Making Turkey’s 20-year efforts for accession to the EU more difficult with its centralizing and authoritarian moves, the government does not only silence dissident voices, critical journalists and rights defenders by the hand of judiciary, but it also paves the way for anti-democratic functioning of the institutions that it has affiliated with the Presidential Government System.
Having ranked, or rather, plunged and anchored, 157th among 180 countries in the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) World Press Freedom Index, Turkey’s accession negotiations with the EU are officially demanded to be suspended by the European Parliament. Taking the institutions such as the Judiciary, the state channel TRT and state-run Anadolu Agency (AA) under its sphere of influence, the government has also driven them from their autonomous and democratic cores.
While several journalists such as Musa Kart, Önder Çelik, Güray Öz, Mustafa Kemal Güngör, Emre İper, Mümtazer Türköne, Ahmet Altan and Nazlı Ilıcak are behind bars, the government had to announce the Judicial Reform, which is expected to target anti-democratic practices such as systematic arbitrary arrests, though it has not acknowledged their existence.
The April-May-June 2019 BİA Media Monitoring Report has shown that in a period when the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), Constitutional Court and local courts are evading responsibility in fulfilling their positive obligations, 213 journalists and media representatives are facing life sentences aggravated for 10 times, 2 thousand 408 years in prion and non-pecuniary damages of 1 million 885 thousand Turkish Lira (TRY) in total.
The Media Monitoring Report has pointed out that various penal cases have been concluded and some of them are close to be concluded, thereby bringing tens of journalists face to face with prison. The report has also shown that during this three-month period, 27 media representatives were sentenced to 48 years, 1 month and 23 days in prison (11 years and 8 months deferred) and a judicial fine of 7 thousand 066 TRY in total as per the Anti-Terror Law (TMK) and Turkish Penal Code (TCK).
The Article no. 299 of the 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 59 journalists until July 1, 2019.
You can find the following chapters in the BİA Media Monitoring Report: “killed journalists”, “imprisoned journalists”, “assaults, threats”, “impunity”, “investigations and court cases”, “criminal cases and lawsuits for damages on insult-related charges”, “bans, closures, seizures”, “reporting”, Constitutional Court”, “ECtHR”, “Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTÜK)”, and “journalists left unemployed”.
As of July 1, 2019, tens of journalists were behind bars as inmates or convicts over their journalistic or political activities. As part of these lawsuits, the conviction in April-May-June period on charges of “membership of an illegal/terrorist organization” and “propagandizing for a terrorist organization”, with which media representatives are frequently charged, signals that new arrests of journalists are yet to come.
As in the case of Contemporary Journalists Association (ÇGD) Bursa Branch Executive Board member Ozan Kaplanoğlu and daily Yeni Çağ columnist Yavuz Selim Demirağ, this process has once again shown that journalists can as well be imprisoned for “insulting public officials” due to their criticisms and allegations against Erdoğan when he was the Prime Minister.
The regulations foreseen by the Judicial Reform Strategy Document, which was introduced by President Erdoğan and will aim at preventing arbitrary arrests, will only serve the purpose of relieving prisons and detention houses for a limited period of time as long as these regulations do not guarantee freedom of expression and press and people’s right to receive information and as long as such an understanding is not embraced.
This regulation, which has been delayed despite being an urgent need, neither became a remedy for journalist Ayşe Düzkan, who was sentenced to prison and served over four months behind bars as a convict for symbolically working as the “Editor-in-Chief on Watch” for the closed daily Özgür Gündem, nor could it end the ongoing arrest of Hakan Kara, Güray Öz, Musa Kart, Önder Çelik, Mustafa Kemal Güngör and Emre İper, the former daily Cumhuriyet executives and columnists who were convicted in political trials.
The results of the investigation filed upon the complaint of the daily Die Welt reporter Deniz Yücel, who was imprisoned in Turkey for over a year, and, lastly, the Constitutional Court ruling, have fuelled the existing suspicions that complaints about ill treatment in prisons disregarding human dignity are not effectively investigated.
In the period of April-May-June 2019, at least 14 journalists and media workers were taken into custody. Four of these journalists were detained as part of “Kurdish Question”-related investigations.
Economist-journalist Mustafa Sönmez and sendika.org news website editor Ali Ergin Demirhan were detained on the allegation of “insulting the President” and daily Yurt Editor-in-Chief Ali Avcu was detained due to his book entitled “Kırk Katır mı? Yoksa Kırk Satır mı? Bir dönemin Anatomisi”.
