Here is Our Three-Month State of Affairs in Press Freedom
2019 First Quarter Media Monitoring Report
Erol Önderoğlu - BIA News Desk 03/05/2019

The March 31 Local Elections have shown that the media sector, 90 percent of which is controlled by the government, and the state channel TRT, which is expected to do public broadcasting, do not hesitate to engage in a worrying “propaganda” when it comes to targeting the opposition parties and the ones who think differently.

The European Parliament has been discussing the suspension of the European Union (EU) accession negotiations with Turkey on the ground that fundamental rights and freedoms are violated in the country.

The BİA Media Monitoring Report shows that 204 journalists and media representatives faced 10 aggravated life sentences, 2 thousand 89 years in prison and 1 million 901 thousand TRY in non-pecuniary damages in total in the period of January-February-March 2019. However, the findings of this report are not limited to these fines and sentences.

This report also manifests that several media organizations ranging from the daily Hürriyet to Yeni Şafak broke their connections with journalists and columnists in “the new process” and several journalists were sentenced to pay damages or judicial fines on a wide variety charges.

That is, during this three-month period, one journalist was sentenced to pay a judicial fine or damages for “espionage”, seven of them for “membership of a terrorist organization”, four of them for “terror propaganda”, three of them for “insulting the President” and three of them for “insult.” One journalist was also convicted for “violation of confidentiality of communication” and one journalist for “violation of confidentiality of investigation.”

Moreover, four newspaper executives were sentenced to pay a judicial fine on the allegation that they violated the Press Law by “reporting on victims under the age of 18” and “not publishing the official refutation properly.”

The Article no. 299 of the Turkish Penal Code (TCK), which started to be implemented for criticisms and allegations about Justice and Development Party (AKP) Chair Recep Tayyip Erdoğan since August 2014, when he was elected President, became the basis of prison sentences, deferred prison sentences or judicial fines given to at least 57 journalists until April 1, 2019.

You can find the following chapters in the BİA Media Monitoring Report: ” killed journalists”, “imprisoned journalists”, “assaults, threats and obstructions”, “impunity / right-seeking”, “investigations, opened-ongoing cases, verdicts”, “insults, personal rights and actions for compensation”, “bans, closures, seizures”, “Constitutional Court”, “ECtHR” and “Radio and Television Supreme Council”.

Imprisoned journalists

106 journalists in Turkey entered April 1 in prison over their journalistic activities or political cases. In the period of January-February-March 2019, several criminal cases were either concluded or came to the stage of conclusion: While 41 of these 106 journalists were convicts, the trials of 30 journalists were still continuing. The case files of 22 journalists were waiting to be examined by the court of appeal. The investigations launched against 13 journalists were also continuing.

64 journalists and media representatives, who had been arrested in operations related with the “Fethullahist Terrorist Organization / Parallel State Structure – FETÖ / PDY” since the State of Emergency was declared on July 20, 2016, were still in prison on April 1, 2019. Two other people who were arrested before this date were also added to the case files of “FETÖ” after the coup attempt on July 15, 2016.

31 of the jailed journalists were either workers of the Kurdish media or were arrested as part of “Kurdish Question”-related investigations.


In the three-month period of January-February-March 2019, nine journalists were taken into custody. Six of these journalists were detained as part of “Kurdish Question”-related investigations.

Steve Sweeney, the Foreign News Editor of the UK-based Morning Star newspaper, was taken into custody while he was trying to enter Turkey to observe local elections. After being detained for a day, he was deported.

In the same period last year, 23 journalists, photojournalists or media workers were taken into custody, 17 of these journalists were detained as part of “Kurdish Question”-related investigations after the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) launched the Operation Olive Branch against Afrin in Syria.

Throughout 2018, 47 journalists in total were taken into custody. 36 of these journalists were detained by Security Directorates or Anti-Terror Branches while following the incidents related to the “Kurdish Question.”


In January-February-March 2019, four journalists were assaulted and one journalist was threatened with death. The majority of these assaults took place in Nevşehir, Konya and Nazilli and targeted local journalists.

In the same period last year, two journalists were attacked, one journalist and two media organizations were threatened. Throughout 2018, at least 19 journalists and one media organization were assaulted.

Moreover, Jamal Khashoggi from Saudi Arabia was killed in the Consulate General of the country in İstanbul, Turkey. During this period, 70 journalists and 4 media organizations were threatened.

Turkish Penal Code and Anti-Terror Law

In January-February-March 2019, 10 journalists and media representatives faced life imprisonment aggravated for 10 times in total on charge of “disrupting the unity of the state.”

