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Turkey Crackdown Chronicle: Week of April 9, 2017

Opposition politicians and press freedom advocates call for the release of journalists jailed in Turkey in an April 9, 2017, protest in Istanbul. (AFP/Yasin Akgul)

Erdoğan vows jailed Die Welt correspondent will never return to Germany
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan last night vowed that Die Welt Turkey correspondent Deniz Yücel, a dual citizen of Germany and Turkey would never be allowed to return to Germany so long as he was president, the online newspaper Diken reported.

Yücel's return to Germany "will not happen under any condition as long as I am in this position," the president said in remarks broadcast live simultaneously by the pro-government television channels Beyaz TV and TGRT Haber.

Erdoğan previously accused Yücel of being a "German spy" and a "terrorist" in speeches while comparing the current German government to the Nazis, CPJ reported at the time.

Last night the president repeated complaints that Germany has not extradited Turkish citizens. "Whatever kind of procedures they use, they will see us using the same procedures. If any of them fall into our hands, they will be treated the same way."

Erdoğan said that he had told German Chancellor Angela Merkel that Turkish courts were more fair than German courts.

"I said, 'Mrs. Merkel, let him to be tried first. If there is nothing there, our courts are fairer than yours.' She could not say anything on that day. Then he appeared at court and the court ordered him jailed. Now he is inside. We have visuals [and] everything in hand. This is precisely an agent terrorist."

Police arrest wire reporter from her home
Police in the southeastern city of Mersin yesterday arrested Berivan Altan, a former reporter for the shuttered, pro-Kurdish news agency Dicle or DİHA, from her home, the English service of the news website Gazete Sujin reported. No further details were available, save that the Mersin Prosecutor's Office was investigating her on unspecified charges.

Journalists accused of preparing ground for coup
At least nine journalists and 13 other suspects went on trial in the Mediterranean city of Antalya yesterday, the local news website Antalya Körfez reported. The journalists stand accused of preparing the ground for July's failed coup attempt on behalf of the Hizmet movement--or FETÖ, as the government calls it--through their reporting. A court had on April 1 ordered the release of journalists Tuncer Çetinkaya, Serhat Şeftali, and Olgun Matur pending the conclusion of their trial, but the three were swiftly arrested again after prosecutors appealed that judgment, CPJ reported at the time.

In court documents reviewed by CPJ, prosecutors alleged that FETÖ used local news website bizimantalya.com, local newspaper Antalya Gazetesi and the national Cihan News Agency to produce propaganda to discredit the government and its institutions ahead of the failed coup attempt. Prosecutors alleged that the journalists' opinion pieces, social media posts, or both were evidence of this effort. For example, Olgun Matur, prosecutors alleged, did not recognize FETÖ as a terrorist organization and criticized the purge of civil servants suspected of being members of FETÖ.

Prosecutors alleged that Tuncer Çetinkaya, the former Antalya representative of the shuttered newspaper Zaman, was a FETÖ member because police confiscated books by Hizmet leader Fethullah Gülen from his home, because the journalist had a visa for travel to the United States, where Gülen lives. Prosecutors included no evidence that the journalist met Gülen, who lives in Pennsylvania, but Çetinkaya's statements that he visited New York were included.

Evidence against other suspects included: their employment at what prosecutors called pro-Hizmet media outlets, owning Fethullah Gülen DVDs, books, or CDs at home, or any indication from their personal emails or photographs that they had connections to the Hizmet movement.

According to Antalya Körfez, the prosecutor additionally accused three defendants of using the Bylock encrypted text messaging program, which Turkish security forces say FETÖ members use to communicate.

All the defendants denied the charges against them. The court refused all their demands to be released pending the conclusion of the trial. The next hearing is scheduled for May 24.

Newspaper website blocked for 12th time
The pro-Kurdish daily newspaper Özgürlükçü Demokrasi reported today that the Turkish regulator BTK had blocked access to their website for the 12th time.

[April 14, 2017]

Twelve journalists acquitted of terrorism charges after six-year trial
Istanbul's 18th Court for Serious Crimes today acquitted 12 journalists and a police chief of charges of terrorism, incitement, and obtaining secret documents, according to media reports. The court found that prosecutors had failed to provide enough evidence to convict journalists Ahmet Şık, Soner Yalçın, Barış Pehlivan, Barış Terkoğlu, Ayhan Bozkurt, Nedim Şener, Müyesser Yıldız, Doğan Yurdakul, Coşkun Musluk, Sait Çakır, Yalçın Küçük, İklim Bayraktar and former police chief Hanefi Avcı, after a convoluted, six-year trial whose twists and turns mirrored those of Turkey's shifting political landscape. The defendants claimed that they were victims of police and judicial officials linked to the Hizmet Movement (or FETÖ, as the government now calls it), which was in a tactical alliance with the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) when the trial began.

The police officers, prosecutors, and judges originally involved in the trial now themselves face terrorism charges because of their alleged connection to FETÖ, which the government claims was behind the failed July 2016 military coup. In announcing its verdict, the court reminded the defendants that they could sue the civil servants for damages.

Journalist successfully sues police for wrongful arrest
A court awarded freelance journalist Tuğba Tekerek 1000 Turkish lira (US $272) for in damages for her wrongful arrest in August 2016, Tekerek reported yesterday in an article for the news website P24. Tekerek had photographed people outside a police station because she thought they were relatives of those jailed inside. Police detained her because they thought she was photographing them, but a prosecutor ordered her released without questioning her.

News website censored for 24th time
The leftist news website sendika.org reported on April 10 that Turkish authorities had blocked access to the site for the 24th time. The website is now publishing at the address sendika25.org.

Kurdish news website censored for 10th time
The pro-Kurdish daily newspaper Özgürlükçü Demokrasi reported today that Turkish authorities had blocked access to their website for the 10th time, and the sixth time since April 3. The newspaper is now publishing online at demokrasi9.com, after the Turkish telecommunications regulator, BTK, serially its previous addresses democracy4.com (April 3), demokrasi5.com (April 4), demokrasigzt.com (April 7), demokrasi6.com (April 8), demokrasi7.com (April 10) and demokrasi8.com (April 11).

Italian journalist and documentary filmmaker to be deported
Turkish authorities will deport Italian journalist and documentary filmmaker Gabriele del Grande, according to media reports. Turkish media reported yesterday that police had detained him in the southeastern province of Hatay.

[April 12, 2017]

Police detain Italian documentary filmmaker
Police in Turkey's southeastern province of Hatay detained Italian journalist and documentary filmmaker Gabriele Del Grande, CNNTurk reported today, citing Turkish and Italian news reports. Italian authorities are working to get the journalist released, the reports said. The reason for the filmmaker's detention was not immediately clear. Del Grande had visited Turkey many times and last entered the country "a few days ago" to begin work on a year-long project, the reports said.

[April 11, 2017]

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