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President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, pictured giving a speech in Ankara on April 18, lashed out at a Financial Times report on Turkey's economy. (Presidential Press Service via AP/Pool)

Turkey Crackdown Chronicle: Week of April 14, 2019

By Özgür Öğret/CPJ Turkey Representative on April 18, 2019 2:56 PM ET

Sözcü journalists on trial
At a hearing for journalists from the opposition daily Sözcü, in Istanbul, on April 18, the prosecutor asked that seven staff members be found guilty for "willingly and knowingly helping a [terrorist] organization without being in its hierarchical structure," the news website Diken reported. The prosecutors argued that Sözcü was aiding FETÖ as a part of the failed 2016 attempted coup.

CPJ previously documented how the indictment, viewed by CPJ, accused Sözcü of being pro-FETÖ because both Hizmet and the paper made similar criticisms of the ruling AKP party. Sözcü is a newspaper that strongly opposes the leading Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the Hizmet Movement--a former ally of the AKP that the ruling party refers to as FETÖ and blames for the attempted coup.

CPJ has documented the legal action against Sözcü since May 2017, when reporter Gökmen Ulu, online editor Mediha Olgun, and finance manager Yonca Yüceli were taken into custody. Later that month, authorities issued an arrest warrant for owner Burak Akbay. In 2018, more Sözcü staff were prosecuted and the indictments were merged into one case that includes chief editor Metin Yılmaz, online chief editor Mustafa Çetin, online news coordinator Yücel Arı, and columnists Emin Çölaşan and Necati Doğru. In the April 18 hearing, the prosecutor asked that all defendants, except for Olgun, who became a government witness, be found guilty. Prosecutors asked that Olgun be exempt from prosecution under Turkey's "effective remorse" law. The court approved a request for Interpol to arrest Akbay, who is not in Turkey. The next hearing was scheduled for July 14.

Turkish journalists in court

  • Hasan Cemal, a veteran journalist and a columnist for the news website T24, was back in court in Istanbul on April 16 as part of a case over a 2015 column, Deutsche Welle reported in Turkish. The prosecution asked that Cemal be found guilty for "making propaganda for a [terrorist] organization." The charge relates to a column based on Cemal's travels to southeastern Turkey during an intense period of clashes between Kurdish rebels and Turkish security forces. CPJ has previously documented how Cemal was found guilty of the same charge in two separate cases in April 2018 and February 2017. In both of those trials he was handed a suspended sentence.

  • On April 15, a court in the western city Denizli sentenced Gökhan Öner, a former reporter for the shuttered pro-Kurdish Dicle News agency (DİHA), to a suspended 10-month prison sentence after being found guilty of "making propaganda for a [terrorist] organization" (PKK), the leftist daily Evrensel reported. Öner was arrested in May and released under probation in July, CPJ documented. Öner was acquitted of a second charge of "being member of a [terrorist] organization."

Trial shows 'pressures on journalists' RSF representative tells court

At his latest hearing in Istanbul on April 15, Erol Önderoğlu, the Turkey representative for Reporters Without Borders and editor of the independent news website Bianet, asked to be acquitted, Bianet reported. Önderoğlu, who is on trial for his participation in the solidarity campaign with the shuttered daily Özgür Gündem, told the court, "I think that this case is an example of the pressures exerted on human rights defenders and journalists, which have become prevalent in Turkey. Our concern is not personal. We are concerned that the understanding of democracy and justice in society will come to harm in this way." The trial is due to continue on July 17.

Police question columnist over tweets

Police went to the Istanbul home of Mustafa Sönmez, a columnist and economist, at around 3:50 a.m. local time on April 14, to take the journalist to the station for questioning, Bloomberg reported in English. Sönmez was questioned about his tweets and then released, the report said. "They took my deposition at the police headquarters and then put me under custody. They had a file of about 20 of my recent tweets. I told them what I did constituted criticism, not insult," Sönmez told Bloomberg. "They could've invited me to testify, and I'd have obeyed."

Erdoğan lashes out at Financial Times

In a speech on April 18, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan lashed out at an article in the British daily, the Financial Times, about the Treasury's foreign currency reserves, The Associated Press reported. Erdoğan argued that the economy was strong and said, "Oh Financial Times! What do you know about Turkey, which hosts 4 million refugees? How many refugees are there in your country?"


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