3 Months of Press Freedom: The Situation is Very Dire
2017 First Quarter Media Monitoring Report
Erol Önderoğlu - BIA News Desk 02/05/2017

The governance under the State of Emergency, which has been introduced following the July 15 coup attempt and will soon be in force for one year, has pretty much damaged the ties with the European Union.

Especially Die Welt Correspondent Deniz Yücel being kept under harsh isolation conditions like tens of journalists has caused tension between Turkey and Germany. While the Constitutional Court (AYM) has slurred over the applications of approximately 20 journalists including Şahin Alpay, Nazlı Ilıcak, Murat Aksoy, Atilla Taş, Kadri Gürsel, Murat Sabuncu, Musa Kart, and Turhan Günay, their applications were considered “subject to priority examination” by the European Court of Human Rights on the other hand.

Following interventions by the government during the 15-year of EU reform process, the judiciary now being handed over to Statutory Decrees under the State of Emergency has faced heavy criticism by the Venice Committee within the Council of Europe after memorandum of Nils Muiznieks, the Commissioner for Human Rights of the council.

As Turkey is becoming the “World’s biggest prison for journalists”, it is also listed among the countries which have asked internet providers for censoring certain content most often. The crime of “Defaming the President” under Article 299 of the Turkish Criminal Code which began to be applied in criticism cases since Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was elected President in August 2014 has led to 35 people 19 of whom were journalists to be sentenced to 35 years and 12 days in prison in total (15 years, 1 month and 20 days deferred) as well as to 16,135 Euros punitive fine.

The BİA Media Monitoring Report January-February-March 2017 issued on the eve of the World Press Freedom Day on May 3, demonstrates how the government prompted private and public media outlets to broadcast one-sided content ahead of the referendum on April 16, and sentenced 13 of the 41 journalists standing trial for their symbolic support of the solidarity campaign with the Özgür Gündem daily to 11 years and 10 days in prison as well as to 13,000-euro fine under the Turkish Criminal Code.

Highlights from the Media Monitoring Report

BİA Media Monitoring Report consists of the chapters of “Murdered journalists”, “Imprisoned journalists”, Assaults, threats and bans”, “investigations, (ongoing) lawsuits, decisions”, “defamation, personal rights and actions for damages”, “prohibitions, closings and contents pulled off the shelf”, “Constitutional Court”, “The European Court of Human Rights” and “Radio and Television Supreme Council”.

During this quarter, the lawsuits brought against the journalists under Turkish Criminal Code, the Anti-Terror Law or both together continue. Journalists and distributors performing their journalistic duties are standing trial on charge of “being a member of an armed organization”, “aiding an illegal organization” or “establishing, promoting or leading an illegal organization”.

Imprisoned journalists: Most of them are from Gülen Community-run Media

118 journalists entered April in prison. 65 of the journalists were from the media outlets owned/administered by Fethullah Gülen community and 33 others were from the Kurdish media.

In addition, 11 journalists, columnists, executives and correspondents of the Cumhuriyet daily are arrested on charges of “aiding or propagandizing for the Fethullahist Terrorist Organization (FETÖ) or the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK)”. 8 journalists are in prison for “being a member of illegal organizations” of Marxist-Leninist Communist Party (MLKP), Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party/Front (DHKP-C), Communist/Leninist Labor Party of Turkey (TKEP/L) and 1 journalist for being a member of the Ergenekon Mersin Organization” and Turkish Revenge Brigade.

16 of these 118 journalists are convicted, 18 of them are still standing trial and 84 others are under investigation. In the same quarter of 2016, 28 journalists 18 of whom were from the Kurdish media. were in prison

38 journalists taken into custody

In the first quarter of 2017, 38 journalists have been taken into custody, 22 of these were detained as part of the FETÖ investigation, 3 others in investigations into the Kurdish media and 1 journalist was from an international media outlet. 13 journalists who were released in the FETÖ trial have again been taken into custody in Silivri Prison as part of an another “coup investigation”.

Hinrich Schultze, a journalist from Germany covering the Newroz celebrations in Diyarbakır was also taken into custody. The reasons for most of the detentions were “affiliations with illegal and armed organizations”.

Last year in the same quarter, 49 journalists and media workers were taken into custody. 1 journalist was taken forcibly to testify and the office of a local newspaper was raided by police. PKK had kidnapped and later released 3 journalists. In the whole year of 2016, 201 journalists and media workers had been taken into custody.

