Sunday, December 5, 2021

Turkish Media Face 18 Trials in One Week

Eighteen journalists, almost all of whom work for Kurdish media outlets, were put on trial during hearings across Turkey this week.

Lawyers and media rights groups say the tests show how Turkey’s laws on terrorism and protests can be used to detain or harass journalists.

Nearly everyone in court this week faces charges of belonging to or campaigning for a terrorist organization—often a reference to the terrorist group, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Others are accused of disobeying Law 2911, which governs public meetings and demonstrations, according to the Media and Law Studies Association (MLSA), a Turkey-based group that provides legal aid to journalists.

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Media covering protests can sometimes be accused of organizing illegal gatherings. And in April, Turkey’s interior ministry issued an order requiring permits for journalists to cover approved protests.

Some rights lawyers have said the decision was made to silence journalists.

“The order is problematic because it only recognizes journalists who are granted a permit by the government to cover the protests,” said Erselan Aktan, an Istanbul-based lawyer who has represented dozens of journalists in recent years.

“It does not consider independent journalists and those working for opposition media outlets to be journalists and it is against the very core of freedom of expression,” he told the VOA.

Journalist Rusen Takva is seen in a photo from his Twitter.

Freelance journalist Rusen Takva was accused of defying the law on protests in court this week.

The journalist, who contributes to the pro-opposition Arti TV, was charged in January in connection with the coverage of a protest for Kurdish rights in the eastern Turkish city of Van.

A prosecutor had recommended that Takwa be sentenced to 18 years in prison. But at a hearing on Tuesday, a new prosecutor dropped the charges, citing a lack of evidence.

“It was clear from the beginning that this was not the case,” Takwa said. “I was just doing my job as a journalist. When the original prosecutor was replaced, the new prosecutor concluded that there was no evidence to support the charges against me.

Others in the trial have cases more than four years old, such as journalist Heri Demir, who worked for outlets including the pro-Kurdish Decal News Agency.

In 2017, authorities accused Demir of belonging to and promoting the PKK, which is considered a terrorist organization by Ankara and Washington.

The journalist’s case attracted media attention as evidence presented in the indictment included photographs of memory sticks stolen from Demir’s home in Ankara.

Journalist Heri Demir is seen in a photo from his Twitter.

Journalist Heri Demir is seen in a photo from his Twitter.

The photos were taken by Demir while he was on assignment in northeastern Syria in 2015.

“Six months after that robbery, pictures of that card appeared in court as evidence in my case file,” Demir told VOA.

“My previous telephone conversation with Selahtin Demirtas was also included in my court file as a crime.”

Demirtas, a former co-chairman of the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP), has been jailed since 2016 on terror charges.

The journalist’s ninth hearing was on Tuesday, but the matter is open due to the adjournment of the hearing. If Demir is convicted, he could face up to 22 years in prison.

Turkey’s Interior Ministry and Ankara’s High Criminal Court did not respond to VOA requests for comment.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said last month that the Turkish media is “incomparably free” and does not accept the findings of media rights groups that show mass arrests.

“We don’t have a problem of that nature in terms of freedom,” Erdogan told US broadcaster CBS.

But Acton, a media lawyer who coordinates with MLSA, said arrests and trials are common.

In September alone, 65 journalists held hearings across Turkey, mostly on charges related to terrorism, defying protest law or insulting the head of state, Aktan said.

The country’s media came under pressure after a failed coup attempt in 2016, after which Ankara arrested dozens of journalists who were accused of supporting or sympathizing with the coup.

As of August, data from the Stockholm Center for Freedom, an advocacy group documenting human rights abuses with a particular focus on Turkey, showed that 174 journalists were detained either pending trial or serving sentences and 167 were accused of a crime but who are in exile or at large.

Turkey also ranks poorly on the World Press Freedom Index, according to media watchdog Reporters Without Borders, coming in at 153 out of 180 countries, with 1 being the most free.

This story originated in VOA’s Kurdish service.

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