During this period, 10 journalists also faced 520 years in prison in total for “espionage” or “acquiring and publishing the confidential documents of the state.” While two of them were acquitted of “espionage”, another journalist was sentenced to 5 years and 10 months in prison on this charge.

60 journalists faced 914 years in prison in total on a series of charges such as “leading a terrorist organization”, “being members of a terrorist organization”, “committing crimes on behalf of the organization as non-members” and “aiding the organization.” While seven of these journalists were sentenced to 33 years, 4 months in prison, two of them were acquitted. Two of the lawsuits were filed in this period.

64 journalists and media workers also faced 486 years in prison in total for “propagandizing for a terrorist organization” or “reporting on the statements of the organization.” While one of these journalists was acquitted, four of them were sentenced to 8 years, 2 months, 29 days in prison.

Five journalists faced 10 years in prison on charge of “defaming state institutions”; four journalists faced 12 years in prison in total for “praising the crime and criminal”; one of these journalists was sentenced to 1 year in prison. While three journalists faced nine years in prison for “inciting to commit crimes”, two other journalists faced six years in prison on charge of “inciting the public to enmity and hatred.” One of these journalists was given a deferred prison sentence of 10 months.

On of the journalists who were tried for “violating the confidentiality of the investigation” was given a deferred prison sentence of 10 months. Another journalist faced 4 years, 6 months in prison for “insulting the memory of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk”; the journalist was acquitted of the offense charged.

Also, six journalists from the Özgür Gündem and Cumhuriyet newspapers were sentenced to a judicial fine of 125 thousand 664 TRY in total for violating the Press Law by “revealing the identity of children under the age of 18” and “not publishing the official refutation properly.” An executive of daily Evrensel also faced 100 thousand TRY in damages on this charge.

Taken together, 163 journalists faced 10 aggravated life sentences and one thousand 973 years and 6 months in prison in total. The lawsuits filed for “insult” and “insulting the President” are not included in this calculation of defendants and sentences.

Defendants of insult and their complainants

In the period of January-February-March 2019, as part of the lawsuits filed for “insult” and “slander”, 27 journalists faced 72 years and 4 months in prison in total; while three journalists tried for “insult” were acquitted, the case filed for “slander” was dropped due to violation of statute of limitations. Pelin Ünker, the former reporter of Cumhuriyet newspaper, was sentenced to 1 year, 1 month in prison and a judicial fine of 8 thousand 660 TRY.

Critical reporting is trying to survive under the threat of “damages” posed by the government and privileged finance circles.

In this period, six journalists and three media organizations faced non-pecuniary damages of 1 million 901 thousand TRY in total for “attack on personal rights” or “insult.” In these lawsuits, two journalists and one media organization were sentenced to pay 30 thousand TRY in damages.

In the first three months of 2018, 30 journalists faced 76 years and months in prison as part of criminal cases filed for “insult.” While one of these journalists was acquitted, four of the lawsuits were filed in this three-month period. Eight journalists also faced 2 million 545 thousand TRY in total in pecuniary or non-pecuniary damages. While the case of one journalist was rejected, six cases were new.

Throughout 2018, while seven journalists were sentenced to 4 years, 9 months and 17 days in prison in total (2 years, 8 months and 15 days deferred) on charge of “insult”, one illustrator and one media organization were given damages of 18 thousand TRY in total.

Insulting President Erdoğan

In the last three months, nine journalists faced a total of 46 years and 8 months in prison because of their views and criticism on President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan; while one of them was acquitted, three were sentenced to pay a fine of 28 thousand Turkish liras. The lawsuit against Ahmet Sever was filed in this three-month period. Perihan Mağden became a convict in both cases.

While six investigations against journalists (Hasan Cemal, Fatih Portakal, Alican Uludağ, Berivan Bila, Nurcan Gökdemir and Deniz Varlı) upon the Turkish Penal Code Article 299 are continuing, one (Levent Gültekin) was concluded with a verdict of non-prosecution. In sum, 16 journalists became defendants or suspects for Erdoğan only in the last three months.

Article 299 of the Turkish Penal Code, which began to be used against publications and thoughts on Erdoğan after he was elected President in August 2014, provided a basis for imprisonment, deferred imprisonment, a pecuniary fine of at least 57 journalists.

In the same period last year, eight journalists were sentenced to a total of 16 years, 7 months, 22 days in prison (3 years, 2 months, 22 days deferred) and pay a fine of 21 thousand liras. Four journalists were acquitted after trial. Ten journalists were facing 46 years, 6 months and 6 days in prison for their articles, views and criticism; lawsuits were filed against three journalists in that period. Besides, investigations against journalist Ahmet Şık, Fatih Polat, the editor-in-chief of the Evrensel newspaper and Alican Uludağ, a reporter at the Cumhuriyet newspaper.

