Turkey Crackdown Chronicle: Week of June 12

By Özgür Öğret/CPJ Turkey Representative on June 13, 2016 12:06 PM ET

Turkey's Constitutional Court -- seen here in a December 11, 2009, file photo -- on June 17 rejected journalist Mehmet Baransu's contention that his rights were violated in his March 2015 arrest. (AP)

Constitutional Court rejects journalist's appeal
Turkey's Constitutional Court today ruled that journalist Mehmet Baransu's constitutional right to freedom of expression and the constitution's guarantees of press freedom were not contravened in the journalist's March 2015 arrest in connection with in an alleged, elaborate conspiracy codenamed "Sledgehammer." The same court in May 2016 rejected his petition to be released from pre-trial detention, CPJ reported at the time.

Turkey's Media Crackdown

Baransu faces charges of "founding and running a terrorist organization" in connection with the case. He was an editor of the newspaper Taraf in 2010, when the daily published a series of articles alleging that Turkish military officers were planning to bomb mosques in the country and to shoot down a Turkish warplane in order to spark conflict with Greece and destabilize the newly elected Justice and Development Party (AKP) government. Baransu also co-authored a book published in 2012 outlining several alleged military conspiracies.

The journalist stands accused of delivering a suitcase of documents supporting this claim to prosecutors after Taraf journalists had examined them to prepare their reports on behalf of the Hizmet Movement -- followers of preacher Fethullah Gülen, whom the Turkish government accuses of leading a terrorist organization and "parallel state structure" in Turkey from his self-imposed exile in the United States.

In 2012, when the Hizmet Movement and the AKP were still in a tactical alliance against the military and security services' influence in politics, more than 300 military officers were convicted connection with the alleged "Sledgehammer" plot to overthrow then-prime minister Erdoğan's government. In 2014, after the Hizmet-AKP alliance had turned sour, a court found the trial of the officers had been flawed. When the officers were retried, a court in 2015 cleared 236 military suspects, partially based on its finding that documents produced as evidence in the first trial were fabricated, the press reported at the time.

An Istanbul court on June 30 sentenced Baransu, who was in custody at the time, to 10 months in prison on charges of insulting the president on Twitter.

Seven TV stations fined for airing 'insult' to Erdoğan
Turkey's broadcast regulator, the High Council of Radio and Television (RTÜK), on Thursday fined seven television channels for broadcasting a May 24 meeting of the opposition Republican People's Party (CHP)'s parliamentary delegation in which legislators chanted a slogan the RTÜK deemed insulting to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the news website Diken reported. News reports did not immediately specify the amount of the fine broadcasters Can Erzincan TV, Habertürk, NTV, Ulusal TV, CNN Türk, Bengütürk, and Halk TV were each ordered to pay.

Prosecutors drop terrorism charges against journalists
Prosecutors in the southern Turkish city of Gaziantep today dropped charges of "making propaganda for a [terrorist] organization" against journalists Tugce Tatari and Hasan Cemal, according to media reports. Police had found the journalists' books in the houses and bags of suspects arrested on suspicion of membership or sympathies with the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) in several cities in Turkey's heavily Kurdish southeastern region, the news website Diken reported.

[June 17, 2016, entry by freelance Turkish journalist Şafak Timur]

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan greets supporters in Istanbul, May 5, 2016. (Murad Sezer/Reuters)

Newspaper editor convicted of insulting Erdoğan
Istanbul's Second Court of First Instance on Tuesday sentenced Merdan Yanardağ, editor of the leftist daily ABC, to 11 months and 20 days in prison on charges of insulting Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the opposition newspaper Cumhuriyet reported. The sentence, which Yanardağ said he would appeal, was commuted to a fine of 10,500 Turkish liras (roughly U.S. $3,575), according to Cumhuriyet.

Police detain newspaper owner on terrorism charges
Police detained Ferhat Parlak, owner of the local newspaper Silvan Mücadele, on suspicion of "making propaganda for a [terrorist] organization" from the southeastern town of Silvan on Tuesday evening, the daily Evrensel reported, citing the pro-Kurdish DİHA news agency. A court in Diyarbakır ordered the journalist released on pre-trial probation on Wednesday, according to Evrensel.

It was not the first time police had detained Parlak for his newspaper's reporting. Police raided the newspaper's office in September 2015, confiscated documents and videotapes, and detained Parlak on charges of belonging to a terrorist organization and making propaganda for a terrorist organization, Evrensel reported at the time. The Turkish government classes the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) as a terrorist organization. Journalists reporting on fighting between ethnic Kurdish youth and Turkish security forces since peace talks unraveled in 2015.

[June 16, 2016]

A woman and children walk past a bus damaged in fighting between ethnic Kurdish youth and security forces, in the southeastern Turkish city of Diyarbakir, March 15, 2016. Pro-Kurdish journalists have faced terrorism charges for their reporting on clashes between ethnic Kurdish youth and security forces in the region since peace talks between the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) and the government unraveled in 2015. (Sertac Kayar/Reuters)

Journalist convicted of 'defaming the security services'
A court in the southeastern Turkish city of Van sentenced Mehmet Dursun, a former report Pro-Kurdish Dicle News Agency (DİHA), to two years and six months in prison on charges of "defaming the security agencies" in a 2014 article alleging security forces harassed "village guards" - local militias the state armed in predominantly ethnic-Kurdish towns to counter the Democratic Workers' Party (PKK), which the government classes as a terrorist organization - because the legal opposition Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) received votes in their villages, DİHA reported. The court suspended the sentence on condition that Dursun not repeat the offense.

