Turkey Crackdown Chronicle: Week of May 5, 2019

Journalist sentenced to 10 months in prison

An Istanbul court on May 7 sentenced Cansu Pişkin, a reporter for the leftist daily Evrensel, to 10 months in prison for “making a target of a civil servant for terrorist organizations,” the television news website Medyascope reported. The court suspended Pişkin’s sentence barring a repeated offense in the next five years. Pişkin had, in a news article, included the name of a prosecutor involved in a case against a group of university students who had protested Turkey’s military action in Syria in 2018. Pişkin pleaded not guilty at the final hearing. Her defense team said their client did not intend to make the prosecutor a target by including his name in the piece, pointing out that the prosecutor’s name had been featured in other news articles as well.

Prison sentence overturned for Paradise Papers journalist

A local appeals court in Istanbul on May 6 overturned the prison sentence of journalist Pelin Ünker but only marginally reduced the monetary fine she was subject to, television news website Medyascope reported.

Ünker, formerly with the opposition newspaper Cumhuriyet, was sentenced on January 8 to 13 months in prison for “defamation and insult” and fined 8,860 Turkish lira (US$1,421) for her reporting on the alleged offshore dealings of Turkey’s former Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım and his sons in the Paradise Papers case, CPJ previously documented.

The appeals court dismissed the case, ruling that it had not been filed within the legal statute of limitations period of four months after the article in question was published, according to the Medyascope report. However, the court approved the monetary fine against Ünker, reducing it only slightly to 7,050 Turkish lira (US$1,131).

Another case against Ünker, also related to her Paradise Papers reporting, was dismissed because of the same statute of limitations issue in March, CPJ previously documented.

Turkey named worst free speech offender in history of ECHR

A report published by the Council of Europe’s Information Society Department on May 2 identified Turkey as the top violator of Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which covers freedom of expression, both in 2018 and in general since 1959. According to the European Court of Human Rights’ statistics, Turkey was found in violation of Article 10 on 40 occasions in 2018. Russia had the second-most violations, with 14 cases. Historically, between 1959 and 2018, Turkey again had by far the most violations of Article 10, with 321. The next-worst offenders were Russia and France, with 53 and 38 violations respectively.

Journalist arrested at home, released after brief detention

Freelance journalist and writer Kemal Bozkurt was arrested from his house in Istanbul by police in the early hours of May 4 and released later that day after questioning, independent news website Bianet reported. Bozkurt was taken into custody because he had not delivered testimony in a trial against him charging him with preventing a civil servant from performing a duty, according to Bianet.

News ban for alleged corruption talk

A news ban was issued for stories featuring a video of Bilal Erdoğan, son of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, and Haydar Ali Yıldız, mayor of Istanbul’s central district Beyoğlu, discussing urban development, leftist daily BirGün reported on May 8. In the video, the two men, seemingly unaware that cameras are on, discuss whether “they” can get “one-two buildings” from an urban development project. According to BirGün, lawyers for Erdoğan filed a complaint arguing that their client’s personal rights were violated by certain reports and had a news ban issued for the story.

Turkey’s highest court reviews 10 appeals, denies seven

The Constitutional Court of Turkey reviewed the individual appeals of 10 press trial defendants on May 2 and 3, deciding that the constitutional rights of seven of them were not violated during their arrests and incarcerations, reports said, and granting the appeals of the other three.

Journalists Murat Sabuncu and Ahmet Şık of the opposition daily Cumhuriyet, as well as former Cumhuriyet board members Akın Atalay, Bülent Utku, and Önder Çelik, were denied their appeals. Çelik remains in prison while the others are free pending appeals in other cases. Meanwhile, their co-defendant in Cumhuriyet‘s infamous trial, journalist Kadri Gürsel, was among those whose appeals were granted. Gürsel tweeted following the decision on May 2 that, if the court had found in favor of all the Cumhuriyet defendants two years, four months, and eight days after they had originally filed their appeals, they at least “could have said ‘delayed justice is injustice.'” But now, he wrote, “we can’t even say that.”

The Constitutional Court shelved those appeals for years and was criticized by the applicants on multiple occasions. Cumhuriyet‘s Istanbul offices were raided in October 2016, leading to the arrests of journalists and staff. Some were released pending appeal during the trial, while others remained in prison or returned to prison later.

In a similar situation, the Constitutional Court rejected the appeals of Ahmet Altan and Nazlı Ilıcak last week, despite overturning the sentence of their co-defendant, renowned academic Mehmet Altan, in July 2017. Mehmet had been tried and sentenced to life in prison alongside his brother Ahmet and colleague Ilıcak. But although the Constitutional Court overturned Mehmet’s sentence following his appeal, a local appeals court approved the life sentences against Ahmet and Ilıcak in October 2018. The Constitutional Court shelved the appeals of Ahmet and Ilıcak until April 2019, ultimately denying them and upholding their life sentences in the latest set of rulings. Today, Ahmet and Ilıcak are still in prison, while Mehmet is not, despite all being co-defendants in the case.

Another reporter whose appeal was granted following the latest set of rulings was freelance journalist Murat Aksoy, who served 25 months on charges of “knowingly and willingly aiding a [terrorist] organization.” Aksoy told CPJ on Monday, “This is a late verdict but it is better than never.” He added that he hoped the ruling would help with the compensation case he has filed regarding his arrest.

Ali Bulaç, a former columnist for the shuttered daily Zaman, was the third journalist whose constitutional rights were violated according to the Constitutional Court’s ruling. His lawyers did not offer comment at this time.

Veysel Ok, a former lawyer for Ahmet Altan who was part of the legal team that filed the appeal to the Constitutional Court, told CPJ on Wednesday that although this was a negative result for the defendants whose appeals were rejected, it was a “good” result for Turkey. “We have made several appeals to the European Court of Human Rights, and we have received answers such as, that there is a working, effective domestic law process in Turkey,” Ok said. “Now, [these overturned and inconsistent sentences] show that, unlike the ECHR’s [assertion], the Constitutional Court is not an effective and efficient court but it makes decisions based on the political conjuncture of Turkey.”

Ok said some of the journalists had appeals at the European Court that had been pending for years and that this development should move the ECHR to review them.

Individual appeals to the highest legislative body, put into practice in 2012, focus on whether the rights of defendants were violated during incarceration or the judicial process. This process is separate from regular appeals made to the Supreme Court of Appeals, where the contents of trial files are reviewed.