A man holds a sign reading 'Writers' freedom is not guaranteed' outside an Istanbul court during a trial connected to the now shuttered paper Özgür Gündem, in December 2016. A court sentenced seven former journalists from the paper to prison on May 21, 2019. (AFP/Ozan Kose)
A man holds a sign reading 'Writers' freedom is not guaranteed' outside an Istanbul court during a trial connected to the now shuttered paper Özgür Gündem, in December 2016. A court sentenced seven former journalists from the paper to prison on May 21, 2019. (AFP/Ozan Kose)

Turkey Crackdown Chronicle: Week of May 19, 2019

7 journalists sentenced in Özgür Gündem trial
An Istanbul Court on May 21 sentenced seven journalists from the shuttered pro-Kurdish daily Özgür Gündem to prison after they were convicted of “making propaganda for a [terrorist] organization,” the Mezopotamya News Agency reported.

Lawyer Eren Keskin, a former co-chief editor of Özgür Gündem, and Reyhan Çapan, the former responsible news editor, were each sentenced to three years and nine months in prison; Hüseyin Aykol, the other co-chief editor, and the columnists Hüseyin Güçlü and Tahir Temel, were each sentenced to two years and one months in prison; and the columnists Reyhan Hacıoğlu and Ayşe Batumlu were each handed suspended sentences of one year and three months.

The court acquitted the columnists Ayşe Berktay, Celalettin Can, Cemal Bozkurt, Çetin Ulu, Emrullah Kurcan, Nuray Özdoğan, Ergin Atabey and Özlem Söyler.

The sentenced journalists are currently free pending appeal, according to the report.

Separately, Ayşe Düzkan, who was imprisoned in January over her participation in a solidarity campaign with Özgür Gündem, will be transferred to a low-level security prison, the pro-Kurdish Mezopotamya News Agency (MA) reported on May 22. Düzkan, who has less than a year left to serve of her sentence for “making propaganda for a terrorist organization,” is now eligible for transfer to an “open prison” under Turkish law. The journalist’s request for transfer was initially denied by the executive board of the Bakırköy prison, where she is held. The board said the journalist needed “to declare that she has left the [terrorist] organization and is remorseful,” and that she should stay in Bakırköy until July 27, the MA report said. Düzkan’s lawyers appealed and on May 22, the Bakırköy Executional Court overturned the board’s decision because Düzkan was not convicted of being a member of a terrorist organization, according to the report. Düzkan’s request was accepted on May 23, and she is due to be transferred to an open prison in the western province of Eskişehir within 30 hours, MA reported.

Güney Haberci editor beaten in the street

Ergin Çevik, chief editor of the local news website Güney Haberci, in the southern province of Antalya, was attacked by three unidentified assailants on the evening of May 20, the independent news website Bianet reported. Three man stopped Çevik in the street, in Aksu District, and punched him several times before fleeing, according to the report.

The Mediterranean Branch of the Contemporary Journalists Association released a statement, Bianet said, and pointed to Çevik’s and his website’s reporting on corruption allegations in the municipality and a real estate matter in Kundu. Three men, suspected of carrying out the attack visited the journalist’s office an hour before the attack and told his secretary that they have “brought greetings from Kundu,” after being told he was not there, the statement said.

Journalist in Van faces new terrorism charges

İdris Yılmaz, an imprisoned local journalist from the eastern province of Van, is facing another trial on terrorism-related charges, MA reported on May 16. The journalist is charged with “being a member of a [terrorist] organization” (PKK) and “making propaganda for a [terrorist] organization” according to the indictment approved by a court in Van.

A witness who has never met Yılmaz testified that he was a PKK journalist, and the propaganda charge was based on the journalist’s social media activity, the report said.

Yılmaz is already in prison after a conviction in a separate trial for “being a member of a [terrorist] organization” in January, CPJ documented. The appeals court has not yet ruled on the conviction in that case. CPJ was unable to reach the journalist’s lawyer.

Altan back on trial for case dismissed in 2010

The first hearing in a previously dismissed case against Ahmet Altan was held on May 21, the local non-governmental organization Media and Law Studies Association (MLSA) reported, in English.

The case is related to a 2010 column in the shuttered liberal daily Taraf in 2010 about a leaked conversation in which two Constitutional Court judges allegedly discussed the release from prison of İlhan Cihaner, a former prosecutor and politician.

The MLSA report said that the case was dismissed in 2010, after Cihaner submitted a petition saying that no crime had been committed against him. The charge was brought again in 2018, after Altan was sentenced to life on separate charges. In the revised case, one of the Constitutional Court judges was listed as an injured party.

“I am on trial for the most bizarre accusations, it feels like the prosecutors are competing among each other to come up with the most bogus indictment,” Altan said via teleconference from prison. Altan’s lawyers noted that the “injured” judge was not named in the column. The trial is due to continue on September 17.

Altan is currently serving a life sentence in a separate case, according to CPJ research.

Appeals court rules Deniz Yücel can file compensation claim

A local appeals court in Istanbul ruled on May 21 that Turkish-German journalist Deniz Yücel can file a compensation case against Turkey for wrongful detention, Deutsche Welle reported. The appeals court ruled that a lower court’s decision in September to reject the case because Yücel’s trial is ongoing was unlawful, according to the report. Yücel, a correspondent for Die Welt, is seeking 2.9 million Turkish lira (US$485.874) in compensation.

Gazete Karınca publisher on trial
The first hearing for Necla Demir, former publisher of the news website Gazete Karınca, was held in Istanbul on May 23. Demir is charged with “making continuous propaganda for a [terrorist] organization,” Gazete Karınca reported. Demir, who is free pending trial, pleaded not guilty and her lawyers said she was involved with financial matters at the outlet, not editorial. The trial is due to continue on July 11.

Afrika journalists acquitted of insulting president

A court in northern Cyprus on May 16 acquitted two journalists of “insulting” President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, reports sourcing AFP said. Şener Levent and Ali Osman Tabak, chief editor and reporter for the regional daily Afrika, from Turkish-controlled Northern Cyprus, were acquitted of “insulting a foreign leader.” The charge is related to a caricature published in the newspaper in 2017. Afrika offices was attacked by a mob in 2018 after it published a critical headline regarding Turkey’s military action in Syria, CPJ previously documented.

Reporters say police still have confiscated equipment

Istanbul police have not yet returned equipment confiscated from the reporters Zeynep Kuray and İrfan Tuncçelik, the news website Diken reported on May 18. CPJ documented last week how police took the reporters into custody while they were working. Police confiscated their phones, computers, cameras, memory cards, voice recorders, and journalist identification cards, according to Diken. Kuray told CPJ on May 23 that the equipment has still not been returned and they are struggling and working with borrowed equipment.

Wikimedia takes Turkey ban to European Court

The Wikimedia Foundation said it has filed the petition to the European Court of Human Rights over authorities blocking access to Wikipedia from Turkish internet providers since 2017, the BBC reported on May 23. Turkey last month widened the block to apply to alternative web addresses for Wikipedia, CPJ documented.