7 journalists and 1 publishing house attacked

In the first quarter of 2017, at least 7 journalists and 1 publishing house has been attacked and 2 journalists were verbally attacked. Besides, 4 media outlets were threatened by pro-goverment circles.

In the same quarter of last year, 1 journalist was killed in a bomb attack in Ankara, 15 journalists and 2 newspapers were attacked, 6 journalists, 1 illustrator and 3 media outlets were threatened. There had been 3 cases of verbal assault.

In 2016, 56 media workers covering news in clash regions were exposed to attacks. In addition, 6 media outlets as well as one journalist from Syria had been killed. 118 journalists and 5 media outlets were threatened.

Intensifying censorship along with the referendum

In the first quarter of 2017, there were at least 3 cases of permanent and 1 temporary broadcast ban, 3 websites were censored, 3 newspapers were banned, 1 book as well as 1 film were banned/blocked, there was 1 case of acreditition discrimination, 1 press card and 1 passport were cancelled and 1 employee from the international media was deported.

In addition, İsmail Saymaz, who was invited to hold a speech on the occupational homicides in Bolu was not provided any conference room, HaberTürk cancelled its invitation to Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) MP Yusuf Hacaloğlu campaining for a “No” vote in the referendum, Hürriyet daily did not publish the interview of Orhan Pamuk saying “No” in the referendum.

In the same quarter of last year, 15 websites, 8 media outlets (6 newspapers, 1 TV, 1 Magazine), 312 URL-based news articles, 200 Twitter accounts, 33 Youtube and 79 Instagram links, 3 books and 1 panel were censored. There were 5 cases of broadcast bans, 2 accredititation discrimination cases and 12 censorship cases.

Arrests of media representatives, closure of the newspapers, magazines, radio and TV channel at which they work, through the Statutory Decrees put into force under the State of Emergency that was declared following the coup attempt in 2016, have brought the rule of law to an end.

As 778 press cards were cancelled in 2016, assets of 54 journalists were seized; 29 gag orders some of which were temporary were issued; 179 media and publication outlets were closed through the Statutory Decrees; passports of 46 journalists were cancelled; 3 accreditation discriminations occurred. Furthermore, 300 Twitter accounts, 33 Youtube and 79 Instagram links, 323 news reports, and 76 websites were censored.

Impunity in murders against the journalists

The trials concerning the murders of intellectual and journalist Musa Anter that started 25 years ago in Diyarbakır, of Hrant Dink 10 years ago in İstanbul, of Cihan Hayırsever seven years ago in Bandırma still continue.

The Umut (Hope) Case concerning the murders of Bahriye Üçok, Muammer Aksoy and Ahmet Taner Kışlalı that were committed in the 90s will recommence for convicts Hasan Kılıç, Mehmet Şahin, Yusuf Karakuş, Recep Aydın and Mehmet Ali Tekin after the Constitutional Court’s decision.

“Terror” charges against 220 journalists

In total 532 years and 6 months in prison were demanded for 71 journalists based on the Anti-Terror Law in the period of January-February-March 2017; 19 of them were sentenced to 32 years and 6 months and 27 days in prison. Four of the cases were dropped due to lapse of time, two of them were acquitted.

13 of the 41 journalists, who supported the solidarity protest with “Özgür Gündem”, were sentenced to 11 years and 10 months in prison and fined 50,000 TL on charges of “[illegal] organization propaganda” and/or “publishing [illegal] organization statement”.

129 journalists faced prosecutions demanding 2,047 years and 6 months in prison for “managing or being a member of an illegal organization” or “aiding an illegal organization”. 38 of them were new lawsuits. KCK Press and Oda TV trials reached the decision phase. Three times aggravated life imprisonment and 260 years in prison were demanded for eight journalists.

In total 31 years in prison were demanded for seven journalists on charge of “promoting crime and criminal”; two on charge of “Insulting the Turkish nation”; one on charge of “Insulting religious values”; one on charge of “Violating broadcasting ban”; one on charge of “Insulting Atatürk’s memory”. Two of these journalists were acquitted from the charge of “promoting crime and criminal”.

All penalties demanded for the 220 defendants total three aggravated life imprisonment and 2,871 years in prison. Defamation cases are not included in this total.

Insult: Fine against five journalists

Five journalists received penalty of paying 43,840 TL administrative fine within the scope of defamation cases in the period of January-February-March 2017.

In the same period of the last year, three journalists were sentenced to 10 months in prison deferred and to pay administrative fine of 7,601 TL. As three journalists were acquitted, the criminal suits brought against the seven journalists were continuing; two of them faced new criminal suits. Furthermore, two journalists were fined 14,000 TL in total for attacking personal rights. All the three journalists are tried in cases in which 1,155,000 TL-fine is demanded; a new suit for damages of 40,000 TL was filed against the three journalists.

