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Embattled Turkish newspaper editor Can Dündar speaks with the Committee to Protect Journalist's Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova in Istanbul, March 24, 2016, a day before Dündar was scheduled to stand trial for his newspaper's reporting (Photo: Özgür Öğret)

Turkey Crackdown Chronicle: Week of March 20

By Özgür Öğret/CPJ Turkey Representative on March 21, 2016 9:17 AM ET

Istanbul court rules trial for journalists facing life sentences to be closed to public
The Committee to Protect Journalists today condemned an Istanbul court's decision today to bar the public from the trial of Can Dündar and Erdem Gül, journalists for the daily newspaper Cumhuriyet. Representatives from CPJ and other free-speech groups attended the first session of the trial today.

Turkey's Media Crackdown

Founding editor of newspaper seized by government sentenced in absentia
Istanbul's 44th Court of First Instance on Thursday sentenced Bülent Keneş, the founding editor the daily newspaper Today's Zaman, to two years and seven months in prison on charges he insulted Erdoğan. Keneş was not present at the hearing, according to press reports. He was not immediately available for comment.

Istanbul's 14th Penal Court of the First Instance in June 2015 handed Keneş a suspended, 21-month sentence on charges he insulted Erdoğan in a series of posts to the social media website Twitter in July 2014, but noted that the sentence would be imposed if he insulted Erdoğan again in a five-year period, according to CPJ research.

Police arrested the editor from his office on October 9, 2015. He was released a few days later, October 14, pending trial.

In a March 4, 2016, raid, police raided the offices of Feza media group -- which owns Today's Zaman, Zaman, and the Cihan news agency -- following a court's order appointing new trustees for the group. The group yesterday said it would stop distributing four of its other titles to subscribers, though the newspapers would still be available at newsstands, according to press reports.

Prosecutors open new criminal cases against newspapers, editor
The Istanbul Chief Prosecutor's Office on Thursday opened two new criminal cases against the left-wing newspaper Birgün and its editor, Barış İnce, according to press reports.

Prosecutors have filed a new case against İnce on charges of insulting Edoğan in a March 9 post to the social media website Facebook, Birgün reported on Thursday. A court on March 9 sentenced İnce to 21 months in prison on charges of insulting Erdoğan. The editor is free, pending appeal of that case.

Separately, prosecutors on Thursday opened criminal investigations into Birgün and Cumhuriyet under Turkey's anti-terrorism laws, which criminalize "making targets of public servants who have participated in combatting terror," the Anatolia news agency reported.

Those investigations relate to the newspapers' having published the name and photograph of a police officer alleged to have killed Berkin Elvan, a 15-year-old boy who died after he was hit by a tear-gas canister in 2013 protests near central Istanbul's Gezi Park. The boy became a national symbol for the opposition after his death. The prosecutors investigating his death were the ones who brought the charges against the newspapers Thursday, alleging that the newspapers had put the officer in question in danger.

Reporter to stand trial for violating court gag order
Doğan News Agency (DHA) reporter Felat Bozarslan is scheduled to stand trial at the 2nd Diyarbakır Court of Serious Crimes on June 2 for violating a court's gag order on a November 2015 verdict, Turkish news website T24 reported Thursday. If convicted, Bozarslan faces up to four years and six months in prison for "violating a news ban," according to T24.

Bozarslan on November 4, 2015, reported that a judge had imposed a reduced sentence in the case of a 22-year-old man convicted of hitting a 14-year-old girl on the head with a rock and raping her, which resulted in a pregnancy, because the man had shown a "respectful standing" toward the court.

In his defense, Bozarslan said the rest of the 18-month trial had been open to the public, and that his report was based not on court papers, but on judicial sources who passed the information to him.

According to T24, Bozarslan is the subject of three criminal investigations, all in relation to his stories on judges reducing sentences for rapists because they showed "a respectful standing" toward the court.

[March 25, 2016]

Embattled Turkish newspaper editor Can Dündar speaks with the Committee to Protect Journalist's Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova in Istanbul, March 24, 2016, a day before Dündar was scheduled to stand trial for his newspaper's reporting (Photo: Özgür Öğret).

