Cumhuriyet journalists: Imprisoned for changing editorial policy


People gather in support of the Cumhuriyet defendants as the trial got underway.

People gather in support of the Cumhuriyet defendants as the trial got underway.

Executives and columnists of Turkey’s critical Cumhuriyet daily go on trial this week, beginning Monday 24 July. The indictment seeks prison sentences for the defendants varying between 7.5 to 43 years. The charges for those on the board of the Cumhuriyet Foundation, which oversees the newspaper, include “abuse of power in office,” but all are accused of “supporting terrorist organisations” mainly through changes that have occurred in the paper’s editorial policy following the election of a new board to the foundation in 2013.

The prosecution’s claims are supported by views of several media experts — most of whom are former executives or employees terminated from various positions, according to Aydın Engin, a Cumhuriyet columnist who is also a defendant in the case although he was released pending trial due to his advanced age.

As Engin says “Cumhuriyet changed its editorial policy: this is the essence of the indictment.”

Indeed, the 435-page long document laments, page after page, that Cumhuriyet ditched its traditional, Kemalist, unyieldingly secularist and statist editorial policy and became a more open-minded newspaper.

The prosecutor states that by altering its editorial stance, the newspaper became a supporter of the so-called Fethullahist Terrorist Organization (FETÖ/PYD) — the name Turkish authorities give to the Fethullah Gülen network, which they say was behind last year’s coup attempt –, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK/KCK) and the Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party/Front (DHKP-C); three organizations with unrelated if not completely opposing worldviews.

“A newspaper changing its editorial policy cannot possibly be the subject of an indictment,” Engin says.

But did Cumhuriyet really change its editorial policy to legitimise the actions of FETÖ/PDY; PKK/KCK and DHKP/C as the prosecutor claims? “Every newspaper makes editorial policy changes as life unfolds. Cumhuriyet also did this. The paper caught up with the general tendencies in society such as increasing demand for freedoms, human rights and a stronger civil society.”

Engin says many of the witnesses who have testified against the Cumhuriyet journalists have been discredited as media professionals. “When I told the prosecutor that I will not respond to claims by people who have no reputation as journalists, he showed me a post by Professor Halil Berktay, who tweeted that ‘Cumhruiyet has become FETÖ’s media outlet.’ The prosecutor said, ‘This from a professor. Who are you to deny its validity?’

Engin: old and tired

Will any of the Cumhuriyet journalists be released at the end of this week? “I don’t even want to being to make any assumptions. This is not a legal trial; it is entirely political,” Engin replies, adding: “I strongly need them, personally, because I am 76 and tired,” says the energetic-looking journalist, who, as he speaks, is interrupted by someone asking him to sign a financial document. “See, I don’t even know what I just signed, I don’t know anything about these things.”

According to Engin, because those imprisoned are the key people to the newspaper’s operations, Cumhuriyet is now “half-paralyzed.”

But really, who are those in prison?

“Our brightest colleagues are in the can. Akın Atalay, is our CEO and I am a first-hand witness of how he has managed to keep the newspaper on its feet.  Murat Sabuncu, he is perhaps one of the two or three finest journalists I know who can smell the news. He is publicly unheard of but Önder Çelik: he has been with Cumhuriyet for 35 years, he is the finest expert at things such as analyzing circulation reports, maintaining relations with printing houses; following paper prices..”

“I really need them to get out, but I don’t want to be dreaming.”[/vc_column_text][vc_row_inner][vc_column_inner][vc_separator color=”black”][/vc_column_inner][/vc_row_inner][vc_row_inner][vc_column_inner width=”1/2″][vc_custom_heading text=”Turkey” font_container=”tag:p|font_size:30|text_align:left” use_theme_fonts=”yes” link=”|||”][vc_column_text]Index on Censorship monitors press freedom in Turkey and 41 other European area nations.

As of 24/07/2017, there were 496 verified reports of media freedom violations associated with Turkey in the Mapping Media Freedom database.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column_inner][vc_column_inner width=”1/2″][vc_single_image image=”94623″ img_size=”full” onclick=”custom_link” link=””][/vc_column_inner][/vc_row_inner][vc_row_inner][vc_column_inner][vc_separator color=”black”][/vc_column_inner][/vc_row_inner][vc_row_inner][vc_column_inner][vc_column_text]The  journalists on trial for the first time on 24 – 28 July:

Akın Atalay (Cumhuriyet Foundation Executive President; imprisoned since Nov. 12, 2016): Facing 11 to 43 years in prison for “helping a terrorist organisation while not being a member” and “abusing trust”

Atalay graduated from İstanbul University Law School in 1985. He has acted as the founding member of a number of civil society organisations and his academic studies on press freedom and the law have appeared in a large number of academic journals and newspapers. Since 1993, he has represented Cumhuriyet columnists and reporters as legal counsel. Currently, he is the newspaper’s executive president.

