Turkish police stand outside an Istanbul courthouse on November 26, 2021. A court recently issued suspended prison sentences to four journalists and one media worker. (AFP/Ozan Kose)

Turkish court issues suspended prison terms to 5 over reporting on leaked emails

Istanbul, January 4, 2022 – The Committee to Protect Journalists today condemned a Turkish court’s recent sentencing of four journalists and one media worker to suspended prison terms relating to the 2016 coverage of the president’s son-in-law’s leaked emails.

On December 31, 2021, the 29th Istanbul Court of Serious Crimes convicted the five of “illegally obtaining personal data” in relation to their outlets’ coverage of the emails of Berat Albayrak, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s son-in-law and then Turkey’s energy minister, which were leaked in 2016 by a group identifying itself as Redhack, according to news reports.

The court sentenced Ömer Çelik, former news editor for the shuttered pro-Kurdish Dihaber news agency; former Dihaber reporter Metin Yoksu; Eray Saygın, news editor for socialist news website Yolculuk; Tunca Öğreten, former editor for the news website Diken; and Mahir Kanaat, accounting director for the socialist daily BirGün, to suspended prison terms of 20 months each, according to those reports.

The defendants plan to appeal the verdict, Öğreten told CPJ via messaging app.

“Turkish authorities’ years-long campaign against journalists who covered the emails of President Erdoğan’s son-in-law shows how politicized the country’s judicial system has become,” said Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator, in New York. “Authorities should allow the press to cover issues of public interest freely, and without fear of imprisonment and legal harassment.”

The defendants were acquitted on a charge of making terrorist propaganda, those reports said. Derya Okatan, news editor for the socialist Etkin News Agency, was also charged with propaganda and illegally obtaining personal data, but was acquitted on both charges.

Authorities arrested all six defendants in December 2016, following the email leak; Okatan, Saygın, and Yoksu were held until January 2017, Çelik until October 2017, and Öğreten and Kanaat until December 2017, as CPJ documented at the time.

The journalists denied any connection to the Redhack group beyond following it on social media, according to reports.

CPJ emailed the Istanbul prosecutor’s office for comment, but did not immediately receive any reply. CPJ was unable to find any contact information for Albayrak.

[Editors’ note: This article has been updated in its fourth paragraph to include Öğreten’s response to CPJ.]