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Turkey Crackdown Chronicle: Week of March 5

Protesters in Berlin call for the release of Die Welt Turkey correspondent Deniz Yücel, February 28, 2017. (Reuters/Fabrizio Bensch)

Suspended sentences, fines, for participants in newspaper solidarity campaign
Istanbul's 22nd Court for Serious Crimes today convicted four people of terrorism charges in connection with the coverage of the pro-Kurdish daily newspaper Özgür Gündem on the days on which they each symbolically acted as co-editor of the newspaper to protest authorities' relentless judicial harassment of the newspaper, according to news reports. Police raided and sealed the newspaper's office in August 2016, as dozens of writers, activists, academics, and artists continued to show solidarity with the newspaper by symbolically adding their names to the newspaper's masthead for a day.

Today the court convicted journalist and former head of the Southeastern Journalists Association Faruk Balıkçı of "publishing statements of a [terrorist] organization," and fined him 6000 Turkish lira (US $1600). The court acquitted him of the charge of "making propaganda for a [terrorist] organization," according to Cumhuriyet.

In separate trials, the also court fined activist Dicle Anter and Etkin News Agency (ETHA) journalist Derya Okatan 7000 lira (US $1865) each for "publishing statements of a [terrorist] organization" today, Cumhuriyet reported.

The court also imposed suspended, 15-month prison sentences on journalist Kumru Başer and lawyer Ayşe Batumlu Kaya on charges of "making propaganda for a [terrorist]organization," in separate trials today, according to the same report.

Writer and linguist Necmiye Alpay's defense team reminded the court that their client is also a suspect in a trial of Özgür Gündem staff and managers being tried by the Istanbul's 23rd Court for Serious Crimes, and asked that the case before the 22nd Court be merged with that trial. The court agreed today, Cumhuriyet reported.

In separate trials, the same court on March 7 also sentenced four other people for their participation in the solidarity campaign, Cumhuriyet reported at the time:

  • The court imposed a 15-month, suspended prison sentence on Nadire Mater, who worked as a consultant for the website Bianet, on charges of "making propaganda for a [terrorist] organization," and fined Mater 6000 lira (US $1600) for "publishing statements of a [terrorist] organization."
  • The court sentenced Özgür Gündem columnist Yıldırım Türker suspended prison sentence of 22 months and 15 days on charges of "making propaganda for a [terrorist] organization."
  • The court acquitted T24 columnist Hasan Cemal of the charge of "making propaganda for a terrorist organization," but fined him 6000 lira for "publishing statements of a [terrorist] organization."
  • The court imposed a 15-month, suspended prison sentence on writer Murat Uyurkulak for "making propaganda for a [terrorist] organization."
  • The court adjourned until March 28 in the trials of actress Jülide Kural and Özgür Gündem columnist İlham Bakır. Bakır's lawyers had argued that the trial was unconstitutional.

Man detained for threatening to murder journalist
İhlas News Agency (İHA) reported that police had detained a man identified only as "M.S." after he called the 155 police emergency line this morning and said he was going to kill Nagehan Alçı, a well-known, pro-government columnist and TV commentator. The police located the man in the Sancaktepe neighborhood of Istanbul by tracking his phone.

He reportedly told police, "I do not know her. I was not myself. I have debts. I am depressed." Police informed Alçı of the threat and were investigating, the news agency reported.

Erdoğan supporters assault journalist at Hamburg rally
Supporters of the Turkish government gathered in Hamburg for a rally of diaspora Turks in support of a referendum on constitutional amendments that would increase the powers of the presidency assaulted Die Zeit reporter Sebastian Kempkens, according to the journalist's account of the events on Twitter and Deutsche Welle's Turkish service. Kempkens was holding a sign saying "#FreeDeniz," a reference to jailed Die Welt Turkey correspondent Deniz Yücel when a group of people listening to Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu at the consulate in Hamburg beat him with Turkish flags, knocked his glasses of his face, and told him "You owe it to [Turkish President Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan's humanity that you are still alive."