Bülent Utku (Cumhuriyet Foundation Board Member, attorney representing Cumhuriyet; imprisoned since Nov. 5, 2016). Facing 9.5 to 29 years in prison for “helping a terrorist organisation while not being a member” and “abusing trust”

Utku has worked as an attorney for 33 years. Since 1993, he has worked as a lawyer for Cumhuriyet columnists and journalists. He is also a member of the Cumhuriyet Foundation’s Board of Directors.

Murat Sabuncu (editor-in-chief, imprisoned since Nov. 5). Facing 7.5 to 15 years in prison for “helping a terrorist organisation while not being a member” [Turkish Penal Code (TCK) Article 314/2]

Sabuncu has been a journalist for 20 years. He started working at Cumhuriyet in 2014 as the newsroom coordinator. In July 2016, he took the helm as editor-in-chief.

Kadri Gürsel (publications advisor, columnist, imprisoned since Nov. 5, 2015). Facing 7.5 to 15 years in prison for “helping a terrorist organisation while not being a member”

A journalist of 28 years, Gürsel started writing columns in Cumhuriyet in May 2016. He assumed the position of publications advisor for the newspaper in September 2016.

Güray Öz (board member, news ombudsman, columnist, imprisoned since Nov. 5, 2015). Facing 8.5 to 22 years in prison for “helping a terrorist organisation while not being a member” and a single count of “abuse of power in office”

Öz has been a journalist for 21 years. He has worked at Cumhuriyet since 2006. He is a columnist for the newspaper and has been its ombudsman since 2013. Öz is also on the board of directors of the Cumhuriyet Foundation.

Önder Çelik (board member, imprisoned since Nov. 5, 2016). Facing 11.5 to 43 years in prison for “helping a terrorist organisation while not being a member”  and four counts of “abuse of power in office”

Önder Çelik has been a newspaper administrator for 35 years. He has worked as the print coordinator for the newspaper between 1981 – 1998. He returned to the same position in 2002 after a hiatus. He has been an executive board member since 2014 as well as a board member of the foundation.

Turhan Günay (editor-in-chief of Cumhuriyet’s book supplement, imprisoned since Nov. 5, 2016). Facing 8.5 to 22 years for “helping a terrorist organisation while not being a member” and a single count of “abuse of power in office”

A journalist for 48 years, Günay has been with Cumhuriyet since 1987. For the past 25 years, he has worked as the chief editor for Cumhuriyet’s literary supplement, the country’s longest running weekly publication on books. The indictment insists he is a board member of the foundation; although he isn’t; a fact he reiterated in his testimony to the prosecutor.

Musa Kart

Musa Kart

Musa Kart (Cartoonist, board member, imprisoned since Nov. 5, 2016) Facing 9.5 to 29 years in prison for “helping a terrorist organisation while not being a member” and “abusing trust”

Musa Kart, one of Turkey’s most renowned cartoonists, has been drawing political cartoons for 33 years. He has been a Cumhuriyet journalist since 1985. For the past six years, Kart has drawn the front-page cartoons for Cumhuriyet.

Hakan Karasinir (board member, imprisoned since Nov. 5). Facing 9.5 to 29 years in prison for “helping a terrorist organisation while not being a member” and two counts of “abuse of power in office”

Hakan Karasinir has been a journalist for 34 years. He has been with Cumhuriyet for 34 years. In the past he has held various editorial positions, including serving as the newspaper’s managing editor between 1994 and 2014. Since 2014, he has also written columns in the newspaper.

Mustafa Kemal Güngör (attorney, board member, imprisoned since Nov. 5, 2016). Facing 9.5 to 29 years in prison for “helping a terrorist organisation while not being a member”; two counts of “abuse of power in office”

Mustafa Kemal Güngör has been a lawyer for 31 years. He has defended Cumhuriyet journalists and columnists in court since 2013.

