A campaign billboard for the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), pictured in Ankara on March 8. Police on March 19 detained a reporter and questioned her about her work in the capital. (AFP/Adem Altan)
A campaign billboard for the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), pictured in Ankara on March 8. Police on March 19 detained a reporter and questioned her about her work in the capital. (AFP/Adem Altan)

Turkey Crackdown Chronicle: Week of March 17, 2019

Evrensel journalist acquitted over Paradise Papers charge

  • An Istanbul court on March 19 acquitted Çağrı Sarı, the former responsible news editor for the leftist daily Evrensel, of insult and libel, her employer reported. The case focused on Evrensel’s coverage of the Paradise Papers in April, which alleged that President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s son-in-law, Berat Albayrak, who is also Turkey’s treasury and finance minister, and Albayrak’s brother, Serhat, were involved in corrupt deals. As responsible news editor, Sarı is accountable for all of the outlet’s content.
  • A Diyarbakır court on March 20 acquitted Esra Solin Dal, a reporter for the pro-Kurdish Mezopotamya News Agency, of “being a member of a [terrorist] organization” (PKK), her employer reported. An indictment in January had accused Dal of “practis[ing] journalism against the government” and making “heavy accusations against the military,” CPJ documented.

Journalists detained covering weekly prison protest

  • Police detained and questioned two journalists covering an event outside Mardin Prison on March 20, Mezopotamya News Agency reported. Ahmet Kanbal, a reporter for Mezopotamya, and Rojda Aydın, a reporter for the pro-Kurdish, all women Jin News Agency, were covering a weekly event held by politicians from the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP), and relatives of prisoners. Police questioned Kanbal about a story on hunger strikes in prisons and Aydın about pictures she took of police intervention, the report said. The police warned the journalists not to come to the prison again, the report said. Police also detained freelance reporter Ali Dinler and released her after questioning, according to local news site Özgür Manşet.
  • Semra Turan, a reporter for the Mezopotamya News Agency, was taken into custody in the southeastern city of Tunceli on March 19, and transferred to capital ,Ankara, her employer reported. Police previously detained Turan overnight on March 6 and confiscated her camera, according to the report. On March 19, police called Turan and asked her to come to the station to pick up her camera. When she arrived, police took her into custody as part of a separate investigation, according to the report. Mezopotamya reported that anti-terrorism police questioned Turan about stories she worked on in Ankara. The report added that she is expected to be interviewed by a prosecutor on March 22.
  • Police in the southeastern city of Adıyaman detained Hacı Yusuf Topaloğlu, a reporter formerly with the defunct pro-Kurdish news website Dihaber, on March 19, Mezopotamya News agency reported. Police detained the journalist after a “tip off,” but no further details were provided, according to the report. A court released him under a travel ban later that day, the report said.

Witnesses withdraw testimony against Jin News reporter

Two witnesses who previously testified against Jin News reporter Beritan Canözer, withdrew their statements at the first hearing in the trial in Diyarbakır on March 20, her employer reported. Canözer, who is free pending the outcome of the trial, pleaded not guilty to being a member of a [terrorist] organization” (PKK). Salih Ateş, a PKK member who attended the hearing via teleconference, said he did not know the journalist and that he was forced to sign the testimony against her. Beran Aslan, another witness, also withdrew his testimony and said he was tortured and forced to sign a testimony that was not his. The defence claimed the testimonies of other witnesses are contradictory and false, according to the report. The next hearing is scheduled for July 26.

Columnist Ahmet Altan guilty of insulting president, again

Ahmet Altan, a novelist, columnist, and founding chief editor of the shuttered liberal daily Taraf, was found guilty of “insulting the president” in a column, the news website T24 reported. The charge relates to a May 2016 column on P24, a sister publication to T24, on the attempted assassination of journalist Can Dündar. The Istanbul court sentenced Altan to 11 months and 20 days in prison, which was converted to a fine of 7,000 Turkish lira (US$1,289). Altan’s lawyers said they will appeal, according to the report.

Altan was sentenced last year to life without parole for his alleged coup involvement, and he has been convicted of insulting the president in other cases, according to CPJ research.

Reporter questioned over article on prosecutor’s criminal record

Seyhan Avşar, a reporter for the opposition newspaper Cumhuriyet, is under investigation for “making targets of those assigned to combat terrorism,” for her report on a prosecutor convicted of soliciting bribes from suspects in a child molestation case, her employer reported on March 20.

According to Cumhuriyet, when prosecutors questioned Avşar she told them she had confirmed details of the charge and tried to contact the prosecutor in question, but that he did not return her calls.

Avşar’s lawyer, Nesrullah Oğuz, said that the law the journalist was accused of breaking is to protect civil servants and security personnel whose identities are secret, not a prosecutor whose identity is known publicly, according to the report.