guilty and his lawyer will appeal, according to the report.

Journalist released

Hakan Gülseven, a journalist who used to work for the pro-opposition (CHP) daily Yurt, was freed December 22 after his former employer paid a fine, the independent Bianet reported. CPJ previously documented how Gülseven was imprisoned due to unpaid fines by the paper.

Journalists under investigation

  • Food engineer, academic, and writer Bülent Şık is facing up to 12 years in prison for allegedly exposing state secrets via a series of articles on public health, the independent news website Bianet reported. Şık wrote a four-part series, published in the daily Cumhuriyet in April 2018, titled “The government concealed the list of cancer-giving products, we expose it! Here is the list of poison.” Şık documented several agricultural products and drinking water at certain locations that he alleged was not fit for consumption. Şık is charged with “exposing forbidden secret information,” “obtaining forbidden secret information,” and “exposing secrets regarding duty” according to Bianet. As of January 3, the journalist had not been taken into custody.
  • An indictment for Arda Akın, a reporter for the pro-government daily Hürriyet, charges the journalist with “aiding an armed terrorist organization knowingly and willingly without being a member,” Diken reported. The journalist is accused of using social media to aid the Hizmet Movement, the group referred to as FETÖ by the government, according to Diken. CPJ previously documented how Akın was taken into custody shortly after the failed coup attempt in 2016, which the government blames on FETÖ.

Islamic scholar accuses outlet of assaulting Prophet

In an interview with the Islamist news agency İLKHA on December 29, Ahmet Altıok, the provincial mufti of the southeastern province of Siirt, made threatening comments about the Turkish news website Odatv, which he alleged “assaults” the Prophet, reports said.

In the interview, headlined “Charlie Hebdo and Ka’b ibn al-Ashraf did not get away with what they did,” Altıok said, “Be it the Charlie Hebdo case, or the likes of Ka’b ibn al-Ashraf in our Prophet’s time, those who ridicule Muslims, acting upon some campaigns, perception operations, never got away with what they did. I believe that they will be once again convicted in the eyes and hearts of society. I call these gentlemen to apologize. Because you know, repentance before death is accepted.”