In a new record for the persecution of the media in Turkey, a total of 68 journalists are due to appear in court in four different trials during the week of 4 to 11 December. A third of these journalists are already detained.
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said it condemns the baseless terrorism charges on which they are being tried and reiterates its call for their immediate release. All 68 are accused of supporting or belonging to a terrorist organization and most of them are also accused of “trying to overthrow the government and constitutional order.”
Forty-four of them have already spent around 18 months in provisional detention. RSF’s Turkey representative, Erol Önderoğlu, is attending all the hearings, which are taking place in Istanbul and its suburbs.
“With the same extremely grave charges, the same abuse of provisional detention and the same contempt for due process, these four trials illustrate the scale of the criminalization of journalism in Turkey,” said Johann Bihr, the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk.
“The judicial system is now just serving as a veneer to disguise the deliberate elimination of all dissent. We reiterate our call to the authorities to free imprisoned journalists at once and to abandon these political trials.”
The week-long judicial marathon began on 4 December with the resumption of the trial of 29 journalists charged with acting as the “media wing” of the Gülen Movement, which is accused by the government of being behind the July 2016 coup attempt.
Two of these journalists, Murat Aksoy and Atilla Taş, were released at the previous hearing but 20 of them, including Abdullah Kılıç, Habip Güler and Yakup Çetin, are still detained and the 4 December hearing ending with the decision to keep them in detention until the next one, scheduled for 6 February. They are facing a possible sentence of between ten years in prison and life without any parole.
The trial of six journalists in connection with revelations about President Erdoğan’s son-in-law, energy minister Berat Albayrak, resumed yesterday. Two of them, investigative reporter Tunca Öğreten and Mahir Kanaat of the left-wing daily BirGün, were finally freed under judicial control after nearly a year of provisional detention.
None of the six is now detained but they are still facing possible 15-year jail sentences on charges of cooperating with a group of hackers and divulging state secrets in order to assist various terrorist organizations by “creating a negative perception of the authorities.” The next hearing has been set for 3 April.
The trial of 30 former journalists and employees of the daily newspaper Zaman will resume tomorrow. Twenty-one of them, including Şahin Alpay, Ahmet Turan Alkan and Ali Bulaç, are in provisional detention. The case against them is largely based on the mere fact that they worked for Zaman, which was regarded as sympathetic to the Gülen Movement and was dissolved by decree in July 2016. Each of them is facing the possibility of three life sentences.
The well-known journalists Ahmet Altan, Mehmet Altan and Nazlı Ilıcak, whose trial on similar charges will resume on 11 December, are all in provisional detention. Their criticism of the government is alleged to have “prepared the way” for the coup attempt, which Ahmet Altan is also accused of supporting by means of “subliminal messages.”
The four lawyers who defend the Altan brothers were expelled from the courtroom during the last hearing. The prosecutor is due to present his summing-up at the hearing on 11 December.
The already worrying media situation in Turkey has become critical under the state of emergency proclaimed after the July 2016 coup attempt. Around 150 media outlets have been closed, mass trials are being held and the country now holds the world record for the number of journalists detained. Turkey is ranked 155th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2017 World Press Freedom Index.