A court is seen in Istanbul, Turkey, on February 24, 2021. A court in the city of Van recently gave journalist Nazan Sala a suspended prison sentence. (AP/Mehmet Guzel)

Turkish court issues suspended prison term to journalist Nazan Sala

Istanbul, January 7, 2022 – Turkish authorities should vacate the suspended prison term issued to journalist Nazan Sala and stop harassing reporters for their work, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

Yesterday, the Fifth Van Court of Serious Crimes convicted Sala, a freelance reporter, of making propaganda for a terrorist organization and issued her a 15-month suspended prison sentence, according to news reports.

Authorities in the eastern city of Van convicted Sala based on her tweets and retweets about Turkish politics and the conflict in Syria, as well as other users’ posts in which she was tagged, according to court documents that CPJ reviewed. Sala frequently posts political analysis and commentary on her Twitter account, where she has about 600 followers.

According to those court documents, authorities questioned Sala about her previous employment at pro-Kurdish news outlets, and evidence used against her included an archive of her previous journalistic work.

Sala’s lawyer, Erselen Aktan, told CPJ in a phone interview that Sala intends to appeal the verdict, and would pursue her case at the Constitutional Court if her appeal was denied.

“Turkish authorities’ vague propaganda charges against journalist Nazan Sala should never have been pursued, and the suspended prison sentence recently issued to her is unacceptable,” said Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator, in New York. “Sala already spent months behind bars for her work, and authorities still seem persistent in pursuing this legal harassment.”

Sala was originally charged with membership in a terrorist organization, alongside Adnan Bilen, Cemil Uğur, and Zeynep Durgut—reporters for the pro-Kurdish Mezopotamya News Agency—and Şehriban Abi, a reporter for the pro-Kurdish news website Jinha, according to those news reports.

Authorities arrested Bilen, Uğur, Abi, and Sala in Van in October 2020, and released them pending trial in April 2021, according to CPJ research and news reports.

The charges related to Bilen and Uğur’s coverage in the Mezopotamya News Agency of allegations that Turkish military personnel threw two men from a helicopter in Van in 2020, news reports said; the journalists were all acquitted of those membership charges, but Sala was separately charged and convicted with making terrorist propaganda.

Sala works as a freelancer and has contributed to the Mezopotamya News Agency and other outlets, covering politics and war, according to her lawyer.  

CPJ emailed the Van Chief Prosecutor’s Office for comment but received no immediate reply.