Hatice Duman

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Hatice Duman, former owner and news editor of the Turkish socialist weekly Atılım (Leap), has been in custody since 2003. She is the longest-serving prisoner jailed for their journalism in Turkey, according to CPJ research. Duman is serving a life sentence on charges including propaganda and being a member of a banned group. In late 2019, Turkey’s Constitutional Court decided her right to a fair trial had been violated and ordered a retrial, which was ongoing in late 2023. 

Duman was convicted of being a member of the banned Marxist Leninist Communist Party, or MLKP, producing propaganda, and "attempting to change the constitutional order by force." Other charges against her included seizing weapons and forging an official document in relation to her alleged association with MLKP, according to a list of imprisoned journalists provided by the Turkish Justice Ministry in November 2013 at CPJ’s request.

Duman denied all the charges. CPJ found the charges to be unsubstantiated after viewing the available court documents, including the indictment.

As evidence of the membership and propaganda charges, authorities cited Duman’s attendance at MLKP demonstrations and the testimony of confidential witnesses. Duman’s lawyer, Keleş Öztürk, told CPJ that his client was targeted because Atılım had opposed administration policies.

The weapons and forgery charges were mainly pegged to the testimony of Duman’s husband, who later said police had threatened sexual violence against his family if he didn’t testify against his wife, according to reports.

Duman was sentenced to life in prison on all charges on May 4, 2011, according to local press reports. Under Turkish law, a life sentence without parole is about 30 years. On October 15, 2012, the Supreme Court of Appeals approved the life sentence. Duman’s lawyers appealed to Turkey’s Constitutional Court, claiming that the evidence used to convict her was gathered illegally and was not properly investigated, that the statement of a fellow defendant used against her was inadmissible, that a request for legal aid to hire her own lawyer had been refused, that the court that convicted her was not impartial, and that the process had lasted longer than was reasonable, according to CPJ’s review of the court documents.

The Constitutional Court in October 2015 ruled in her favor and sent the case back to Istanbul’s 12th Court for Serious Crimes for a retrial, but the lower court on March 11, 2016, denied its order. Under Turkish law, local courts can resist an appeal court’s order for the retrial, according to the People’s Law Office, a free law clinic in Istanbul that represented Duman.

In April 2016, the lawyers reapplied to the Constitutional Court.

Öztürk told CPJ via messaging app in September 2020 that the Constitutional Court of Turkey reviewed their 2016 application on December 6, 2019, and decided that Duman’s right to a fair trial had been violated. The court decided that Duman should be retried, Öztürk said.

CPJ attended the court hearings in the retrial on December 9, 2022, and March 31, 2023, at the 12th Istanbul Court of Serious Crimes; Duman and other defendants were not brought to court in either hearing and attended via teleconference from prison. The next hearing of the trial was set for 2024.

At the hearings, the court asked eight witnesses to identify the defendants. All but one of the witnesses, some of whom attended via teleconference, said they were unable to identify the defendants because so much time had passed. Duman spoke at that hearing, saying she had nothing to do with the alleged events and should be released pending trial. 

During the March hearing, lawyers for Duman and the other defendants argued for their clients’ release. They asserted that they were no longer convicts since the Constitutional Court ordered a retrial, and the legal limit to detain a defendant who had not been convicted is 10 years. Duman has been held for 20 years. 

A CPJ representative visited Duman at Bakırköy Prison in Istanbul in November 2022. 

Duman said she continued to write for Atılım from prison until 2020 and two of their articles led to an ongoing trial with the charge of “making propaganda for a [terrorist] organization.

The journalist also said she has hypertension and arrhythmia but has access to medication. However, she said that prisoners are transferred to hospitals in handcuffs, and accompanying soldiers insist on entering the doctor’s office during the examination. She added that she has trouble accessing the books, periodicals, and daily newspapers that she wants to read.

Duman said the prison administration confiscated her and her cellmates’ personal belongings two weeks earlier, including the diary she has been keeping for the past 20 years.

CPJ’s email to the Turkish Ministry of Justice on November 1, 2023, did not receive any reply.