Turkish gov’t secretly investigated family members of critical journalists in Turkey

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Photo by G. Crescoli (Unsplash)

The Turkish government secretly investigated the family members of journalists critical of the government including their spouses and children, a document obtained by Nordic Monitor has revealed.

The secret document dated Jan. 24, 2017 reveals that a Turkish prosecutor ordered the police to investigate the parents, spouses and children of 19 critical journalists including top reporters who are currently in jail. The order was sent to the police on Dec. 19, 2016 by prosecutor Can Tuncay, who requested information be gathered on the close relatives of journalists by the Anti-Smuggling and Organized Crime Department of the Turkish National Police (KOM). The document was signed by Deputy Chief of Police Burhan Akçay of KOM.

Among the targeted journalists were Ekrem Dumanlı, former editor-in-chief of Turkey’s one-time best-selling Zaman newspaper who was forced to live in exile in the United States, and Nazlı Ilıcak, a veteran 75-year-old journalist who has been jailed since Aug. 29, 2016 on trumped up charges and was sentenced to life in prison without the chance of parole on Feb. 16, 2018 on charges of attempting to overthrow the government. Family members of prominent novelist and journalist Ahmet Hüsrev Altan and his brother, Mehmet Hasan Altan, an economics professor and journalist, were also included on the target list. Both brothers were also given aggravated life sentences.

An annual press freedom report released by the Council of Europe (CoE) in early February 2019 stated that the Zaman Media Group, Cumhuriyet daily, Ahmet Altan and Mehmet Altan and Nazlı Ilıcak trials illustrate the almost complete collapse of the rule of law in Turkey and highlight major concerns relating to the role of the judiciary and its independence. The report, titled “Democracy at Risk: Threats and Attacks Against Media Freedom in Europe,” underlined that journalists in Turkey continued to face extraordinary repression in 2018.

According to the document, former Zaman art director Fevzi Yazıcı, a member of the US-based international Society for News Design (SND) and the recipient of numerous SND awards, was also targeted in this witch-hunt aimed at the family members of journalists.

Others listed in the document are investigative journalists Mehmet Baransu, Emrullah Uslu and Tuncay Opçin, Today’s Zaman former Editor-in-Chief Bülent Keneş, Samanyolu TV Washington representative Şemsettin Efe, Zaman daily journalist Abdülkerim Balcı, former Deputy Editor-in-Chief of Zaman Mehmet Kamış, Zaman executive Faruk Kardıç, Zaman brand manager Yakup Şimşek, Zaman Culture and Arts Editor Ali Çolak, Professor Osman Özsoy, academics Şükrü Tuğrul Özşengül and Tibet Murad Sanlıman, and media owner and publisher Alaeddin Kaya.

Police Chief Akçay wrote in his response that the investigation must be kept secret and not shared with any third parties. In a six-page report annexed to the secret document, the communications of the family members of the journalists were investigated and their phone records were analyzed by the investigators. The report shows Dumanlı’s two daughters, Süveyda and Süheyla Cemre, 22 and 19 years old at the time, respectively, were investigated by the police. Keneş’s wife, Özsoy’s son, Şimşek’s daughter, Kaya’s wife and son, Uslu’s wife, Yazıcı’s wife and Balcı’s wife were also investigated by the prosecutor with regard to their banking details, membership in nongovernmental organizations and shares in private companies. Dozens of pages listing the phone records of the journalists who spoke to family members were also annexed to the secret document as if it constituted criminal evidence.

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