New prosecutor named in case of Cumhuriyet journalists days before trial
The Istanbul prosecutor's office on Wednesday named Evliya Çalışkan to lead the case against Cumhuriyet journalists Erdem Gül and Can Dündar, two days before they are scheduled to stand trial on charges of exposing state secrets, espionage, and aiding a terrorist group for reports alleging Turkey tried to send weapons to Syrian opposition groups, Cumhuriyet reported. The two face multiple life sentences if convicted.

It was not immediately clear why the prosecutor had been changed. In an article published Wednesday, Cumhuriyet called the move "suspicious" and "unusual."

The two journalists were released from Istanbul's Silivri Prison on February 26, after 92 days in pre-trial detention, following a ruling from the Turkish Constitutional Court that their arrest violated their rights to liberty, security, and the constitution's protections of press freedom. Their trial is scheduled to begin tomorrow, March 25. Representatives from the Committee to Protect Journalists and other press freedom groups plan to attend.

Asked about the journalists' release, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on February 28 told journalists he would not "obey or respect the [Constitutional Court's] decision."

Newspaper editor banned from travel
Istanbul's 10th Court of Penal Peace on Wednesday banned Eren Keskin, co-editor-in-chief of the pro-Kurdish daily newspaper Özgür Gündem, from traveling, according to press reports. The editor and the newspaper are under investigation for "spreading terrorist propaganda."

Court ordered 262 webpages censored after Istanbul bombing
The Gölbaşı Court of Penal Peace in Ankara on March 20 ordered regulators to block access to 262 webpages, including news stories and posts to the social media websites Twitter, YouTube, and Instagram, according to court documents posted to the Internet Wednesday by academic and Internet-rights activist Yaman Akdeniz. The censored pages were all about a March 19 suicide bombing on downtown Istanbul's busy Istiklal Street. The Gölbaşı Court of Penal Peace has ordered material posted online to be censored before, according to CPJ research.

Four newspapers stop delivering to subscribers after government takeover
Cihan Distribution, a division of Feza media group, on Wednesday announced that it would stop distributing four of the company's newspapers to subscribers, according to press reports. The daily newspapers Yarına Bakış (Looking at Tomorrow), Özgür Düşünce (Free Thought), Meydan (Square), and Yeni Asya (The New Asia) will no longer be delivered to subscribers. Meydan's editor, Levent Kenez, apologized to subscribers on Twitter, and encouraged readers to buy the newspapers from newsstands.

Police on March 4 raided the offices of the Feza media group, which owns Zaman, Turkey's largest-circulation newspaper, hours after a court mandated the government's takeover of its editorial and management boards. In October 2015, police raided the offices of television stations, radio stations, and newspapers owned by Koza İpek Holding, following a court order allowing the government to take control of the company. The companies on March 1 filed notice with the stock exchange that they were closing because of financial losses, according to press reports.

[March 24, 2016]

Prosecutors bring charges against media owner
Istanbul's First Court of Serious Crimes today accepted prosecutors' case against media owner Aydın Doğan, his daughter, Hanzade Doğan Boyner, and other business executives on charges of presiding over a fuel-smuggling ring, according to press reports. Doğan's company, Doğan Holding, owns the leading daily newspapers Hurriyet and Posta, and the television channels CNN Turk and Kanal D.

According to press reports, the accused face more than 24 years in prison each if convicted.

In a March 17 statement, the company called the accusations "baseless" and "a new example of judicial oddities in our country."

"This indictment will go down in our judicial history as a document that testifies to the corrosion of the notion of the law in our country," Doğan Holding's vice-president for corporate communication Ahter Kutadgu said in remarks carried by Hurriyet.

In a statement released today and also carried by Hurriyet, the company refuted the accusations individually, calling them "slanders."

Separately, Ismail Saymaz, a reporter at radikal.com.tr -- the online version of the left-wing daily newspaper Radikal, which stopped printing in 2014 -- announced on Twitter that the website would stop publishing as well.