Police detain, release journalist at airport
Sedat Sur, a reporter for the Firat News Agency (ANF), wrote on Twitter last night that police at Izmir Airport detained him based on a 2009 criminal investigation, and released roughly four hours later.

Journalists denied accreditation for prime minister's visit
The government refused to accredit at least eight journalists follow Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım's visit to the coastal city of Izmir yesterday, the daily Evrensel newspaper reported. The individual journalists from TV channels including Sözcü, Dünya, İHA, Ticaret, Sky TV, and Ulusal Kanal were critical of the government, Evrensel reported. Officials responsible for accrediting journalists said there had simply been too many requests to accommodate. Halil İbrahim Hüner, Izmir head of the Turkey Journalist's Union (TGS), called this an excuse, and protested the refusal.

Interior minister uses homophobic slur in reference to columnist
Turkish Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu used a homophobic slur reacting to Hürriyet columnist Ertuğrul Özkök's criticisms of proposed constitutional amendments that would give the president more power, the daily newspaper Evrensel reported.

Speaking at a meeting on the proposed amendments in the Akçaabat district of the northern province of Trabzon, Soylu reportedly said, "You are speaking ill of our prime minister. Your tongue is too long...We in this country know on whose behalf you speak...Do not interfere with things you know nothing about. Go be with fairies ["nonoş"] or whoever else you are going to be with in America [or] Europe."

[March 9, 2017]

Court acquits reporter of terrorism charges
Cizre's First Court for Serious Crimes today acquitted Nedim Oruç, a former reporter for the shuttered Dicle News Agency (DİHA), of charges of "propagandizing for a [terrorist] organization without being a member," and "not reporting a crime," the pro-Kurdish news website Dihaber reported today

Oruç was held in pretrial detention from January 6 to June 10, 2016.

Turkish economy minister to sue Germany's Die Welt newspaper
Turkish Economy Minister Nihat Zeybekçi will sue the German newspaper Die Welt for insulting him and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Turkey's official Anadolu News Agency reported. The continued detention of Die Welt correspondent and dual German-Turkish citizen Deniz Yücel has contributed to strained relations between Berlin and Ankara, according to media reports.

Some journalists prevented from covering women's march
Authorities in the southeastern Turkish city of Diyarbakır prevented journalists who did not have government press credentials--the so-called "yellow card" issued by the prime minister's office--from following a march to mark International Women's Day, the news website Gazete Sujin reported.

[March 8, 2017]

Lawyers for jailed journalists lodge complaint with European Court of Human Rights
Defense lawyers for jailed Cumhuriyet journalists and managers lodged a complaint with the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), Cumhuriyet reported today. The lawyers applied to the ECHR on the grounds that Turkey's Constitutional Court had not yet acknowledged receipt of their December 26, 2016, appeal of lower courts' decisions to jail their clients pending trial.

Cumhuriyet lawyers argued that the journalists' continued pretrial detention violated the European Convention on Human Rights' guarantees of freedom and security, freedom of speech, and limitations of rights. The lawyers also asked the court to order 20,000 euros of compensation for the damages, pain, and suffering of each journalist.

According to the Cumhuriyet report, lawyers argued on several legal and procedural grounds, including that the court had improperly found "reasonable suspicion" that the journalists were members of an armed terrorist organization because prosecutors had adduced no evidence to support that claim, and because Cumhuriyet was accused of "changing its editorial policy," which they said was not a crime and which they said proved the arrests were politically motivated.

Newspaper distributors reported detained
The pro-Kurdish news website Dihaber today reported that police had detained eight people on suspicion of "propagandizing for a [terrorist] organization" in connection with their work for the shuttered Kurdish-language daily newspaper Azadiya Welat or Dihaber. In addition to former Azadiya Welat publisher Ramazan Ölçen, distributors Serdar Kale and Hacı Yusuf Topaloğlu (whose arrests CPJ reported yesterday), police also detained newspaper distributors Sadık Aras, Mehmet Emin Kaya, Seydoş Dayan, a man identified only as Özkan, and another individual whose name Dihaber did not report.

