Nineteen international organizations promoting media freedom, human rights and free speech have issued a joint statement condemning what they called the judicial harassment of a Turkish journalist who faces imprisonment for the fifth time.
Their call concerns former Oda TV editor-in-chief Barış Pehlivan, who was ordered by the Turkish Justice Ministry on Aug. 2 to turn himself in at Marmara Prison, formerly known as Silivri Prison, in İstanbul, by Aug. 15.
“Acts of judicial harassment targeting journalists hinder media freedom and people’s right to access information. We call upon the Turkish authorities to reverse the decision to reimprison Pehlivan and end the systematic judicial harassment against him and other journalists. We reiterate our solidarity with the imprisoned journalists. Journalism is not a crime and every minute a journalist spends behind bars is a violation of freedom of expression and media freedom,” the organizations said in their statement.
Due to his coverage of the funeral of a Turkish Intelligence Organization (MİT) officer in Libya, Pehlivan was arrested on March 6, 2020 and taken to court, along with six other journalists, and was sentenced to almost four years in prison on charges of exposing classified intelligence documents.
On May 12, 2020 Turkish authorities postponed the sentences of thousands of inmates due to Covid-19, but a last-minute clause excluded the charges that journalists face, keeping all journalists, including Pehlivan, in prison.
After spending six months behind bars, Pehlivan was released on Sept. 9, 2020 on parole on the condition that he not be the subject of another court case. After his release, Pehlivan commented on the court’s decision, saying, “There is no crime in this case. This case aims to punish our journalism.”
The Turkish Parliament on July 15 enacted a measure drafted by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and its election partner, the far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), regulating parole and probation rules.
According to the regulation, Pehlivan also gained the right to benefit from parole, according to his lawyer.
When Pehlivan’s lawyer filed a request for information on the order that Pehlivan surrender himself, the response indicated that the prison administration had disregarded the relevant clauses of the legislation from July.
Shortly after he co-authored a book titled “SS” (referring to the initials of former minister of interior Süleyman Soylu) in April 2023, Pehlivan was targeted by a then-advisor of Soylu on the grounds that he had ties to organized crime, and another one of his articles became the subject of an insult case. While the trial has not yet begun for the latest case that was launched in April, it is viewed as an attempt to end Pehlivan’s parole.
The statement was signed by organizations such as ARTICLE 19 Europe, Coalition For Women In Journalism (CFWIJ), Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Danish PEN, European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF), International Press Institute (IPI), PEN International and Reporters Without Borders (RSF).
Rights groups routinely accuse the Turkish government of trying to keep the press under control by imprisoning journalists, eliminating media outlets, overseeing the purchase of media brands by pro-government conglomerates and using regulatory authorities to exert financial pressure, especially since President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan survived a failed coup in July 2016.
Turkey 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.