Turkey Crackdown Chronicle: Week of June 26

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Columnist freed pending trial

Istanbul’s 14th Court of Serious Crimes today ordered Cumhuriyet columnist Ahmet Nesin released, pending trial, the pro-Kurdish daily newspaper Özgür Gündem reported. Police on June 20 arrested Nesin, Erol Önderoğlu, Turkey representative for the press freedom group Reporters Without Borders (RSF), and Şebnem Korur Fincancı, an academic, columnist and human rights advocate, on incitement and terrorism charges for articles that appeared in Özgür Gündem on the days each symbolically acted as co-editor of the newspaper for a day to protest authorities’ judicial harassment of the daily.

Since May 3, dozens of people, mostly journalists — but also including academics, activists, and an actress — have joined the campaign to act as co-editor of the newspaper as a show of solidarity.

Önderoğlu and Fincancı, whose cases are being heard in a different court, visited the Istanbul offices of Özgür Gündem following their release yesterday, the leftist newspaper Evrensel reported.

Önderoğlu and Fincancı were joined by lawyer Eren Keskin, who was formerly the co-editor of the newspaper, and Ahmet Birsi, a former general coordinator of the newspaper, at the press conference held at the newspaper’s offices.

Birsi told reporters yesterday that Özgür Gündem and its staff are defendants in 149 individual trials for allegedly violating Turkey’s vague Anti-Terrorism Law, as well as 27 trials for violating article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code, which makes it a crime to insult Turkey, the Turkish nation, or the Turkish state.

Fincancı said their imprisonment was unacceptable, but added, “This situation turned into a situation that made us happy inside because we witnessed solidarity growing in waves,” recalling the 108 people who signed up for the campaign following the arrest of the three.

Önderoğlu said RSF has advocated on behalf of journalists from across the political spectrum since he began working for the group, a policy it had continued after the election of the current ruling Justice and Peace Party (AKP).

“We will try to be a part of the solidarity in terms of defending democratic values. Our solidarity will continue through friends who still face [criminal] investigations and [court] cases,” Önderoğlu told reporters.

Özgür Gündem also reported today that the Gölbaşı Court of Penal Peace in Ankara had odered regulators to block access to the newspaper’s website for readers in Turkey.

Police arrest former editor

Police in the Tarsus district of Turkey’s southeastern Mersin Province arrested Arafat Dayan, former news editor of the pro-Kurdish weekly newspaper Demokratik Ulus, according to a report in the daily newspaper Özgür Gündem. Dayan had gone to the Tarsus District Police Station to renew his driver’s license, Özgür Gündem reported, when police found an outstanding warrant for his arrest on charges the newspaper did not specify.

Opposition websites censored

Turkey’s telecommunications regulator, the TİB, blocked access to four websites sympathetic to the Hizmet Movement, followers of Fethullah Gülen, a preacher the government accuses of running a terrorist organization and “parallel state structure” within Turkey from his self-imposed exile in the United States, Daily Yeni Hayat and the pro-Hizmet, English-language website Turkish Minute reported today.

The website of the pro-Hizmet newspaper Yeni Hayat was blocked because of a story it ran following this week’s deadly attack on Turkey’s largest airport saying there could be 150 suicide bombers in Turkey, according to press reports. The daily newspaper Yarına Bakış reported today that regulators had blocked access to its website, and that the TİB did not offer an explanation when newspaper staff asked. The websites Subohaber.com and Onyediyirmibes.com, whose coverage is also sympathetic to the Gülenist movement, likewise wrote on Twitter that regulators had blocked the sites without explanation. CPJ was unable to reach any of the four websites using the country’s largest Internet service provider.

Court orders journalist released

The Second Court of Serious Crimes in the southeastern Turkish city of Mardin yesterday ordered the release of Bilal Güldem, a journalist for the pro-Kurdish Dicle News Agency (DİHA), pending the conclusion of his trial, according to press accounts. Güldem still faces charges of “being a member of a [terrorist] organization” and “propagandizing for a [terrorist] organization.” Police detained him on April 23 in Batman Province while he was on a reporting trip.

