The prosecution of writers and journalists charged with terrorism and separatism for their association with a newspaper raises serious concerns for freedom of expression in Turkey, Human Rights Watch said. The first trial hearing began on December 29, 2016, for four defendants detained since August and five others who are also being tried.
The four jailed defendants are the well-known novelist Aslı Erdoğan, the writer Necmiye Alpay, and newspaper editors İnan Kızılkaya and Zana Kaya. The prosecutor’s indictment accuses the four – and five others who are at liberty – of “spreading propaganda” for and being members of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), and of attempting to destroy the unity of the state. If convicted of the latter offense, they would face life in prison without parole.
“The charges against Aslı Erdoğan, Necmiye Alpay, and others far surpass previous recent cases by accusing writers and journalists of attempting to destroy the unity of the state through their writing, editing, or association with a newspaper,” said Emma Sinclair-Webb, Turkey director at Human Rights Watch. “Those on trial should never have been jailed, and misusing the criminal law at the expense of free speech contributes nothing to combatting terrorism in Turkey.”
The purported evidence against Erdoğan and Alpay consists of their membership on the advisory board of the Özgür Gundem newspaper and columns they wrote in the newspaper, which the prosecutor accuses of being an organ of the PKK.
Kızılkaya and Kaya are charged as editors of the newspaper. Özgür Gündem was temporarily closed by court order on August 16 and permanently closed by government decree on October 29, along with 14 other mainly Kurdish media organs.
Others on trial are a human rights lawyer, Eren Keskin, who was formerly listed as Özgür Gündem’s editor and was a columnist for the newspaper; advisory board members Ragip Zarakolu, a book publisher; Filiz Koçali, a journalist and Özgür Gündem columnist; Kemal Sancılı, the newspaper’s publisher; and Bilge Contepe, an environmental activist.
They are charged with spreading propaganda for a terrorist organization under the Anti-Terror Law, article 7/2, and membership in an armed organization under the penal code, article 314/2.They are also charged with attempting to destroy the unity of the state (separatism) under article 302/1 of the penal code, which states: “Anyone who commits an act aimed at placing the territory of the nation wholly or partially under the sovereignty of a foreign country, undermining the independence of the nation, destroying its unity, or separating a portion of those territories under the sovereignty of the country from the country’s administration, shall be sentenced to aggravated life imprisonment.”
While Erdoğan and Alpay obtained bail on the separatism charge in November, they remain in pretrial detention under the other charges.
“Under its state of emergency, Turkey has once again become the world leader in jailing journalists and prosecuting them on terrorism charges,” Sinclair-Webb said. “2016 will be remembered as the year Turkey’s president attempted to silence all critical and independent media in the country.”