Throughout 2018, at least 20 journalists were sentenced to a total of 38 years, 5 months, 4 days (6 years, 10 months, 12 days deferred) and a judiciary fine of 35 thousand liras.

Two years without Wikipedia

In the three-month period, two broadcast bans were issued; the censorship on Wikipedia continued, one newspaper was pulled off from shelves, one website, one TV program, one advertising movie, one election propaganda video was censored.

Wikipedia, the largest internet encyclopedia in the world, has been banned in Turkey for 23 months on the ground of having content that targets the government of Turkey in a couple of pages!

The same period last year, nine websites, 73 news reports on the Internet, five newspapers, one TV channel, one TV series, one letter, one report was censored. Thirty-five news articles that interpreted Parliamentary Speaker İsmail Kahraman’s official response to a question on child abuse as “advocating child abuse” were among the censored reports.

In 2018, access to at least 2 thousand 950 news reports on the Internet, 77 tweets, 22 Facebook posts, five Facebook videos, 10 websites were blocked; three broadcast bans (one temporary) were issued. Throughout the year, eight newspapers, two TV channels, two letters, one report, one TV series, one interview were censored.

The Constitutional Court

In the January-February-March period, the Constitutional Court ruled that three people’s right to freedom of expression, which is guaranteed by the Constitution, was violated; it did not rule for compensation but 3 thousand 94 liras to be paid as court costs.

While the Constitutional Court has put the cases which are not contradictory to the security policies of the government on its agenda to an extent, it neither said its last word journalists Ahmet Altan and Nazlı Ilıcak who have been arrested for almost three years, nor had a stance against the Cumhuriyet newspaper employees’ imprisonment, as convicts this time.

In this period, the applications by the arrested journalists continued with Salih Turan. Internet censorship is among the areas the Constitutional Court has not touched on for a long time.


In the three-month period, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) sentenced Turkey to pay 43 thousand 60 euros (264 thousand Turkish liras) of compensation on the ground violating Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights in the applications of nine people, with three of them being journalists.

After the coup attempt on July 15, 2016, AİHM began to conclude the cases of journalists which were awaiting judgment on March 20, 2018 (The verdicts on Şahin Alpay and Mehmet Altan). Many journalists who were arrested just after the coup attempt, like Ahmet Altan and Nazlı Ilıcak, expect the ECtHR to examine their complaints on “unjust arrest,” before their sentences are approved.

Struggle against impunity

A lawsuit was filed against seven judges and prosecutors for “misconduct” and “restricting freedom” on the ground of arresting investigative journalist Ahmet Şık in March 2011 because of his draft book ‘İmamın Ordusu’ (the İmam’s Army) through a conspiracy. But the case did not begin after the chamber of the Supreme Court of Appeals to examine the case was changed.

More than ten journalists were attacked by the police and a group of people while they were reporting on the bomb attack against Midyat Security Directorate, which has been left unpenalized for almost three years.

Editor-in-chief of the Evrensel newspaper, Fatih Polat, said that they will file a lawsuit against the website being mentioned as “a media organization under the guidance of the terrorist organization” in a bill of indictment.

Fenerbahçe Sports Club’s former chairperson Aziz Yıldırım was sentenced to pay a judiciary fine for insulting Rasim Ozan kütahyalı. A court acquitted Sedat Peker, known in Turkey as a mafia leader with extreme nationalist affiliations, in a case he was being tried for threatening Habertürk columnist Fatih Altaylı on social media.


The Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTÜK) fined 29 TV channels for the news reports, films and programs they broadcasted, while not any action was taken against radio channels. In total, the Council gave a fine of 1 million 967 thousand 66 liras to TV channels.

Journalists left unemployed

In the three-month period, at least 40 journalists, columnists or editorial office personnel were fired or forced to resign after the editorial transition in the media groups they work for.

Many media organizations with different political tendencies parted their ways with their long-time columnists whom they “cannot adapt to the new political period.”

In this period, Hürriyet’s reader representative for nine years, Faruk Bildirici, Prof. Dr. Teoman Cem Kadıoğlu (Posta), Aydın Ünal (Yeni Şafak), Çağlar Cilara (TV5), Ahmet Taşgetiren (Cemaat Radio), Hüseyin Torun (journalist in Antep) were either fired or the programs they made were canceled.

In the same period last year, ten journalists or media employees were fired for forced to resign. This number was 157 for the whole year.

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