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Security forces stand guard atop a building in Istanbul as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan gives a speech in favor of amendments to the constitution that would increase his powers, March 26, 2017. (Reuters/Murad Sezer)

Turkey Crackdown Chronicle: Week of April 2, 2017

By Özgür Öğret/CPJ Turkey Representative on April 3, 2017 10:59 AM ET

Cumhuriyet journalists respond to indictment

Cumhuriyet journalists Kadri Gürsel and Murat Sabuncu, who were listed in an indictment against the Turkish daily earlier this week, reacted to the accusations presented to the court, online newspaper Demokrat Haber and Cumhuriyet reported yesterday.

Gürsel, who is also chair of the International Press Institute's Turkish National Committee, sent a message via Utku Çakırözer, deputy leader of the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP), who visited the journalist in Silivri Prison in Istanbul. The journalist said the claims about him being in connection with people via the Bylock messaging app are a "character assassination" and attempt to "create false evidence." Turkish authorities said that the use of the app is proof of being a coup conspirator and have alleged that Bylock is a secret messaging tool for the Hizmet community, or FETÖ, which the government says was behind the failed attempted coup last year.

Gürsel said that according to indictment he was in contact with 92 Bylock users and 21 people under investigation for alleged FETÖ membership. Gürsel said the indictment cited several people he allegedly had contact with, including a retired preacher from Adana, a teacher in Karaman, a police commissary in Tokat, and a civil servant in Çanakkale, but the means of alleged communication was not mentioned. "Have I ever spoke to these people on phone? How many times have I talked to them? Who called whom? When did they call? None of these are in the indictment," Gürsel said in his message.

He said it is not logical for him to be in contact with so many people at various locations and has two guesses for the base of these accusations. Gürsel said he received hundreds of text messages from people he assumes as Hizmet members during the first wave of arrest in 2014. He was texted, he said, as the part of a collective effort to try to influence known journalists but he never answered these texts. Gürsel said he thinks prosecutors may have considered pro-Hizmet Twitter users retweeting him as "being in connection" with supporters. Gürsel said made a call to the judiciary and demanded that the nature of these accusations be made clear.

Çakırözer also visited Cumhuriyet's former chief editor Sabuncu who said, "We have said 'What we have done is journalism and journalism is not a crime.' Now everybody saw this with the indictment."

Police raid home of Cumhuriyet financial director

Cumhuriyet reported today that police detained Emre İper, an accountant for the paper, last night after a raid on his house in Istanbul. Cumhuriyet responded to his detention, and that of a courier for the paper earlier this week, saying, "These actions of prosecutors, which happened right after the indictment regarding our newspaper's writers and directors was prepared and sent to its court, shows that the investigation is being run with an open end and the operation to silence our newspaper has not ended."

[April 7, 2017]

Two Gazete Sujin reporters detained

The pro-Kurdish, all-women online newspaper Gazete Sujin reported today that police detained two of its reporters who were working in the Tatvan district of Bitlis province. The journalists, Nişmiye Güler and Zeynep Turgut, were detained by police who were inspecting identity cards of customers in a café. The journalists were separated, strip searched, and subjected to sexist insults from police, the report said. Turgut was released briefly, but detained again after one hour, the report said. The reason for their detention is unknown.

[April 6, 2017]

Details released of Cumhuriyet indictment

The indictment of journalists, managers, directors, and others associated with Cumhuriyet was leaked to the press before the defense team saw it, the daily paper reported. The indictment was available on news websites yesterday afternoon and Cumhuriyet reported that the leading pro-government daily Sabah published it before Cumhuriyet lawyers viewed it. The court now has 15 days to approve the indictment.

