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Turkey Crackdown Chronicle: Week of March 26, 2017

Abdullah Kılıç, courtesy of the Kılıç family

Istanbul court orders release, pending trial, of at least 19 journalists
Istanbul's 25th Court for Serious Crimes today ordered the release, pending trial, of at least 19 journalists imprisoned in direct relation for their work following the July 2016 failed military coup, according to news reports. The court did not drop any charges against the journalists, who had been imprisoned awaiting trial for roughly eight months. They will now be required to check in with local police and are still banned from foreign travel. The journalists released by Istanbul's 25th Court for Serious Crimes today, and their outlets, are:

  • Abdullah Kılıç (Meydan)
  • Ahmet Memiş (Haberdar/Rotahaber)
  • Ali Akkuş (Zaman)
  • Atilla Taş (Meydan)
  • Bayram Kaya (Yeni Hayat)
  • Bünyamin Köseli (Aksiyon)
  • Cemal Azmi Kalyoncu (Aksiyon)
  • Cihan Acar (Bugün)
  • Cuma Ulus (Millet)
  • Habip Güler (Zaman)
  • Halil İbrahim Balta (Zaman, Yarına Bakış)
  • Hanım Büşra Erdal (Zaman, Yeni Hayat)
  • Hüseyin Aydın (Cihan News Agency)
  • Muhammet Sait Kuloğlu (SubuoHaber.com)
  • Murat Aksoy (Yeni Hayat)
  • Mustafa Erkan Acar (Cihan News Agency)
  • Oğuz Usluer (Habertürk)
  • Yakup Çetin (Zaman)
  • Yetkin Yıldız (AktifHaber.com)

Court orders six journalists released pending trial
A court in the Turkey's southern Mediterranean city of Antalya today ordered six journalists accused of being followers of exiled preacher Fethullah Gülen--whom the government accuses of maintaining a terrorist organization and parallel state structure (FETÖ/PDY) within Turkey that it says masterminded a failed military coup in July 2016--released pending the conclusion of their trial, the local news website Antalya Körfez reported yesterday.

According to that report, the court released former Zaman newspaper reporters Tuncer Çetinkaya, Kenan Baş, and Ömer Özdemir; former Cihan News Agency and Zaman reporter Cihat Ünal; former Cihan News Agency reporter Serhat Şeftali; and Olgun Matur, owner of the news website Bizim Antalya. A local politician and his son were also released pending trial.

All those released are on probation and are banned from foreign travel until their trial concludes. The trial is scheduled to begin April 11, according to media reports.

Of the 22 defendants in the trial, 11 have been imprisoned pending trial since July 2016.

Columnist acquitted of terrorism charges
Istanbul's 24th Court for Serious Crimes today acquitted veteran journalist Hasan Cemal, now a columnist for the news website T24, of the charge of "propagandizing for a [terrorist] organization" in a series of articles he wrote about the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) in 2013, T24 reported today. The court took into account that the political climate was different in 2013, when the government was still in peace talks with the PKK.

Reporter jailed in eastern Turkey pending terrorism trial
A night court in Turkey's eastern city of Van ordered Dihaber reporter Selman Keleş jailed pending trial on charges of "being a member of a [terrorist] organization" in the early hours of this morning, his employer reported. Keleş has been in custody since March 20.

Newspaper editor joins dozens of Kurdish prisoners in hunger strike
İnan Kızılkaya, who faces multiple life sentences in more than 100 terrorism trials for the coverage of the shuttered newspaper Özgür Gündem during the time he was the newspaper's responsible news editor, is among dozens of ethnic Kurdish prisoners--including Selahattin Demirtaş, the co-chair of the legal, pro-Kurdish, opposition Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP)--in launching a hunger strike to protest their continued imprisonment, the news website Özgürüz reported today. The hunger strikes have continued for a month prisons across Turkey, and are spreading, according to news reports. Those on hunger strike are demanding an end to the isolation of Abdullah Öcalan, the leader of the outlawed PKK, and his fellow prisoners, for the resumption of peace talks, an end to alleged human rights violations in prisons, and an end to the demolition of ethnic-Kurdish villages.