Court acquits columnist of ‘insulting the president’ charge

Istanbul’s Second Court of First Instance today acquitted Ender İmrek, a columnist for the socialist daily Evrensel, of charges of insulting the president in a column headlined “Can corruption, thievery, and bribing be kept secret?,” the newspaper reported. In March, Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag told parliament that his ministry had allowed more than 1,845 criminal cases on charges of insulting Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan since Erdoğan became president in 2014, Reuters reported at the time.

[July 1, 2016]

Istanbul court orders release of Reporters Without Borders representative, columnist

Istanbul’s 13th Court of Serious Crimes today ordered Erol Önderoğlu, Turkey representative of the press freedom group Reporters Without Borders (RSF), and Şebnem Korucu Fincancı, a columnist and human rights activist, released from pretrial detention today, according to media reports.

The court also approved indictments against the two on charges of “propagandizing for [terrorist] organization,” and ordered them released, pending trial, according to the news website Bianet. The two were arrested on June 20, alongside Cumhuriyet columnist Ahmet Nesin, for having participated in a campaign to protest authorities’ judicial harassment of the pro-Kurdish newspaper Özgür Gündem, CPJ reported at the time. It was not immediately apparent whether Nesin would also be released.

The three are among 16 people referred to trial for their participation in the campaign, Özgür Gündem’s lawyer, Özcan Kılıç, told CPJ.

Since May, dozens of people — mostly journalists, but also human rights activists, professors, and an actress — have taken turns symbolically acting as co-editor of the newspaper to protest the regularity with which prosecutors bring charges against the newspaper’s staff for its reporting on the conflict between ethnic-Kurdish youth and security forces in the southeast of the country.

[June 30, 2016]

Turkey blocks social media after Istanbul airport attack

As has become standard practice following bomb attacks in Turkey, regulators on Tuesday issued a partial ban on reporting the bomb attacks at Istanbul’s Atatürk airport, according to media reports. Regulators also temporarily blocked access to the social media websites Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, according to Turkish Minute, an English-language, opposition news website.

At least 41 people were killed and 239 injured in a gun and suicide bomb attack on the airport on Tuesday night, the BBC reported today.

It has become standard practice for Turkish courts to impose a ban on coverage of the investigation, broadcasting footage showing the injured, and spreading materials related to suspects in the investigation following similar attacks. Regulators have also frequently censored social media websites following attacks, though many Turkish Internet users are able to circumvent the censorship.

Internet freedom activists today shared a statement from the İnformation Technologies and Communication Institute (BTK) warning Turkish social-media users that sharing security camera footage of Tuesday’s attack — including those who “retweet” or “repost” such videos — could face legal action. In the statement, the BTK warned social media users against “serv[ing]the means of terrorism.”

Şamil Tayyar, a leading deputy of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), last night told television viewers, “I wish those who criticize the news ban would die in a similar blast.”

[June 29, 2016]

Prosecutors close investigations into eight people following show of solidarity with newspaper

Prosecutor have dropped legal investigations into eight people who participated in a campaign to show solidarity with the pro-Kurdish newspaper Özgür Gündem, according to legal documents the newspaper’s lawyer, Özcan Kılıç, sent to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

Some 55 people, mostly journalists, but also including academics, lawyers, activists, and one actress, have symbolically acted as the newspaper’s co-editor for a day since May 3 to protest authorities’ judicial harassment of the newspaper’s staff, according to Kılıç and reports from the websites P24 and Bianet. Prosecutors in Istanbul have opened criminal investigations into all of them, according to Kılıç and news reports.