Can Dundar

Can Dundar

Can Dündar (former editor-in-chief of Cumhuriyet, currently resides abroad). Facing 7.5 to 15 years for “helping a terrorist organisation while not being a member”

Perhaps the most internationally famous of all Cumhuriyet defendants, Can Dündar was the editor-in-chief of Cumhuriyet until August 2016. He was arrested in November 2015 after Cumhuriyet published footage suggesting that the Turkish government sent weapons to armed jihadi groups in Syria. He was released in February 2016, a few months after which he moved to Germany where he currently resides.

Orhan Erinç (Cumhuriyet Foundation Board President, columnist). Facing 11.5 to 43 years in prison for “helping a terrorist organization while not being a member” ; four counts of “abuse of power in office”

Veteran journalist Orhan Erinç, who worked for Cumhuriyet as a young reporter, returned to the newspaper in 1993 as its publications advisor. For nearly half a decade, Erinç also held the position of vice president at Turkish Journalists’ Association. He is also a columnist for Cumhuriyet.

Aydın Engin (columnist, released under judicial control measures). Facing 7.5 to 15 years in prison for “helping a terrorist organization while not being a member”

Cumhuriyet columnist Aydın Engin has been a journalist since 1969. He has participated in the founding process for many news outlets, including Turkey’s Birgün daily. He worked as a columnist and reporter for Cumhuriyet between 1992 and 2002. He returned to the newspaper in 2015.

Hikmet Çetinkaya (columnist, board member, released under judicial control). Facing 9.5 to 29 years in prison for “helping a terrorist organisation while not being a member”; two counts of “abuse of power in office”

Çetinkaya has been with Cumhuriyet for three decades. In the past, the columnist worked as the İzmir Bureau Chief of the newspaper. He was also tried in 2015 along with Cumhuriyet columnist Ceyda Karan for reprinting the Charlie Hebdo cartoons in his column.

Ahmet Şık (Correspondent, imprisoned since Dec. 30, 2016). Facing 7.5 to 15 years in prison for “helping a terrorist organisation while not being a member”

No stranger to Turkish prisons, Ahmet Şık worked as a reporter for Cumhuriyret, Evrensel, Yeni Yüzyıl, Nokta and Reuters between 1991 and 2007. He remained in prison for a year in 2011 in an investigation about a shady gang called Ergenekon, believed to be nested within Turkey’s state hierarchy. He is known as one of the most vocal critics of the Fethullah Gülen network.

İlhan Tanır (former Washington correspondent, resides abroad). Facing 7.5 to 15 years in prison for “helping a terrorist organisation while not being a member”

İlhan Tanır previously reported from Washington for Cumhuriyet. His reports and analyses have appeared in many national and international publications. He currently resides in the United States.

Bülent Yener (Finance Manager). Facing 7.5 to 15 years in prison for “helping a terrorist organization while not being a member”

A former financial affairs manager with Cumhuriyet, Bülent Yener was released after one day in custody.

Günseli Özaltay (Accounting Manager). Facing 7.5 to 15 years in prison for “helping a terrorist organization while not being a member”

Günseli Özaltay, the newspaper’s accounting manager, was released after one day in custody.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column_inner][/vc_row_inner][vc_basic_grid post_type=”post” max_items=”12″ style=”load-more” items_per_page=”4″ element_width=”6″ grid_id=”vc_gid:1500894514864-6349d62e-4ed7-3″ taxonomies=”8607″][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Turkish journalists honour international organisations

The awards were presented at a ceremony on Thursday 18 August. (Photo: TGC)

The awards were presented at a ceremony on Thursday 18 August. (Photo: TGC)

The Journalists Association of Turkey (TGC) on Thursday gave a 2016 Press Freedom Award to a coalition of international organisations, including Index on Censorship, that have worked in concert since last year to support journalists in the country and fight an ongoing deterioration in the state of press freedom.

“Press freedom cannot be taken for granted in any country and requires us to be constantly vigilant. As the post-coup crackdown continues, Index’s project Mapping Media Freedom is registering threats to the media, as well as publishing work from censored journalists, to help bring international attention to the issues. Index is grateful to be recognised for its work on behalf of the journalists of Turkey,” Rachael Jolley, deputy chief executive of Index on Censorship said.

The TGC award recognised the group of press freedom and free expression defenders, which came together as pressure on media increased ahead of the country’s second parliamentary election in 2015, for its collective efforts to bring awareness of press freedom violations in Turkey to the world at large and for supporting journalists of Turkey.