[March 31, 2017]

Eight journalists at official news agency investigated for terrorism
Security officers are investigating eight reporters from the state Anadolu News Agency on suspicion they are followers of exiled preacher Fethullah Gülen, whom the government accuses of maintaining a terrorist organization and "parallel state structure" (FETÖ, as the government calls it) in Turkey it blames for the failed July 2016 military coup, according to media reports. The İhlas News Agency (İHA) reported that the journalists were suspected of being FETÖ members for having the Bylock application, which investigators say FETÖ members use in an effort to communicate privately. Police detained the eight Anadolu reporters--identified in press reports only by their initials SP, İY, YD, TK, AD, YK, AK and HÖ--for questioning, but released some after interrogation, reports said, without elaborating.

Official news agency reporter files 'terrorism' charges against investigative journalist
A journalist at the official Anadolu News Agency filed a criminal complaint against award-winning Cumhuriyet newspaper investigative journalist Ahmet Şık accusing him of "propagandizing for a [terrorist] organization" and "threatening the state" in his social media posts, Cumhuriyet reported yesterday. Şık was jailed in December 2016 on similar charges, CPJ reported at the time.

Cumhuriyet reporter Kemal Göktaş saw the complaint, tried to reach the reporter, whom Cumhuriyet identified only by the initials KK, but the government news agency reporter did not offer a comment.

Jailed Die Welt correspondent appeals to Constitutional Court
Lawyers for Deniz Yücel, Turkey correspondent for the German newspaper Die Welt, having exhausted their appeals before Istanbul courts, appealed to the Constitutional Court to release their client, Cumhuriyet reported yesterday.

Lawyers argue that their client's imprisonment violates his constitutional rights to physical integrity, personal freedom, a fair trial, presumption of innocence, freedom of communication, and freedom of speech.

Constitutional Court overturns libel conviction
Turkey's Constitutional Court overturned a lower court's 2014 conviction of Orhan Pala, editor of the financial news website Borsa Gündem, on charges of libel, the court said in a press release announcing the verdict yesterday.

Pala had been sentenced to two suspended sentences of two months and 27 days each for a 2012 report on the pasts of two businessmen who brought criminal libel complaints against Pala. Borsa Gündem's lawyers had produced documents to support the allegations in the article and had told the lower court that the businessmen escaped fraud charges by virtue of the statute of limitations only.

The Constitutional Court found that the lower court had not taken into account exculpating evidence and ruled that a prison sentence for a press crime contradicts constitutional guarantees of free speech and freedom of the press.

[March 30, 2017]

Actress, director convicted of terrorism charges after showing solidarity with newspaper
Istanbul's 22nd Court for Serious Crimes yesterday sentenced actress Jülide Kural and writer and director İlham Batır to 15 months in prison on charges of "propagandizing for a terrorist organization" in connection with their participation in a campaign that saw dozens of prominent Turkish journalists, intellectuals, and celebrities act as the co-editor of Özgür Gündem for a day to protest authorities' relentless judicial harassment of the newspaper, Bianet reported. The court suspended both sentences on condition the offense was not repeated. Kural was also fined for 6,000 Turkish lira (US $1,647) for "publishing the statements of a [terrorist] organization."

Journalist detained in eastern Turkey
Police in Turkey's eastern province of Van today detained Nişmiye Güler, a reporter for the pro-Kurdish news website Gazete Sujin, as she was researching a story, her employer reported. Police said she was wanted for a testimony and took her to the police station of Van's Gevaş District, the report said, without elaborating.

Trial of 29 journalists continues in Istanbul
Istanbul's 25th Court for Serious Crimes today heard testimony for the third day in the trial of 29 journalists accused of being followers of exiled preacher Fethullah Gülen, whom the government accuses of maintaining a terrorist organization and parallel state structure that it claims orchestrated a failed military coup in July 2016. The court was in session at the time of publication.

CPJ attended the second day of hearings yesterday. In that session, Emre Soncan, a former reporter for the shuttered newspaper Zaman; Cuma Ulus, a former reporter for the shuttered daily Millet; Gökçe Fırat Çulhaoğlu, a politician and the editor of Türksolu magazine; Habip Güler, a former reporter for Zaman; Halil İbrahim Balta, a former reporter for the daily newspapers Zaman and Yarına Bakış; Hanım Büşra Erdal, a former reporter for the daily newspapers Zaman and Yeni Hayat testified. All denied all charges against them and petitioned to be released pending the conclusion of the trial.

