Turkey: Politically-motivated trials of journalists and human rights defenders continue
Feb.22, NY: Last week, ARTICLE 19, PEN International and Reporters without Borders (RSF) monitored the hearings of several criminal cases against journalists and human rights defenders in Turkey, all of whom face politically-motivated charges of propaganda for, or involvement in, terrorist organisations.
We are deeply concerned by the visibly political nature of these trials and the blatant abuse of the Penal Code and Anti-Terror law against journalists and human rights defenders. To date, no convincing evidence of the accused journalists' involvement in terrorism or incitement to violence has been publicly presented. The cases also raised serious concerns in terms of due process and the right to a fair trial.
ARTICLE 19, PEN International and RSF call on the Turkish government to take immediate steps to restore the independence of the judiciary, reform laws which contradict international human rights standards, ensure due process during trials and cease the judicial harassment of journalists and human rights defenders.
Representatives from the three organisations attended the following trials on 14 – 15 February 2017:
Özgür Gündem Solidarity Case: On Tuesday 14 February, participants monitored a hearing of 22 of the journalists, writers and human rights defenders who participated in a solidarity action with the daily newspaper Özgür Gündem, which was forced to cease publication in August 2016. During the hearing, writer and journalist Cengiz Baysoy, peace activist İmam Canpolat and a leader of the opposition, pro-Kurdish People's Democratic Party (HDP) Çilem Küçükkeleş, were found guilty of "spreading propaganda for the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK)" and "releasing statements sent by PKK", in relation to the articles published on the day they acted as symbolic editor. All three were sentenced to one year and three months in prison and a fine of 6,000 Turkish Liras (approx. 1,500 Euro).
On 14 February, RSF also attended a hearing in a separate case against Hasan Cemal, veteran author and columnist, former editor-in-chief and now commentator for news portal T24. The author received a suspended sentence of one year and three months in prison under Article 7 (2) of the Anti-Terror Law ("making propaganda for a terrorist organisation") in relation to an article referring to a previous interview with a PKK leader.
OdaTV Case: On Wednesday 15 February ten prominent journalists, including Ahmet Şık, Nedim Şener, Soner Yalçın, Barış Pehlivan and Barış Terkoğlu, made their final defense statements in the OdaTV trial. The case has been ongoing since 2011. The defendants are accused of being the media arm of a secret terrorist organisation, known as "Ergenekon"; however, at the previous hearing on 14 December 2016, the prosecutor requested the acquittal of all twelve defendants due to insufficient evidence of the existence of the "Ergenekon" organisation. A verdict is expected on 12 April 2017.
Taraf Case: Also on 15 February, the organisations monitored the third hearing in the trial of journalists and editors affiliated with the Taraf newspaper: Ahmet Altan, Mehmet Baransu, Yasemin Çongar, Yıldıray Oğur and Tuncay Opçin. They are all charged with acquiring and divulging state secrets in relation to the Egemen military plan, an out of date military war plan to respond to a Greek invasion. Baransu and Opçin face additional charges of membership and administration of the Fethullah Gülen Terrorist Organisation (FETÖ). The hearing was cut short as Baransu, who has been in pre-trial detention for over two years and was due to present his defence, was unable to attend as he had a hearing in a separate case in Mersin.
Inconsistent, politically-motivated charges
The indictments and charges include multiple inconsistences, suggesting the influence of politics on the justice system.
For example, investigative journalist Ahmet Şık, whose hearing in the OdaTV Case was observed this week, is in the unusual position of being tried simultaneously in two separate and contradictory cases, one in which he is accused of "supporting the Ergenekon organization" on the basis of his book in 2011 criticising the Gülen movement, and another for "supporting the FETÖ and the PKK".
The Taraf case is also marred by inconsistencies and confusion, with an indictment that was largely copy-pasted from last year's case against Can Dündar, with his name still featuring in the text.
The series of cases relating to those involved in the Özgür Gündem Solidarity Campaign constitute a politically motivated abuse of the Anti-Terror law against Kurdish journalists and civil society activists defending them. The charges against the defendants rely solely on their association with the newspaper, either as members of the advisory board or through columns written in the paper.
Due process and the right to a fair trial
We are concerned by multiple abuses in the defendants' right to a fair trial, and failures to observe due process.
Many of the defendants face numerous cases, with several being held in pre-trial detention, despite no clear rationale offered for this, with no indication that they will receive a fair trial within a reasonable period. This includes Mehmet Baransu, detained since 2 March 2015; Ahmet Altan, detained since 10 September 2016; and Ahmet Şık, detained since 29 December 2016. The Turkish authorities' use of indefinite periods of pre-trial detention against journalists is in violation of international standards on the right to liberty and the right to a fair trial.
The Oslo Times International News Network