[March 7, 2017]

Erdoğan says jailed Die Welt correspondent 'German agent,' Kurdish separatist
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on March 3 said that Deniz Yücel, the Turkey correspondent for the German newspaper Die Welt and a dual citizen of Germany and Turkey jailed in Turkey since February 14, was a "German agent" and a member of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which Turkey classes as a terrorist organization, Reuters reported.

"It isn't because a correspondent of Die Welt was arrested...It is because this person hid in the German embassy as a member of the PKK and a German agent for one month. When we told them to hand him over to be tried, they refused," the president told an awards ceremony in Istanbul, according to Reuters.

The news agency quoted a German diplomat as calling the allegation that Yücel was a "German agent" "absurd."

The news website Haberdar reported yesterday that Şafak Pavey, a member of parliament with the opposition Republican People's Party (CHP), was allowed to visit the journalist, who is held in isolation.

The lawmaker carried a message from Yücel, saying he had been detained as part of investigations into the leak of Energy Minister Berat Albayrak's emails, was kept in custody for being a member of the Hizmet network, which Turkey considers a terrorist organization and blames for the failed July 2016 military coup, and was sent to prison for being a member of the PKK.

Railing against German authorities' decision to cancel some rallies of diaspora Turks in favor of a referendum on amendments to the Turkish constitution giving the president more power, Erdoğan said, "Germany, you have no relation whatsoever to democracy, and you should know that your current actions are no different to those of the Nazi period."

"If I want to come to Germany, I will, and if you don't let me in through your doors, if you don't let me speak, then I will make the world rise to its feet," Reuters also reported.

Court orders editor jailed pending trial
Istanbul's Fourth Court of Penal Peace ordered Nur Ener, news editor for the conservative daily newspaper Yeni Asya, jailed pending trial on suspicion she was a member of the Hizmet network, based on an anonymous tip that she had the Bylock app on her phone, her employer reported today. According to media reports, members of the network used the app in an attempt to communicate securely. Police detained Ener three days before the court's order to keep her in custody, Yeni Asya reported. She denied having any ties to the Hizmet network, or FETÖ as the Turkish government calls it, or having used the app, her employer reported.

Newspaper publisher, distributor detained
Security forces detained Ramazan Ölçer, former publisher of the shuttered Kurdish-language daily Azadiya Welat, from his home in the southeastern Turkish city of Diyarbakır, the news website Gazete Karınca reported on March 4. The reasons for his detention were not immediately clear. The government on October 29 used emergency powers to order the newspaper and 14 other media outlets closed by decree. Serdar Kale, a former distributor of Azadiya Welat and the shuttered newspaper Özgür Gündem, was also detained in Diyarbakır, Gazete Karınca reported. Police raided Özgür Gündem's office and following a court order shuttering the newspaper in August 2016.

Police detain reporter
Police on March 4 raided the home of Hacı Yusuf Topaloğlu, a journalist for the news website Dihaber, and took the reporter into custody, his employer reported. The reason for the detention was not immediately clear. Topaloğlu recently reported on serious earthquake damage to buildings built by the government in the southeastern city of Adıyaman.

Turkish regulator asks French satellite company to drop Kurdish channels
Turkey's official Anadolu News Agency reported on March 4 that Turkey's broadcast regulator, the RTÜK, is negotiating with the French satellite company Eutelsat to stop carrying the signals of News Channel TV, Ronahi TV, and Sterk TV. Turkish regulators banned the channels in Turkey, saying they were affiliated with the PKK, but satellite dish owners can still watch them via Eutelsat's Hotbird constellation of satellites.

Man who shot at newspaper office says he was drunk
Police said a man who fired a pistol at the building housing the opposition daily newspaper Cumhuriyet on March 3 told them he was "highly intoxicated, and had fired shots in the air without a particular target in mind," Cumhuriyet reported. The man said he "did not mean to attack a person or institution," according to a police statement.

Cumhuriyet's jailed editor in chief, Murat Sabuncu, on March 3 passed a message through visitors, saying, "Bullets [and] prison do not intimidate us. We will continue to write the truth."

[March 6, 2017]

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