Writer and journalist detained in Ankara
Police in Ankara yesterday detained writer and journalist Rojin Akın, the daily newspaper Evrensel reported. Prosecutors asked that she be jailed pending trial on terrorism charges for her interviews, photographs, and social media posts on Rojava, a predominantly ethnic-Kurdish region of Syria now governed by the Democratic Union Party (PYD). The court instead ordered her released on probation, according to a later report from the Etkin News Agency (ETHA).

[March 29, 2017]

Court bans reporting on labor strike
Istanbul's First Court for Penal Peace today banned reporting on a planned labor strike of employees of Akbank, one of Turkey's largest private banks, the leftist news website sendika.org reported today. The government ordered Akbank employees to postpone their strike for 60 days, the newspaper Hürriyet Daily News reported on March 21.

The court banned publication of a newspaper ad published in the pro-government newspaper Sabah by BANKSIS, the trade union representing Akbank employees, and banned similar ads or reporting on the strike until it begins.

Sendika.org reported that the court found that the ad was liable to damage the bank's reputation.

Die Welt correspondent still denied consular visits
Deniz Yücel, the Turkey correspondent for the German newspaper Die Welt who has been jailed since February 14, still has not been allowed access to a German consular official, the Turkish service of Deutsche Welle reported today. Yücel is a dual citizen of Turkey and Germany. In a press conference in Berlin yesterday, a spokesperson for the German Foreign Ministry told reporters that Turkey's refusal to let German consular officials visit the journalist contradicted verbal assurances the Turkish government had given the Germans.

Police confiscate journalists' phones, cameras
Police in the Çorlu district of Turkey's northwestern province of Tekirdağ yesterday briefly detained Bengisu Kömürcü and Pelin Laçin, both reporters for the pro-Kurdish news website Gazete Sujin, their employer reported yesterday. Gazete Sujin reported that police detained the two women after police received a call about their photographing public buildings. Police released them after a few hours, but confiscated their phones and cameras for further inspection, the report said.

Terrorism trial of 29 journalists continues in Istanbul
The trial of 29 journalists and media workers accused of belonging to what the government calls the Fethullah Gülen Terrorist Organization (FETÖ) resumed at Istanbul's 25th Court for Serious Crimes today. The Committee to Protect Journalists attended. Yesterday the court rejected defense lawyers' request for the judge to be replaced because the same judge had ordered the defendants jailed pending trial.

The news websites Bianet and Artı Gerçek reported that Ahmet Memiş, news coordinator for the news website Rotahaber; Abdullah Kılıç, a columnist for Meydan newspaper, formerly with Zaman and Radikal newspapers and Habertürk TV; Atilla Taş, a Meydan columnist and former pop singer; Ali Akkuş, former editor of the newspaper Zaman; and Bayram Kaya, a journalist for Zaman, all denied the terrorism charges against them yesterday and stressed that they did nothing but practice journalism and exercise their right to free speech.

[March 28, 2017]

Trial for 29 journalists begins
The trial of 29 journalists and media workers, including Abdullah Kılıç, began in Istanbul today. Hearings were still in session at the time of publication.

Court jails journalist pending terrorism trial
A court in Turkey's eastern province of Van on March 25 ordered Ayhan Demir, owner of the local Çaldıran News Agency, jailed pending trial on terrorism charges for his post to social media, the news website Dihaber reported. Police arrested Demir on March 20 from his home in the Çaldıran district of Van. The journalist is held in Van Prison, according to the report.

Prosecutors ban reporting police shooting
Prosecutors yesterday banned reporting news regarding police's fatal shooting of a young man during Nowruz celebrations in the Bağlar district of the southeastern Diyarbakır province last week, according to news reports. Authorities first claimed the victim, Kemal Kurkut, was a suicide bomber, but photographs subsequently published on the internet appear to show Kurkut shirtless and surrounded by police before his death. Two police officers suspended following the incident.

[March 27, 2017]

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