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ECtHR faults Turkey for detention of media executive Karaca

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The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has faulted Turkey in the case of Hidayet Karaca, a prominent journalist and the former chief executive of the Samanyolu Media Group who has been behind bars since 2014, the TR724 news website reported on Tuesday.

Karaca, who is incarcerated in Silivri Prison, notorious for its large number of political prisoners, has spent more than eight years in a one-person cell. He used to run the Samanyolu TV network, which aired coverage critical of the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan before his unlawful imprisonment in December 2014, a move that was described by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) as politically motivated. The media group was shut down in 2016 by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) as part of a large wave of shutdowns of institutions affiliated with the Gülen movement, which the government accuses of orchestrating a failed coup in July 2016.

In 2017 Karaca was sentenced by an İstanbul court to more than 31 years’ imprisonment over the scenario of a TV series that was broadcast by Samanyolu TV on charges that include membership in a terrorist organization for his alleged ties to the Gülen movement. In June 2018 the Ankara 4th High Criminal Court handed down an aggravated life sentence to Karaca on charges of attempting to overturn the constitutional order. His sentence was later upheld by the Ankara Regional Court of Justice in November 2020 as part of a case that was launched against 75 people accused of links to the movement. On June 4, 2022 he was sentenced to almost 297 years at the end of a trial initiated by the government.

The ECtHR on Tuesday concluded an application filed by Karaca for his arbitrary detention in 2015, saying that his detention was a violation of his rights.

The Strasbourg court unanimously found a violation of Articles 5 § 1, 5 § 4 and 5 § 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) due to the irregularity of the decisions on Karaca’s pre-trial detention rendered by the justices of the peace whom he had challenged, the lack of sufficient guarantees to ensure that his pre-trial detention was decided by a “tribunal independent and impartial” and the excessive duration of the applicant’s pre-trial detention, respectively.

The court ordered Turkey to pay 12,000 euros to Karaca in non-pecuniary damages in addition to 6,000 euros for costs and expenses.

According to TR724, the ECtHR decision does not address the release of the 60-year-old journalist since it pertains to his initial period of detention, that is, his situation before being convicted.

After having exhausted all domestic remedies regarding the sentence Karaca was given, he and his lawyers filed another application with the ECtHR at the beginning of this year. A request for his release can only be made after the conclusion of that application, TR724 said.

The Turkish president has been targeting followers of the Gülen movement, a faith-based group inspired by Turkish cleric Fethullah Gülen, since the corruption investigations of December 17-25, 2013, which implicated then-prime minister Erdoğan, his family members and his inner circle.

Dismissing the investigations as a Gülenist coup and conspiracy against his government, Erdoğan designated the movement as a terrorist organization and began to target its members. He locked up thousands including many prosecutors, judges and police officers involved in the investigation as well as journalists who reported on it.

Erdoğan intensified the crackdown on the movement following a coup attempt on July 15, 2016 that he accused Gülen of masterminding. Gülen and the movement strongly deny involvement in the abortive putsch or any terrorist activity.

Turkey, one of the world’s top jailers of journalists, is ranked 165th in the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) 2023 World Press Freedom Index, among 180 countries, not far from North Korea, which occupies the bottom of the list.

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