In the whole 2016, 22 journalists and one website executive were sentenced to 8 years and 2 days in prison and were fined of 99,670 TL in total. Five journalists were sentenced to pay immaterial compensation of 28,000 TL in total. As four journalists were acquitted, cases of the two others were dropped through the Conditional Pardon.

24 people are victimized by Erdoğan

TCK Article No. 299, which was started to be exercised after Erdoğan was elected President in August 2014, has formed a basis for 35 people including 19 journalists to be sentenced to 35 years and 12 days in prison (15 years, 1 day and 20 days of this were deferred) and to pay administrative fine of 62,500 TL.

10 people including two journalists received deferred sentence of 8 years, 11 months and 20 days in prison in total, and to pay fine of 20,500 TL administrative fine through the TCK Article No. 299 only during the period of January-February-March period. As five people including three journalists faced new prosecutions through the TCK 299, four people including three journalists were acquitted, case of one journalist was dropped due to lapse of time, cases of the four continue. It amounts to 24 people who became defendants in cases of insulting Erdoğan.

According to the report prepared by Prof. Dr. Yaman Akdeniz and Assoc. Prof. Dr. Kerem Altıparmak for the Human Rights Joint Platform (İHOP), 2,673 lawsuits were brought over “insulting president” in the last six years. Only 280 of them were acquitted.

Constitutional Court and 18 journalists

The Constitutional Court, whose two members were arrested in the wake of the July 15 coup attempt, has legitimized the TCK 299 concerning “Insulting the president” through its latest decision. The court brought only one verdict with respect to freedom of expression to its agenda during the period of January-February-March 2017; the court which ruled that Borsa Gündem website editor-in-chief Orhan Pala’s freedom of expression was unlawfully violated, therefore, Pala be paid compensation of 2,000 TL, overlooked the applications of at least 18 journalists who are kept in confinement in prisons.

In the same period of last year, the court determined that freedom of expression and communication of two journalists were violated in their individual applications, and ruled that 2,027 TL be paid to them as court costs. The court had rejected the applications of one arrestee and one legist.

During the whole 2016, the Constitutional Court had sentenced the state to pay fine of 4,223 TL in “individual” applications of two journalists, one educator and one worker.

Arrested journalists are prioritized at the ECtHR

The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) ruled that 20 applicants, who were detained due to a petition they submitted demanding education in Kurdish, be paid 199,500 Euros (around 758,100 TL) by Turkey.

The 16 journalists’ cases, which were not put in process by the AYM for months, was taken to the ECtHR. The court ordered “privileged examination” for Ahmet Altan, Mehmet Altan, Şahin Alpay, Nazlı Ilıcak, Murat Aksoy and Atilla Taş.

In the same period of last year, Turkey was sentenced to pay fine of 19,090 Euros by the ECtHR for violating freedom of expression in the case brought by seven people including six journalists.

During the whole 2016, the ECtHR ordered Turkey to pay 27, 590 Euros to 11 people seven of whom were journalists. Sentencing Turkey to pay 2,000 Euros to a journalist due to “false imprisonment” was also on court’s agenda.

RTÜK: Publications are derogatory and contradict with moral values

During the period of January-February-March 2017, the RTÜK imposed 24 fines on TV channels due to their news, movies and shows, and 1 fine on radio channels. TV and radio channels were sentenced to pay administrative fine of 5,101,328 by the RTÜK. The heaviest penalties were imposed over “derogatory broadcasting” and “contradicting with moral values”.

The reason of unemployment is “no”

During the period of January-February-March 2017, six journalists and media workers were fired or forced to quit. One journalist has had to quit his job since his TV program was cancelled. Kanal D news presenter İrfan Değirmenci, who declared on Twitter that he would vote “no” in the constitutional amendment referendum, was fired on the grounds that he “didn’t remain impartial”. Posta daily columnist Hakan Çelenk, who criticized the constitutional amendment on CNN Türk, was fired as well.

In the same period of last year, 174 journalists, columnists or media workers were either fired or forced to quit their job. Nine journalists’ shows and programs were ended, and that two international media representatives were not granted work permit.

In the whole 2016, 2,708 journalists and media workers were either fired or forced to quit. Nevertheless, the TGC had announced that the number of people who were left unemployed following the closure of 179 media and publication outlets through the statutory decrees reached 10,000. (EÖ/TK/DG)

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