The group was assembled by the International Press Institute, which organised a press freedom mission to Turkey in October 2015.

IPI Executive Board Member Kadri Gürsel, chair of IPI’s Turkey National Committee, accepted the award on behalf of coalition members.

Noting the importance of international solidarity in support of Turkey’s journalists, he said that collective action is increasingly key, as pressure on independent media continues to increase under emergency rule declared in the wake of the failed July 15 coup.

The full text of Gürsel’s remarks appear below.

Honourable Chair,
Esteemed Jury members,
Fellow members of Journalists Association of Turkey,
Dear Guests,

Last year, Turkey provoked the creation of something that was the first of its kind in the world.

Almost all international press freedom organisations came together in order to form a coalition to defend the right of journalists in this country to perform their profession freely; a reaction to the political power having increased its repression of the freedom of the press to unprecedented levels in between the two elections.

The highly representative joint emergency press freedom mission of eight international organisations to Turkey on 19 to 21 October 2015 was the first of its kind in the world.

The mission was comprised of international and local representatives from the International Press Institute (IPI), the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Reporters Without Borders (RSF), the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ), Index on Censorship, ARTICLE 19 and the Ethical Journalism Network.

IPI’s Turkish National Committee and the Union of Journalists of Turkey, a member of the EFJ, endorsed the mission.

Showing solidarity with journalists in Turkey and underlining the fact in Turkey and abroad that growing pressure on independent media would jeopardise free and fair elections in the country – and of course demanding an immediate end to this pressure – were among the objectives of the mission.

The mission met with representatives of 20 media outlets in Istanbul and Ankara. It met with the representatives of opposition parties. It was impossible to get an appointment from the ruling party and from the office of President Erdogan.

The facts collected on the state of the freedom of the press in Turkey were shared with the world in a mission report published on Oct. 31, 2015. Suggestions were also made to make the situation better.

Despite its ad-hoc character, the coalition of international press freedom organisations for Turkey continued its activities with the participation of additional organisations.

The coalition coordinated the call of 50 leading editors around the world who on Oct. 30, 2015 urged President Erdogan to protect press freedom in Turkey.

It made a joint statement for the release of Cumhuriyet journalists Can Dündar and Erdem Gül, on Dec. 1, 2015.

The coalition made a joint statement to support a mission by RSF to Istanbul with the same purpose.

Representatives of organisations forming the coalition on Jan. 26, 2016 repeated their call for the release of Can Dündar and Erdem Gül at the gates of Silivri prison in Istanbul where the two journalists were held.

The coalition called on Turkey to drop all charges against the Cumhuriyet journalists on March 24, a day before their politically motivated trial.

Coalition members have also been active in submitting alerts to the Council of Europe’s platform to promote the protection of journalism and safety of journalists.

I’m standing here today on behalf of the coalition of international press freedom organisations for Turkey to receive this year’s Press Freedom Award of the Journalists Association of Turkey on the category of Institutions, given to the coalition.

On this occasion, I would like to mention names of member organisations of the coalition:

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)
The Ethical Journalism Network (EJN)
The European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)
The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ)
Index on Censorship
PEN International
The International Press Institute (IPI)
Reporters Without Borders (RSF)
The World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA)

On behalf of the member organisations, I extend our sincerest gratitude and thanks to the Journalists Association of Turkey for their decision to grant this year’s press freedom award to the coalition.

This award is very meaningful for us because it shows that the international solidarity made for the freedom and future of journalism is fairly evaluated and appreciated.

As facts have shown, the international solidarity of journalists has always been effective and a deterrent to repressive regimes that put media under pressure in order to prevent the public from being informed freely and objectively.

International solidarity is becoming more important these days; the repression of journalists and the media is gaining a destructive character with the unlawfulness of the emergency rule, insofar as the failed coup of July 15 has been used as a pretext for its implementation.

In consciousness of this fact, we are very thankful to the honourable jury members for granting us this award.

Full details of the awards are available are here.

Index will be exploring the situation in Turkey in a series of upcoming events:

12 Sept: Turkey beyond the headlines

Acclaimed writer Kaya Genç will talk to Rachael Jolley, editor of Index on Censorship magazine, about his forthcoming book Under the Shadow: Rage and Revolution in Modern Turkey.