The indictment lists the defendants and charges as:

  • Can Dündar, former chief editor. Charge: Helping an armed terrorist organization without being a member. Status: In exile.
  • Akın Atalay, lawyer and chairman of the Cumhuriyet Foundation's board of directors. Charge: Helping an armed terrorist organization without being a member, malpractice. Status: In custody.
  • Orhan Erinç, columnist. Charge: Helping an armed terrorist organization without being a member, malpractice. Status: Free pending trial
  • Bülent Utku, lawyer and member of the Cumhuriyet Foundation's board of directors. Charge: Helping an armed terrorist organization without being a member, malpractice. Status: In custody.
  • Murat Sabuncu, former chief editor. Charge: Helping an armed terrorist organization without being a member. Status: In custody.
  • Kadri Gürsel, columnist and consultant, who also serves as the International Press Institute's Turkish National Committee Chair. Charge: Helping an armed terrorist organization without being a member. Status: In custody.
  • Güray Tekin Öz, columnist. Charge: Helping an armed terrorist organization without being a member, malpractice. Status: In custody.
  • Önder Çelik, member of the Cumhuriyet Foundation's board of directors. Charge: Helping an armed terrorist organization without being a member, malpractice. Status: In custody.
  • Turhan Günay, editor-in-chief of Cumhuriyet's literary supplement. Charge: Helping an armed terrorist organization without being a member, malpractice. Status: In custody.
  • Musa Kart, cartoonist. Charge: Helping an armed terrorist organization without being a member, malpractice. Status: In custody.
  • Hakan Kara, columnist, Charge: Helping an armed terrorist organization without being a member, malpractice. Status: In custody.
  • Mustafa Kemal Güngör, lawyer and member of the Cumhuriyet Foundation's board of directors. Charge: Helping an armed terrorist organization without being a member, malpractice. Status: In custody.
  • Aydın Engin, columnist. Charge: Helping an armed terrorist organization without being a member. Status: Free pending trial.
  • Hikmet Çetinkaya, columnist. Charge: Helping an armed terrorist organization without being a member, malpractice. Status: Free pending trial.
  • Bülent Yener, former member of the Cumhuriyet Foundation's board of directors. Charge: Helping an armed terrorist organization without being a member. Status: Free pending trial.
  • Günseli Özaltay, chief accountant. Charge: Helping an armed terrorist organization without being a member. Status: Free pending trial.
  • Ahmet Kemal Aydoğdu, Twitter user @jeansbiri. Charge: Running an armed terrorist organization. Status: In custody.
  • İlhan Tanır, Washington reporter. Charge: Being a member of an armed terrorist organization. Status: Currently abroad.
  • Ahmet Şık, reporter. Charge: Helping an armed terrorist organization without being a member. Status: In custody related to a separate trial.

The indictment argues that Cumhuriyet, which it describes as a left-leaning kemalist newspaper, changed its editorial policies, eliminated those who resisted the change, and created propaganda for the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) the so-called Fethullah Gülen Terrorist Organization (FETÖ); and the outlawed socialist group the Revolutionary People's Salvation Front/Party (DHKP/C). Evidence against some of the defendants includes meetings or phone calls with people allegedly affiliated with FETÖ. The indictment lists several news stories in Cumhuriyet on domestic and foreign issues as evidence of alleged terrorist activity such as "manipulating the public," and says the change happened in 2013, when Dündar was made chief editor

Dündar commented on the indictment via Twitter yesterday, the daily Birgün reported. The former chief editor said a call from him to the shuttered leading pro-Hizmet daily Zaman's former editor Ekrem Dumanlı in 2011 is listed as evidence against him. Dündar said the call was about an argument over Hizmet's alleged CIA links. Dündar said that in 2011 the AKP and Hizmet were allies and Erdoğan had attended Zaman's anniversary party.

Separately, T24 reported that Yavuz Yakışkan, a motorbike courier for the daily Cumhuriyet, was detained in Istanbul today. The outlet did not say the reason for his detention.

IMC TV news editor acquitted

A court acquitted Hamza Aktan, the former news editor for the now shuttered pro-Kurdish IMC TV, of charges of terrorism propaganda related to his social media posts, the press freedom volunteers' platform Ben Gazeteciyim (I am a Journalist) tweeted yesterday. Aktan was indicted in June 2016, CPJ reported at the time.

Police raid ETHA editor's house

Pro-left Etkin News Agency (ETHA) reported yesterday that police issued a warrant for its editor, Önder Öner. Istanbul police raided Öner's house in the early hours of April 4 as part of an investigation by the chief prosecutor's office in the eastern province of Tunceli, but Öner was not home. ETHA did not specify what Öner is accused of.

