A Turkish court ruled on Wednesday to release journalist Pınar Tarlak but continued the pretrial detention of five other staff members during a hearing in the trial of 14 employees of the Kurdish Özgürlükçü Demokrasi newspaper.
The trial started on Wednesday at the İstanbul 23rd High Criminal Court. The 14 media professionals, six of whom are in jail, have been charged with membership in an illegal organization and propagandizing for a terrorist organization.
Özgürlükçü Demokrasi was closed on July 8, 2018, by a government decree under a now-ended state of emergency declared in the aftermath of a coup attempt in Turkey on July 15, 2016.
Among the observers at the hearing were Ayşe Düzkan from the Confederation of Progressive Trade Unions of Turkey’s (DİSK) Press Workers Labor Union, and pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) deputies Ahmet Şık, Züleyha Gülüm and Ali Kenanoğlu.
The court had previously requested lawyers from the İstanbul Bar Association to represent the defendants, but as the 14 people on trial already had their own legal representation, the bar attorneys left at the beginning of the hearing.
Özgürlükçü Demokrasi owner İhsan Yaşar, Editor-in-Chief İshak Yasul, editor Hicran Urun, journalist Tarlak, editor and columnist Mehmet Ali Çelebi and editor Reyhan Hacıoğlu, who are in pretrial detention, and the newspaper’s driver, Ramazan Solak, appeared at the hearing.
The other defendants in the Özgürlükçü Demokrasi trial are Davut Uçar, Ersin Çaksu, Fırat Benli, Günay Aksoy, Önder Elaldı, Mizgin Fendik, Ramazan Sola and Yılmaz Yıldız, all of whom were released on their own recognizance.
The prosecutor demanded that the court rule for the continuation of pretrial detention. However, the court ruled for Tarlak’s release under judicial supervision and a continuation of the imprisonment of the other defendants. The next hearing will be held on Dec. 6.
A press statement was read in front of the courthouse before the hearing. HDP deputies Kenanoğlu, Gülüm and Şık, DİSK’s Press Workers Labor Union, the Journalists’ Union of Turkey (TGS), the Free Journalists Initiative (ÖGI), the Mesopotamia news agency, JİNNEWS and the Mesopotamia Women Journalists Platform were present during the release of the press statement.
Hakkı Boltan from ÖGI read the statement on behalf of the participating organizations. “Our friends from the Özgürlükçü Demokrasi newspaper — İhsan Yaşar, Reyhan Hacıoğlu, Hicran Ürün, Mehmet Ali Çelebi and Pınar Tarlak — have been jailed for six months now,” Boltan said and expressed solidarity with their detained colleagues. He also demanded that the imprisoned journalists be freed.
Turkey is ranked 157th among 180 countries in the 2018 World Press Freedom Index released by Reporters Without Borders (RSF). If Turkey falls two more places, it will make it to the list of countries on the blacklist, which have the poorest record in press freedom.
Turkey is the biggest jailer of journalists in the world. The most recent figures documented by SCF show that 237 journalists and media workers were in jail as of Sept. 6, 2018, most in pretrial detention. Of those in prison 169 were under arrest pending trial while only 68 journalists have been convicted and are serving their time. Detention warrants are outstanding for 147 journalists who are living in exile or remain at large in Turkey.
Detaining tens of thousands of people over alleged links to the Gülen movement, the government also closed down some 200 media outlets, including Kurdish news agencies and newspapers, after the coup attempt in Turkey on July 15, 2016.
(Stockholm Center for Freedom [SCF] with Turkish Minute)