15 Sept: The State of Turkey with Kaya Genç, Ece Temelkuran and Daniel Trilling

Join Index on Censorship magazine’s contributing editor Kaya Genç and fellow Turkish writer Ece Temelkuran for a discussion about the state of Turkey in the aftermath of the failed military coup.

20 Sept: Author Ece Temelkuran on the struggles that have shaped Turkey

Join Index on Censorship’s CEO Jodie Ginsberg as she presents an evening with award-winning journalist and novelist Ece Temelkuran to discuss her latest book Turkey: The Insane and the Melancholy.

Yavuz Baydar: Erdogan is ruling Turkey by decree

Büşra Erdal, mentioned in the text, surrendered in Manisa and taken to police hq in handcuffs.

Büşra Erdal, who surrendered in Manisa, taken to police headquarters in handcuffs.

“It was very, very close,” according to a source who followed the case of columnist and human rights lawyer Orhan Kemal Cengiz. By a hair he had avoided detention. While Cengiz has now been released, he is unable to travel abroad.

During the interrogation, Cengiz had repeatedly been asked about critical tweets he had posted about a year ago. “Those who led the interrogation were utterly hostile, seemingly set for finding a pretext to hold him in custody,” my source said. Cengiz’s friends believe that his impeccable international reputation and his work for the European Court of Human Rights, where he has defended Kurds and even, in a couple of cases, Turkish Islamists against the state, may have saved him from a jail cell.

However, there is nothing to suggest the easing this post-coup witch hunt. Yesterday, the veteran journalist Nazlı Ilıcak was arrested at a police checkpoint in Bodrum and taken into custody. Judicial affairs journalist Büşra Erdal surrendered after she tweeted that she was being punished for her work. Sadly the powerful Doğan Media Group outlets, of which both honourable journalists are affiliated, remained silent. Not a word of support was seen in any of the group’s newspapers.

The only support came from the Enis Berberoğlu, former chief editor at Hürriyet and now MP and deputy of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), who tweeted: “As their superior once, I was mainly responsible for the stories and the sections that Bülent Mumay and Arda Akın wrote and worked for. I vouch and stand for them.”

Against the backdrop of the authorities’ search for 42 journalists, pro-government media was busy on Tuesday inciting hatred for the columnists and asking for their imprisonment, including the daily Akşam. The pro-Justice and Development Party (AKP) daily Sabah added to the flames by accusing columnists such as Hasan Cemal, Kadri Gürsel, Cengiz Çandar, Perihan Mağden, Mehmet Altan and others of provoking the coup. These journalists and columnists are no longer allowed to express themselves in any media outlet.

Perhaps more than anything else, it was a crucial legal appointment that worried Turkey’s dissident figures in media and academia. In a hasty move, the government named İrfan Fidan as the chief prosecutor for Istanbul. Until Monday, Fidan was a deputy attorney in Istanbul’s Anti-Terror and Organised Crime Unit. What’s most notable, however, is that Fidan was the prosecutor who sentenced Cumhuriyet editors Erdem Gül and Can Dündar to five years and five years and ten months, respectively, in prison. The pair had covered the alleged supply of arms to Syrian jihadist groups by the Turkish secret service.

Academic Esra Mungan and three others who had signed the peace petition for the Kurds clashed were also detained due to his efforts. In another example, Fidan had taken over the case that implicated high-ranking AKP ministers and president Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s family members in corruption. He dismissed all charges.

Many fear, therefore, that his appointment to such a powerful post may come to mean a steep escalation against journalists and scholars in the coming weeks.

All other signs, too, indicate harder times.

On Monday night, in the midst of turmoil, Erdogan ratified the law which, in practice, subordinates the high judiciary to the political executive and immediately after the Board of Judges and Prosecutors, led by the Justice Ministry, implemented a long series of appointments and removals in the Court of Cassation and Council of State.

Erdogan met with two opposition party leaders. CHP and Nationalist Movement Party leaders were invited, but not the third largest elected one, the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party. It was a deliberate choice, raising eyebrows on how serious the ruling AKP is about rebuilding democracy. In addition, Erdogan spoke for a possible extension of emergency rule for an additional three months.

Meanwhile, Turkey will be run by decrees and everybody knows what that means.

A version of this article was originally posted to Suddeutsche Zeitung. It is published here with permission of the author.

Turkey Uncensored is an Index on Censorship project to publish a series of articles from censored Turkish writers, artists and translators.