Websites blocked

Turkey's communication authority, the Information Technologies and Communication Institution (BTK) blocked access to the news website Dihaber as well as the pro-Kurdish daily Özgürlükçü Demokrasi for the fourth time, and the socialist website Sendika for the seventeenth time, Dihaber reported on April 3. Sendika reported yesterday that its web address was blocked twice within 24 hours and that it has been blocked twenty times. Users trying to access the websites are presented with a screen telling them the website is blocked.

[April 5, 2017]

Judges who ordered release of journalists suspended
Turkey's Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HYSK, by its Turkish acronym) yesterday suspended the judges of Istanbul's 25th Court for Serious Crimes, according to media reports. The judicial oversight board suspended Chief Justice İbrahim Lorasdağı and judges Barış Cömert and Necla Yeşilyurt Gülbiçim and opened an investigation into them after they ordered journalists jailed in the aftermath of a failed military coup in July 2016 released on March 31. The journalists were arrested again immediately after their release.

"The allegations in question are well known," the HYSK said in a statement reported by press accounts of the decision. "These releases are intentional, contrary to the law, and don't comply with the facts."

The justice minister chairs the HYSK, and his deputy is a member. The president directly appoints four other members of body, which has 22 members and 12 alternate members. Immediately after the failed military coup, the body removed more than 2,700 judges from duty and purged five of its own members, according to media reports.

[April 4, 2017]

Journalists rearrested after courts order release
Police on April 1 immediately arrested journalists jailed in Istanbul and the Mediterranean city of Antalya in the wake of the failed July 2016 military coup as they were released from prison, according to the daily newspaper Cumhuriyet. Prosecutors had asked Istanbul's 25th Court for Serious Crimes to release journalists Ahmet Memiş, Bayram Kaya, Cemal Azmi Kalyoncu, Cuma Ulus, Habib Güler, Halil İbrahim Balta, Hanım Büşra Erdal, and Muhammed Said Kuloğlu pending the conclusion of their trial, according to media reports. The court agreed, but prosecutors then appealed that order to the 26th Court for Serious Crimes, which quickly reversed the lower court's order for their release, and Istanbul counterterrorism police arrested them as soon as they were formally released from Istanbul's Silivri Prison, according to the press freedom advocacy group Ben Gazeteciyim ("I am a journalist").

Police in Istanbul also immediately rearrested journalists Yakup Çetin, Bünyamin Köseli, Oğuz Usluer, Ali Akkuş, Atilla Taş, Cihan Acar, Abdullah Kılıç, Hüseyin Aydın, Murat Aksoy, Mustafa Erkan Acar, Seyid Kılıç, and Yetkin Yıldız after their release on April 1, but on new charges of "attempting to overthrow the constitutional order" and "attempting to overthrow the government of the Republic of Turkey or preventing it from doing its duty." Their trial on terrorism charges will continue, and they are currently detained for seven days of questioning on the new charges.

The news website Antalya Körfez reported today that prosecutors had successfully appealed the March 31 order from Antalya's Second Court for Serious Crimes to release journalists Tuncer Çetinkaya, Serhat Şeftali, and Olgun Matur. Police detained Çetinkaya from his home on Saturday night, the website reported. Matur turned himself in to police the following day, according to Antalya Körfez.

Journalist sentenced on terrorism charges
Bursa's Second Court for Serious Crimes today sentenced wire reporter Ömer Gül to four and a half years in prison for "committing crimes in the name of a [terrorist] organization without being a member," and an additional 18 months in prison on charges of "making propaganda for a [terrorist] organization," Dihaber reported on April 1. Gül is free, pending appeal.

Wire reporter on trial for terrorism charges
Jailed wire reporter Mehmet Güleş's trial on terrorism charges began in Turkey's eastern Elazığ province, his employer, Dihaber, reported today. At the hearing, Elazığ's Second Court for Serious Crimes denied his lawyers' request for the journalist to be released pending the conclusion of the trial, which is scheduled to resume on May 3.

[April 3, 2017]


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