Throughout June, Index on Censorship’s Mapping Media Freedom project has recorded a number of violations in Turkey, which is now the biggest jailer of journalists in the world.
Turkish journalists charged with sending “subliminal messages”
The first hearing of the ongoing trial of Turkish journalists for involvement in last year’s coup took place on Monday 19 June. Political commentators and brothers Ahmet Altan and Mehmet Altan are accused of offences against Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the Turkish government including “attempting to overthrow the Government of Turkey” and using “subliminal messaging” to encourage the coup.
The Altan brothers have been in pretrial detention for 11 months. Ahmet is a well-known journalist in Turkey and has worked as a reporter and editor at several newspapers. He has previously been charged with “denigrating Turkishness” after writing about the Armenian genocide. Mehmet is a professor at Istanbul University who has called on Turkey to improve its human rights record.
The hearing was delayed, and the judge spent several hours reading a long summary of the indictment, according to Index’s head of advocacy Melody Patry, who formed part of an international delegation of observers to the trial.
In his defence statement, Ahmet called the indictment against him “untruthful and nonsensical”. He described the charges and refuted them, explaining his lack of connection to instigating the coup. “I take you through all these things in such detail because I want everyone to see the recklessness with which this prosecutor and his like have darkened people’s lives, how they have abused their power,” he said. “I want all this to be documented for the day the law wakes up.”
Ahmet quoted portions of the indictment against him, including an excerpt in which he questioned the case of Can Dundar, another Turkish journalist who was convicted of espionage for publishing evidence of Turkey sending arms to Syria. Ahmet maintains that Turkish people had a right to know about these events. “Perhaps the prosecutor is giving a not at all ‘subliminal’ message to Turkey that whoever defends the rule of law will be thrown in jail,” he said.
According to Patry, this case is significant because of the potential three life sentences the journalists face as the first instance of journalists prosecuted for being complicit in the coup.
On 1 June, Turkish police detained eight people for using the chat software ByLock, the software the authorities in Turkey suspect was used by the group that plotted the 15 July coup attempt.
Former regional bureau chief of the Cihan news agency, referred to only as KA in news reports, was among those arrested.
İlker Yücel, the editor-in-chief of Aydınlık newspaper, was taken into custody and arrested on 2 June. The arrest was related to a 2014 story in Aydınlık which was found insulting to Berat Albayrak, Turkey’s Energy Minister and the son-in-law of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. The newspaper failed to print a correction or pay a TL 100,000 fine,
He was released on 4 June.
A court received an indictment for two consecutive life sentences without the possibility of parole for 13 journalists on 6 June. The charge from Istanbul’s Chief Prosecutor lists Gökçe Fırat Çulhaoğlu, Yakup Çetin, Bünyamin Köseli, Cihan Acar, Abdullah Kılıç, Oğuz Usluer, Atilla Taş, Hüseyin Aydın, Murat Aksoy, Mustafa Erkan, Seyit Kılıç, Yetkin Yıldız and Ali Akkuş as suspects.
The 13 journalists are charged with “attempting to overthrow the constitutional order” and “attempting to overthrow the government of the Republic of Turkey,” in connection with the 15 July coup attempt. They previously stood trial for “membership of a terrorist organisation” but were released 31 March. All but one of them were rearrested on the new charges.
The managing editor of the newspaper Evrensel, Çağrı Sarı, and former copyrights owner of the newspaper Arif Koşar each received five-month prison sentences on 6 June. They were convicted of “Denigrating the Turkish Nation, the State of the Republic of Turkey, the Agencies and Institutions of the State.” The charges were regarding a story published in Evrensel on Nusaybin.