[June 15, 2016]

Newspaper owner charged with terrorism
Police detained Fatih Parlak, owner of the local newspaper Silvan Mücadele Gazetesi, from his home in Silvan, in Turkey's southeastern Diyarbakır province last night, the pro-Kurdish DİHA news agency reported. Parlak is held at Çarşı Police Station awaiting arraignment on charges of "making propaganda for a [terrorist] organization," according to DİHA.

Journalists for pro-Kurdish news outlets in Turkey have frequently faced charges of producing propaganda for a terrorist organization in connection with their reporting on fighting between Kurdish you and security forces in Turkey's southeast since peace talks unraveled in 2015. The Turkish government classes the Kurdistan Worker's Party (PKK) as a terrorist organization.

Three suspects indicted for shooting attack on editor
Prosecutors in Istanbul are have prepared an indictment against three men in connection with a May 6 shooting attack against Cumhuriyet editor Can Dündar, Cumhuriyet reported. Murat Şahin is suspected of shooting at the editor outside the courthouse where hours later Dündar was sentenced to five years and 10 months in prison, pending appeal, on charges of revealing state secrets. Dündar was not hit, but NTV reporter Yağız Şenkal was lightly injured by a stray bullet.

Şahin faces charges of "wounding [someone] knowingly," "threatening [someone] with a weapon," "insult," and "violating the law on firearms." Two other suspects are accused "wounding [someone] knowingly" and "threatening [someone] knowingly" as accomplices and face a maximum sentence of seven years in prison if convicted, Cumhuriyet reported.

[June 14, 2016]

Militants from the Islamic State group took responsibility for killing Syrian journalist Ibrahim Abdel Qader, shown here in this file photo, in October 2015. The group also claimed responsibility for a June 12, 2016, assassination attempt against his brother, Ahmed. (Eye on the Homeland)

Syrian journalist survives assassination attempt in southeast Turkey
Two gunmen riding a motorbike on Sunday in the southeastern Turkish town of Urfa shot Ahmed Abd al-Qader, director of the news website Eye on the Homeland, which reports on the conflict in Syria from its base in southeastern Turkey, The Associated Press reported. The journalist, who formerly worked with the group Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently (RBSS), is in hospital, in stable condition, a colleague of his from RBSS told reporters. The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the attack, the AP reported.

In March, two men attacked Abd al-Qader in the southeastern Turkish city of Urfa, the journalist told CPJ at the time. The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the October 2015 murder of Ahmed's brother, Ibrahim, and Eye on the Homeland producer Fares Hamadi in Urfa.

News rules allow regulator to cut phone, internet for 'public security'
The Turkish telecommunications regulator BTK may cut Internet and telephone communications in the country for reasons of "public security" or "national defense" according to new rules reported Sunday by the news website Habertürk.

Prosecutor tells satellite operator to drop opposition television station
Istanbul Chief Prosecutor Hasan Yılmaz sent a recommendation to the state-controlled signal provider Türksat Satellite Communication and Cable TV Operation to stop carrying the Can Erzincan TV channel, according to press reports published Sunday. The prosecutor justified the recommendation by saying the channel was linked to the Hizment Movement, followers of Fethullah Gülen, a preacher whom the Turkish government accuses of maintaining a terrorist organization and "parallel state structure" in the country from his self-imposed exile in the United States. Türksat in March dropped the signal of the IMC TV station on similar grounds.

Television station censored, fined
The High Council of Radio and Television (RTÜK) ordered the Özgür Gün TV channel -- based in the predominantly Kurdish, southeastern city of Diyarbakır -- to cease broadcasting for 24 hours and to pay a fine of 14359 Turkish liras (roughly U.S. $4909) in connection with a January 20, 2016, live broadcast from nearby Cizre, the scene of intense fighting between ethnic Kurdish youth and Turkish security forces, according to news reports published Friday. In its written notice, the RTÜK said it had imposed the ban because a reporters remarks in the broadcast "provoked the people against the legitimacy of the security forces" and sought "to harm the unity of the state and the people."

Newspaper, TV station face legal action for coverage of Ankara bombing
Independent daily newspaper Cumhuriyet and leftwing television station Hayatin Sesi face legal action for their reporting on a March 13, 2016, bomb attack in the capital Ankara, according to press reports.

Cumhuriyet faces a criminal investigation for violating a partial ban on reporting the bombing, which killed at least 32 people, for running photographs of the injured on its front page the following day, Cumhuriyet reported Friday. The Instanbul Chief Public Prosecutor summoned Alican Uludağ, Sinan Tartanoğlu, Ozan Çepni, and Necati Savaş, the journalists and the photographer credited as having contributed to the paper's front-page coverage, for interrogation, Cumhuriyet reported.

The RTÜK, Turkey's government broadcast regulator, fined Hayatin Sesi TV 14,359 Turkish liras (roughly U.S. $4916), saying the station's coverage of the March 13 attack portrayed those who carried out the attacks as strong and fearsome, Socialist daily Evrensel, the channel's sister publication, reported.

[June 13, 2016]

EDITOR'S NOTE: The June 17 entry has been updated to correct Mehmet Baransu's position at Taraf: he was a columnist, not an editor.


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