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Advocacy group launches campaign for release of jailed journalist Avcı

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Jailed Journos, an independent organization aiming to help imprisoned press members in Turkey make their stories heard, has announced that it will be launching a campaign on Saturday for the release of jailed journalist Gültekin Avcı.

Jailed Journos asked people in a Twitter message to send their “messages, pictures and drawings” to show their support for the journalist, who is serving a life sentence on politically motivated charges.

“Be a voice for Avcı. Tell him he is not alone,” the group said.

Avcı, who in addition to his career as a writer and journalist, is also an attorney at law, is no stranger to the courthouse. He continues to grapple with a multitude of lawsuits over his publications and social media commentary, mostly filed by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. In the 1990s and early 2000s, when Turkey’s military exercised considerable influence over politics, Avcı had faced a number of investigations due to his articles and books criticizing the army’s pressure on democracy. His stance on Erdoğan’s increasing authoritarianism after 2010, however, would result in much more serious repercussions for him.

What truly brought Erdoğan’s wrath upon Avcı was when he served as an attorney for Hidayet Karaca, a TV executive at the now-shuttered Samanyolu Medya Grup who was arrested in December 2014 over the script of a TV show. During his defense of Karaca, Avcı described Turkey’s courts as the ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) inquisition and said the judgments they delivered, including the ruling for his client Karaca’s arrest, had come from Erdoğan’s palace.

Following these allegations, Avcı became a direct target, and he himself was arrested in September 2015. He was briefly released eight months later, in June 2016, only to be rearrested in August 2016. His second release in September 2019 only lasted a day. One of the trials he faced was concluded on Dec. 17, 2020, and he was sentenced to aggravated life plus 44 years in prison. After the verdict, Avcı was put in a one-person cell where he is expected to spend the rest of his life.

The sentence was handed down to him over an article published in the now-closed Bugün newspaper about Iranian espionage in Turkey. Avcı had written that an Iran-backed spy network named Tawhid-Salam had penetrated highest levels of the Turkish government through a number of methods of subterfuge including the use of sex to entrap targeted officials.

Turkey, which is among top jailers of journalists in the world, was ranked 153rd out of 180 countries in the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) 2021 World Press Freedom Index published in April.

According to the Stockholm Center for Freedom’s “Jailed and Wanted Journalists in Turkey” database, 174 journalists are behind bars in Turkey and 167 are wanted and either in exile or at large. The database was last updated on April 14, 2021.

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