Court reporter Canan Coşkun was detained after the judicial fine given to her for her article “Houses at Discount for Judges and Prosecutors” published on Cumhuriyet was upheld; journalist Nurcan Baysal for having attended a meeting of Democratic Society Congress (DTK); journalist Zeynep Kuray while she was reporting on the protests staged in the Egyptian Bazaar to raise concerns over hunger strikes; and Mezopotamya Agency reporter İrfan Tunççelik was detained while following Peace Mothers’ protest in front of Bakırköy Prison. Throughout 2018, 47 journalists in total were detained.
In the three-month period of April-May-June 2019, at least 10 journalists were physically assaulted. These attacks, which were launched in the period following March 31 Local Elections and mostly targeted the ones critical of the People’s Alliance partners AKP and Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), came as no surprise and they were not met with any calming statements or actions on the part of government circles.
While journalists such as Sabahattin Önkibar, Hakan Denizli, Ergin Çevik, İdris Özyol, Mehmet Eren and Yavuz Selim Demirağ became the target of tense climate of local elections, news director of Yeni Akit, whose high words about generals were reported in the news, was battered in front of his house.
Chasing after news in the district of Bodrum in Muğla, Cenker Tezel from the daily Hürriyet, TV 100 reporter Metehan Ekşi and Habertürk Bloomberg TV reporter Onur Aydın came back from the dead as a speedboat owned by a hotel hit their boat on purpose.
Throughout 2018, 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.
In this period, 10 journalists and media representatives faced life imprisonment aggravated for 10 times in total for “disrupting the unity of the state” due to their professional or political activities. During this period, eight of these journalists also faced 450 years in prison in total for “espionage” or “acquiring and publishing the confidential documents of the state”.
In this period, 88 journalists faced 1,341 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.” Accordingly, four journalists were sentenced to 13 years, 1 month, 15 days in prison in total. While two lawsuits were filed in this period, two trials ended in acquittal.
In the period of April-May-June 2019, 70 journalists and media workers also faced 493 years in prison in total for “propagandizing for a terrorist organization” or “reporting on the statements of the organization”, one of the lawsuits was filed in this period. Accordingly, while eight of these journalists/media workers have been acquitted, 20 journalists/media workers have been sentenced to 32 years, 9 months, 2 days in prison in total (11 years, 8 months deferred) and a judicial fine of 3 thousand 600 TRY in total.
In the same period, four journalists faced eight years in prison on charge of “defaming state institutions”; three journalists faced nine years in prison in total for “praising the crime and criminal”.
While three journalists faced nine years in prison for “inciting to commit crime”, two journalists faced six years for “inciting the public to enmity and hatred” and one journalist was investigated on the same charge. While two journalists are facing six years in prison for “violating the confidentiality of the investigation”, one journalist is facing 12 years in prison for “sharing information with the public that needs to remain confidential”.
In the recent period, which shows that economy reporting has started to face with pressures, it has been understood that five journalists will face 25 years in prison in total on the allegation that they opposed the Capital Market Law.
Another journalists has also been facing 3 years in prison and a judicial fine equal to 2 thousand days for allegedly violating the Law of Banking in an article that he or she penned.
On all of the above charges, 197 journalists faced 10 aggravated life sentences and 2 thousand 362 years in prison in prison.
The trials of “insult” and “insulting the President” are not included in this calculation of defendants and penalties. When they are included, the number of defendants increases to 213.
Six journalists stood trial for “insult” and “defamation,” facing a total of 14 years in prison in the April-May-June period.
One of the journalists stood trial for “defamation” was acquitted, one other was sentenced to pay a fine of 3,466 Turkish liras.
Ozan Kaplanoğlu from the ÇGD and Yavuz Selim Demirağ, a columnist from the Yeniçağ newspaper went to prison for “insulting Erdoğan for his public duty” at the time when he was the prime minister. They were later released.
Three journalists and one media organization faced a total of 1 million 885 thousand liras of non-pecuniary damages.
A 50 thousand-lira part these lawsuits for damages was rejected by a local court, a 10-thousand-lira part was overturned by the Supreme Court of Appeals Law Chamber. In a lawsuit worth of 250 thousand liras, the court gave a verdict of non-jurisdiction.
