President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, pictured at a meeting in Ankara on January 1. The president said this week that recent reforms have made Turkey's press more democratic. (AFP/Kayhan Ozer)
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, pictured at a meeting in Ankara on January 1. The president said this week that recent reforms have made Turkey's press more democratic. (AFP/Kayhan Ozer)

Turkey Crackdown Chronicle: Week of January 7, 2019

Erdoğan says Turkish media is ‘more democratic’
In a message to mark Working Journalists’ Day–a local press freedom day on January 10–Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said, “The reforms actualized in the past 16 years have enabled the Turkish press to be richer, diverse, and meet a more democratic and liberal structure,” Duvar reported.

Separately, Turkey’s Justice Ministry said no one was currently detained or convicted for journalistic activity, according to a report in leftist daily Evrensel. The remarks were in response to a question submitted by opposition parliamentary deputy Murat Emir about the number of journalists under arrest, the report said.

Turkey is the leading jailer of journalists in the world, with at least 68 behind bars in direct relation to their work there at the time of CPJ’s December 2018 census.

Journalists in court

Pekin Ünker, a reporter for the opposition daily Cumhuriyet, is the first journalist to be found guilty for her participation in the international “Paradise Papers” project, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists reported on January 8. The journalist was sentenced on January 8 to 13 months in prison for “defamation and insult” and fined 8,860 Turkish lira (US$1,629) after reporting on the alleged offshore dealings of Turkey’s former Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım and his two sons. She is currently free pending the outcome of her trial.

In a statement posted to Twitter on January 9, CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Gulnoza Said described the sentencing as “a disturbing new phase in Turkey’s press freedom crackdown–when it seemed hardly possible to find a new low.”

Ünker tweeted after the verdict, “Yes, we’re not scared, as journalists. But it doesn’t mean that we’re so brave. How a doctor is supposed to look after a patient, journalists are obliged to look out for public interest. I would like to thank everyone who provide support. Journalism is not a crime.”

  • An Istanbul court on January 10 fined freelance journalist Tunca Öğreten and writer Perihan Mağden 7,000 Turkish lira (US$1,287) for “insulting the president,” Evrensel reported. The fine relates to a 2015 interview Öğreten had with Mağden for the online newspaper Diken. The court acquitted Orhan Şahin and Mehmet Çağlar, two other journalists formerly with the opposition daily Yurt, who were on trial for publishing the interview on their outlet’s website, the report said.
  • A court in the southeastern city of Diyarbakır accepted an indictment against Ramazan Ölçen, a former publisher for the shuttered Kurdish language daily Azadiya Welat, on the charge of “being a member of a [terrorist] organization” (PKK) online newspaper Gazete Karınca reported. The court date was not mentioned in the report. The indictment alleged that the journalist was acting according to the goals of the outlawed group under the pretence of journalism.
  • A Diyarbakır court accepted an indictment for Esra Solin Dal, a reporter for the pro-Kurdish Mezopatamya News Agency, to be charged with “being a member of a [terrorist] organization” (PKK) her employer reported on January 4. The indictment accused Dal of having “practised journalism against the government” and making “heavy accusations against the military,” the report said. Dal’s journalistic activities, such as meeting sources for interviews, were offered as evidence against the journalist, the report said. Dal was among at least six journalists detained in October, CPJ documented at the time.

Journalist freed, immediately taken back in custody

On January 8, one day after a court ordered Eren Erdem, the former chief editor of the defunct daily Karşı, to be freed pending the outcome of his trial, authorities took the journalist back to prison after prosecutors filed an appeal, opposition daily Cumhuriyet reported. At the appeal hearing, Erdem said he was not a flight risk and asked the court how it managed to read 56 dossiers worth of case documents in merely hours to decide that he should be kept in custody, the report said.

Journalist freed after serving extra term

Veteran freelance journalist Murat Aksoy announced on Twitter January 4 that he was free after serving 43 days in prison as part of an earlier sentence for “knowingly and willingly aiding a [terrorist] organization.” CPJ documented last year how a court overturned an earlier ruling that Aksoy be released on time served, and ordered the journalist to serve a further short prison term. He was first detained in September 2016, and released pending the outcome of his trial in October the following year, according to CPJ research.