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ECtHR yet to deliver judgment on Turkish TV executive imprisoned for 6 years

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Cevheri Güven

Hidayet Karaca, a former Turkish TV executive locked up over the content of two fictional TV series, has completed his sixth year behind bars. The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has failed to deliver a verdict on Karaca’s application, which has been pending before the court for five years. Serving an aggravated life sentence, Karaca has spent the last four years in a one-person cell.

Arrested on Dec. 14, 2014, Karaca is incarcerated in Silivri Prison, notorious for its large number of political prisoners. The Samanyolu Media Group, which under Karaca’s watch used to operate 13 TV channels and six radio stations, was shut down in 2016 by the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan as part of a large wave of shutdowns of institutions affiliated with the Gülen movement, which Erdoğan’s government accuses of orchestrating a failed coup in July 2016.

His case pending before the ECtHR for five years

Şule Karaca, the wife of the 57-year-old Hidayet Karaca, is worried about the state of her husband’s health. An application filed with the ECtHR for arbitrary detention has still not been concluded after five years.

Lawyer Nurullah Albayrak, who is representing Karaca at the ECtHR, criticized the court’s failure to finalize the case and said he is afraid that it has a discriminatory stance vis-à-vis the case.

“We first appealed to the Constitutional Court, then to the ECtHR for unlawful detention. The procedure by which the ECtHR receives the opinion of the Turkish government and other parties involved in the case was concluded two years ago,” Albayrak said.

“In practice, the ECtHR delivers its judgment shortly after receiving the opinions of the parties. However, for some incomprehensible reason, the court has not announced a ruling for Hidayet Karaca.”

“Given the court’s significance in the defense and promotion of human rights, I don’t want to think that it has acted in a discriminatory way, but such a long delay leads one to think that. The lack of a judgment after five years leads to the belief that Turkey has been exerting political pressure that has impacted the ECtHR,” Albayrak said. “I hope that isn’t true.”

‘Karaca has been held in a cell for four years’

Engin Sağ, president of the International Journalists Association (IJA), said the grounds for Karaca’s detention was a threat to all TV executives as it implies that the authorities can arrest any executive or media staff on account of a script.

“With his successful management, Hidayet Karaca built Samanyolu into an international media corporation with 13 TV channels and six radio stations, broadcasting in four languages. His arrest was based on a fictional TV series, which can only be called absurd,” Sağ said.

“With a charge like that, any TV executive can be arrested. The suggestion that the scenario was a way of secretly communicating with other members of the Gülen movement is, in this age of communications, nothing but nonsense.”

“For the past four years, Karaca has been held alone in a cell. His lawyers, even Samanyolu TV viewers who protested his detention, were arrested. For a while, there were no lawyers to represent him. His son, who was in law school at the time of his arrest, has graduated and is now representing his father.”

“Karaca has had many health problems in prison. As the IJA, we have filed appeals with the ECtHR about his unlawful detention.”

Scenarios of two TV series grounds for imprisonment

Turkish TV series “Şefkat Tepe” (Compassion Hill)  and “Tek Türkiye” (Unitary Turkey) were two shows that used to rank among the top five in terms of viewership. According to the prosecutors, Karaca received instructions about the series’ scenarios from Fethullah Gülen, the inspiration for the Gülen movement.

The prosecutors alleged that a fictional criminal network in “Tek Türkiye” corresponds to a real-life religious group led by Mehmet Doğan, who is referred to by his followers as “Mullah Mohammed.” Doğan, who is known for openly praising al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, had been under arrest. The prosecutors in Karaca’s case alleged that the fiction in the show had paved the way for Doğan’s detention.

In his defense Karaca denied that he received instructions from Gülen about the scenario and stressed that the producer had included a disclaimer in the credits that the events portrayed in the show were not based on real people or events.

“I named neither the producer, nor the director, nor the screenwriter of the series. Hundreds of series are made in the TV industry every week, featuring hundreds of conspiracy theories. In these shows, states get overthrown, states are established, murders are committed and gangs are brought down,” Karaca said.

“If such investigations come out of fictional productions, it will bring about the destruction of the industry. Some US series have schemes involving infiltration into Russia or other countries and toppling foreign governments. I wonder if any of those ever became the subject of a terrorism-related investigation.”

In June 2018 Karaca’s trial ended after four years of pre-trial detention, and he was sentenced to aggravated life in prison.

At the helm of channels critical of the government

Fethullah Gülen, who lives in the US in self-imposed exile, has been Erdoğan’s number one foe since 2012. Erdoğan’s government first shut down Gülen-affiliated educational institutions, and then Samanyolu, which was led by Karaca.

Up until it was shut down, Samanyolu was one of the most government-critical media groups. Its TV channels were removed from the state-owned Türksat satellite after Karaca’s arrest. The group was ultimately dismantled by a decree-law in 2016.

Karaca in his defense argued that his arrest and prosecution were politically motivated and that they were being punished for their opposition. According to Karaca, the charges leveled against him were “even more fictional than the series.”

Dumanlı: The arrest was ordered by Erdoğan

Karaca’s colleagues held a YouTube event on the occasion of the sixth year of his detention. In the broadcast hosted by the Raindrops channel, one of the participants was journalist Ekrem Dumanlı, who was detained along with Karaca.

Dumanlı said his and Karaca’s detention were carried out upon the direct instructions of Erdoğan, citing a judge who was on the bench at the time. Dumanlı claimed that Karaca’s arrest on Dec. 14, 2014, constituted a milestone for Erdoğan’s crackdown on media independence.

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