Throughout 2018, seven journalists were sentenced to a total of 4 years, 9 months and 17 days in prison (2 years, 8 months and 15 months of which was deferred) and one cartoonist and one one media organization were sentenced to pay a fine of 18 thousand liras in total.
In the last three months, seven journalists stood trial for their views and criticism on Erdoğan, facing a total of 32 years and 8 months of prison sentences. One of them was acquitted, two were given a total of 2 years, 3 months and 6 days prison term.
One of the lawsuits has recently been filed. In this period, Article 299 of the Turkish Penal Code also constituted the basis for the detention of economist and journalist Mustafa Sönmez and Ali Ergin Demirhan, an editor at the sendika.org. The main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) submitted a parliamentary question on the article.
Began to be widely used after August 2014, when Erdoğan was elected as the president, the article constituted a basis for at least 59 journalists to be given prison terms, deferred prison terms or monetary fines.
In 2018, 20 journalists were sentenced to a total of 38 years, 5 months and 4 days in prison (6 years, 10 months and 12 days deferred) and 35 thousand liras of judiciary fine.
In the April-May-June 2019 period, four newspapers and one magazine were subjected to censorship, with most of the incidents taking place in prisons.
Wikipedia, access blocked on April 29, 2017, for “putting Turkey in a difficult situation in the international area,” complained Turkey to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR).
The Constitutional Court examined the applications of 29 people, including 13 journalists, and one media organization, ruling that three journalists shall be paid a total of 95 thousand 207 liras for damages (court costs included) for “violation of freedom of speech.”
The Constitutional Court ruled that 15 convicts shall be paid a total of 7 thousand and 500 liras compensation. The total amount of the damages the state has to pay due to Constitutional Court rulings became 102 thousand 707 liras.
In this period, the Constitutional Court rejected applications of six former managers and journalists from the Cumhuriyet newspaper, Ziya Ataman and a communication professor. It found violations in the cases of bianet, Gerçek Gündem and a journalist.
Putting files into its agenda to some extent that does not go against the security policies of the government, the Constitutional Court is not in a rush to conclude the individual applications of Ahmet Altan and Nazlı Ilıcak, two journalists who have been arrested for about three years.
The ECtHR, closing itself to individual applications from Turkey after the coup attempt on July 15, 2016, broke its silence on March 20, 2018, when it announced its decisions on the application of Şahin Alpay and Mehmet Altan. In terms of the files regarding freedom of expression and individual applications, it was silent in the April-May-June period.
Many journalists who were arrested after the coup attempt, such as Ahmet Altan and Nazlı Ilıcak, are waiting for news for their complaints about “unjust arrest” without their sentences being approved.
The ECtHR requested defense from Turkey in the case of İdris Sayılğan, a reporter of the closed DİHA agency.
The government was a mere spectator of the physical violence against the journalists during the period of March 31 local elections and June 23 repeat elections for the İstanbul Metropolitan Municipality.
Those who attacked Yeni Çağ columnist Yavuz Selim Demirağ was released because “there was not a life-threatening situation.” the parliamentary inquiries submitted by the İYİ Party and the CHP were rejected by the AKP and the MHP. Attackers were arrested in just one of the 10 incidents of attack.
Muhsin Kutsi Barış the former commander of the Presidential Guard Regiment, was sentenced to life imprisonment for giving the order to storm the state-run TV network TRT on July 15, 2016.
The Hope Case, also including the killing of journalists Uğur Mumcu and Ahmet Taner Kışlalı in the 1990s, is continuing in two separate files after the Constitutional court ruled for a retrial for five defendants.
The lawsuit filed against seven judges and prosecutors at the Supreme Court of Appeals for arresting journalist Ahmet Şık in a conspiracy is waiting for the Chamber to examine the case to be determined.
The Supreme Council of Radio and Television (RTÜK), ordered 19 monetary fines and 19 program suspending fines to TV channels. It did not take any action against radios in this period. It issued a total of 943 thousand 878 liras of fines for TV channels.
30 journalists lose their jobs in three months
In the three months, at least 30 journalists, columnists or employees of editorial departments were fired or forced to leave their jobs as a result of the editorial transformation of the media groups they work for. The TRT administration reported its 169 experienced laborers to the State Personnel Presidency as “employment surplus personnel.” This figure was 25 in the same period last year and 157 for 2018. (EÖ/APA/SD/VK)