A courthouse is seen in Istanbul, Turkey, on December 11, 2019. Turkish authorities recently announced that they would resume trials, which had been suspended amid the COVID-19 pandemic. (AFP/Ozan Kose)

Turkish courts to resume journalists’ trials after COVID-19 freeze

Istanbul, June 23, 2020 – Turkey should stop prosecuting journalists and ensure that necessary safety measures are taken for trials held during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

On June 16, Justice Minister Abdülhamit Gül wrote on Twitter that trials would resume in the country, following a three-month suspension due to the COVID-19 pandemic. More than one dozen journalists are due in court in the coming days, according to news reports.

One day after Gül’s announcement, a court in the southeastern city of Diyarbakır acquitted Yeni Yaşam editor Semiha Alankuş on charges of membership in a terrorist organization, according to news reports.

Also on June 17, a Diyarbakır court sentenced Beritan Canözer, a reporter at pro-Kurdish news website Jin News, to 1 year, 10 months, and 15 days in prison for “making propaganda for a [terrorist] organization” in her social media posts, reports said. She is free pending appeal, according to those reports.

Three separate trials of journalists are scheduled to resume tomorrow, and more are scheduled to resume later this week.

Court reporters in Istanbul told independent news website Bianet that, since hearings resumed, court sessions have been delayed and courts are not consistently following COVID-19 precautions.

“The sheer number of trials targeting Turkish journalists shows authorities’ contempt and hostility towards the media. This situation is even more unacceptable during the coronavirus pandemic,” said CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Gulnoza Said, in New York. “Turkish authorities must stop putting journalists on trial for their reporting; if they will not drop their charges against members of the press, they must at least ensure journalists can attend court safely.”

Tomorrow’s trials will include the first hearing in the case of seven journalists from multiple outlets for allegedly violating the country’s intelligence laws by reporting on the death of an intelligence officer in Libya, as CPJ has documented.

Turkish-German journalist Deniz Yücel‘s trial on terrorist propaganda charges and “provoking the people to hatred and animosity” is scheduled to resume tomorrow, while the journalist is in absentia in Germany, according to reports.

Also tomorrow, an Istanbul court will hear the case of leftist daily Evrensel writer Erdal İmrek on criminal insult charges over a June 29, 2019, column about Turkish First Lady Emine Erdoğan’s Hermes handbag, reports said. İmrek has been free during the trial, according to those reports.

On June 25, the trials of six journalists from various outlets for their alleged involvement in a Turkish hacker group will resume, according to reports; the journalists have been free during the trial, which has been ongoing for three years.

Also on June 25, another Istanbul court will try Sabiha Temizkan, a reporter from the pro-Kurdish daily Yeni Yaşam, on charges of “making propaganda for a [terrorist] organization,” reports said.

Ahmet Altan, a journalist and novelist imprisoned for life over his alleged ties to the 2016 coup attempt in the country, is also due in an Istanbul court on June 25 in a separate case regarding the shuttered liberal daily Taraf, where he used to work as chief editor, according to news reports.

Those news reports also said that Sibel Hürtaş and Hayri Demir, journalists on trial over their coverage of Turkey’s military activity in Syria in 2017, are due in court on June 25 in Ankara.

Also on June 25, freelance journalist Oktay Candemir is due to appear before a judge in Van, in eastern Turkey, for allegedly resisting police, according to news reports.

CPJ emailed Justice Minister Gül for comment about the journalists’ cases and conditions in the country’s courts, but did not immediately receive any response.