Doğan Holdings sold the newspapers Milliyet andVatan to businessmen with ties to the government in 2011. The government levied a massive tax fine against the group in 2009.

The rumored case against Doğan follows recent government moves to take control of leading media groups. Police on March 4 raided the offices of the Feza media group, which owns Zaman, Turkey's largest-circulation newspaper, hours after a court mandated the government's takeover of its editorial and management boards. In October 2015, police raided the offices of television stations, radio stations, and newspapers owned by Koza İpek Holding, following a court order allowing the government to take control of the company. The companies on March 1 filed notice with the stock exchange that they were closing because of financial losses, according to press reports.

Free-speech organizations launch report on press freedom in Turkey
International press freedom organizations English PEN, ARTICLE 19, and Free Word today published Journalism Under Siege, a report on the "unprecedented crisis" Turkey's independent journalists now face, written by investigative journalist Ahmet Şιk. The report documents a continued trend toward concentration of media ownership in Turkey, intimidation of reporters, legal restrictions, and politicized prosecutions.

[March 23, 2016]

Editor interrogated for spreading 'terrorist propaganda'
Prosecutors in Istanbul today interrogated Eren Keskin, co-editor-in-chief of the pro-Kurdish daily newspaper Özgür Gündem, in connection with an ongoing investigation into the newspaper for allegedly spreading "terrorist propaganda," and asked an Istanbul court to order her arrest. The court refused, and instead ordered her released after further questioning, according to press reports.

Ankara prosecutors opened an investigation into the newspaper following the publication of its March 14 edition, which was confiscated, according to the news website Demokrat Haber.

Reporter faces 28 months in prison for comments interviewee made
The socialist daily Birgün reported today that its reporter Onur Erem faces up to 28 months in prison for allegations that British writer Tariq Ali insulted Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu in an interview with the journalist. Ali called Davutoğlu "a fool" in an interview published October 15, 2015.

Prosecutors are charging Erem under article 125 of the Penal Code, which provides for sentences of 14-28 months for "insult." He is scheduled to appear before Istanbul's Second Court of Penal Peace on May 24.

Ali also called President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan a "tin-pot dictator" in the same interview, but Istanbul's Fifth Court of Penal Peace ruled that remark was protected speech, and denied the president's legal team's request to be involved in the trial, Birgün reported.

[March 22, 2016]

Editor leaves country after government seizes newspaper
Sevgi Akarçeşme, former editor of the daily newspaper Today's Zaman, which the government took over on March 4, wrote on Twitter today that she had traveled to Belgium and that she does not plan to go back to Turkey soon because of "oppression and censorship" in the country. She clarified that she does not plan to apply for political asylum, as the daily newspaper Cumhuriyet and other news outlets had earlier reported.

Hasnain Kazim, the German newsmagazine Der Spiegel's Turkey's correspondent before the magazine announced on March 17 that it was pulling him from his assignment, also wrote on Saturday about his time in Turkey and his departure.

"These are tough times for Turkish journalists," Kazim wrote. "And, as my own experiences have taught me, they are increasingly tough for foreign correspondents too."

Social media blocked after Istanbul bombing
Social media websites Twitter and Facebook were briefly inaccessible after a suicide bomber killed three Israelis and an Iranian and injured dozens others in central Istanbul Saturday, according to reports on social media. CPJ was unable to access either website via Turkey's largest Internet service provider, Turk Telekom, or mobile data browsing, using the mobile phone operator Turkcell, soon after the mid-day attack.

Access to the websites remained unusually slow for unknown reasons after service returned, Internet users and newspapers reported Sunday. CPJ found that Facebook and Twitter were still loading unusually slowly on Monday. It has become common practice for Turkey's telecommunications regulator, the TİB, to block access to social media websites after major news events, CPJ research shows.

[March 21, 2016]

EDITOR'S NOTE: The March 25 item "Reporter to stand trial for violating court gag order" has been corrected to reflect that Felat Bozarslan has not been convicted of violating the court's gag order.


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