The 55 people who have been investigated for participating in the campaign are:

Faruk Eren
Ertuğrul Mavioğlu
Ayşe Düzkan
Erol Önderoğlu
Celalettin Can
Mustafa Sönmez
Melda Onur
Mehmet Fehim Işık
Celal Başlangıç
Eşber Yağmurdereli
Ragıp Duran
Nurcan Baysal,
Ömer Ağın
Ahmet Abakay
İhsan Çaralan
Işın Eliçin
Murat Çelikkan
Uğur Karataş
Öncü Akgül
Ayşe Batumlu
Sebahat Tuncel
Hakki Saruhan Oluç
Nadire Mater
Beyza Üstün
Mehmet Güç
Tuğrul Eryılmaz
Faruk Balıkçı
Şeyhmus Diken
Necmiye Alpay
Jülide Kural
Yıldırım Türker
Ahmet Nesin
Kemal Can
Şebnem Korur Fincancı
Hasip Kaplan
Nevin Erdemir
Tuğrul Eryılmaz
Hakkı Boltan
Cengiz Baysoy
Kumru Başer
Veysi Altay
Hasan Hayri Şanlı
Hasan Cemal
Dicle Anter
Çilem Küçükkeleş
Said Sefaoğlu
Aydın Engin
İhsan Eliaçık
İmam Canpola
Said Sefa
Deniz Türkali
Alevi Piri
Hasan Hayri Şanlı
Çilem Küçükkeleş
Dicle Anter

Authorities have referred 16 people to trial on charges of propagandizing for a terrorist organization — the banned Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) – and “praising a crime,” according to documents Kılıç sent CPJ:

Faruk Eren
Ayşe Düzkan
Ertuğrul Mavioğlu
Hakkı Saruhan Oluç
Celal Başlangıç
Mehmet Fehim Işık
Ragıp Duran
Murat Çelikkan
İhsan Çaralan
Kemal Can
Öncü Akgül
Emine Beyza Üstün
Celalettin Can
Erol Önderoğlu
Şebnem Korur Fincancı
Ahmet Nesin

A court on June 20 ordered Önderoğlu, Fincancı, and Nesin detained pending trial.

As of June 27, prosecutors had dropped investigations into eight others who had participated in the campaign:

Mustafa Sönmez
Hasip Kaplan
Ahmet Abakay
Nurcan Baysal
Eşber Yağmurdereli
Melda Onur
Işın Eliçin
İhsan Eliaçık

The campaign in support of the newspaper continues, according to press reports.

[June 28, 2016]

Court orders journalists detained pending trial

Mardin’s Second Court of Serious Crimes on Friday refused petitions from two reporters for the pro-Kurdish Dicle News Agency (DİHA) to be released from jail pending trial, DİHA reported. Police in on April 11 arrested Meltem Oktay and Uğur Akgül from their homes in early-morning raids, allegedly beating the two in the process, CPJ reported at the time. Oktay faces charges of “being a member of a [terrorist] organization” and “making propaganda for a [terrorist] organization,” based on her journalistic work and posts to Facebook. Akgül is charged with “making propaganda for a [terrorist] organization” only, based on her posts to Facebook, the journalists’ employer reported.

DİHA reported that at least one of the witnesses who had testified against Oktay recanted his testimony today, saying it had been extracted under torture. Both journalists denied any ties to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, which Turkey classes as a terrorist organization, their employer reported.

The journalists’ trials are scheduled to begin individually on August 18, according to DİHA.

Four more journalists interrogated following show of solidarity with newspaper

Prosecutors called four journalists who had symbolically acted as co-editor of the pro-Kurdish daily Özgür Gündem for a day to protest authorities’ persistent judicial harassment of the newspaper’s staff to testify at Istanbul’s Çağlayan Courthouse today, according to media reports and videos posted to social media. Journalists Nadire Mater, Yıldırım Türker, Tuğrul Eryılmaz, Faruk Balıkçı, and Veysi Altay are suspected of terrorism charges in connection with the newspaper’s coverage on the days they acted as co-editor, the website Bianet reported.

Prosecutors have opened criminal investigations into at least 41 journalists who have taken turns adding their names to the masthead of the newspaper for a day since the campaign began in May, according to press reports. On June 20, an Istanbul court ordered the pretrial detention of Erol Önderoğlu, Turkey representative for the press freedom group Reporters Without Borders, Şebnem Korur Fincancı, a rights activist and columnist for the left-leaning Evrensel newspaper, and Ahmet Nesin, a contributor to the opposition Cumhuriyet newspaper, CPJ reported at the time.

[June 27, 2016]

*The original version of this article was published on CPJ website on June 20, 2016.

Turkey Crackdown Chronicle: Week of June 26

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