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Introduction

Since 2018, the Media and Law Studies Association (MLSA) has been conducting monitoring activities on freedom of expression trials in cooperation with several international civil society organizations. Within the scope of these activities, a total of 596 hearings of 372 trials have been monitored. The monitoring activities are conducted all across Turkey, with a specific focus on freedom of expression trials where the defendants are journalists, in order to record and analyze the hearing procedures and trial standards. Here, the ultimate objective is to objectively record and assess the compliance of the trials and hearings to national and international fair trial standards, and contribute to the normalization and development of Turkey’s democracy which has been rapidly deteriorating, especially since the July 15, 2016 coup attempt. In this respect, with the support of Friedrich Naumann Foundation Turkey Office, MLSA monitored 147 hearings of 98 trials held between January 1 and July 15, 2021, in 11 different cities, with 15 court monitors. 18 of the monitored trials began during this monitoring period. 147 hearings were held in 11 different cities: Adıyaman (1), Kars (1), Muğla (1), Erzurum (2), Antalya (4), Batman (6), İzmir (6), Ankara (8), Van (13), Diyarbakır (37), İstanbul (68).

The data shared by this report was collected during the monitoring of freedom of expression trials, on the basis of a Trial Monitoring Form (Appendix-2) that was prepared in light of the guides and advice shared by several organizations such as the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) , Amnesty International , International Commission for Jurists (ICJ) and Solicitors International Human Rights Group (SIHRG).

562 defendants stood trial in all the monitored freedom of expression trials. 225 of the defendants were journalists, and were followed by 122 activists exercising their right to free assembly and association, a right that is protected by the Turkish Constitution and European Court of Human Rights. 42% of the defendants were journalists, whereas 23% were activists and 11% politicians. Among the defendants, there were also writers (2%), lawyers (2%), students (2%), media workers (1%), artists (1%) and academics (1%). The rest (16%) who came from different occupational backgrounds, were tried in multiple-defendant cases.

Men made up 71% and women 29% of the largest groups of defendants, namely those of journalists, activists and politicians. The highest share of women was among journalists, with 43% whereas the lowest share was among politicians with 19%.

Similar to our previous report, it was observed that the trend of trial without pre-trial detention continued during this monitoring period. In the previous period, a total of 14 defendants stood trial whilst in detention in 8 of 132 cases monitored, whereas during this period 3 defendants in 3 cases were in pre-trial detention. One of these defendants was released during the last monitored hearing. Additionally, in the 18 trials that began during this period, none of the defendants were in pre-trial detention.

This report marks a similarity in the charges imputed against the defendants in journalism and freedom of expression trials. The defendants, especially those who were journalists, were frequently charged with articles of the Anti-Terror Law (TMK), and the terrorism-related articles of the Turkish Penal Code (TCK). 58% of the charges imputed were terrorism-related, which was followed by charges of “insulting the president” (6%), “violation of personal rights” (5%), and “crimes against public peace” (4%).

The findings of the report can be summarized as the following:

  • The decrease in the share of pre-trial detentions continued. The share of pre-trial detentions was 6% during the previous monitoring period, whereas now it has fallen to 3%.
  • The number of journalists and media employees imprisoned in Turkey has decreased. This number was 66 during the previous monitoring period, whereas now it has hit 60 with the release of those who served their sentence.
  • The share of terrorism-related charges has increased. This share was 46% during the previous monitoring period, whereas now it has risen to 58%.
  • The share of convictions on crimes regulated in the Anti-Terror Law has significantly decreased, from 78% to 30%.
  • However it has been observed that journalists are more frequently being convicted on other charges, for instance the share of convictions on Article 299 of the TCK “insulting the president” has risen from 10% to 25%. Similarly, the share of convictions on Article 125 of the TCK “insulting a public official” has risen from 5% to 17%.
  • An increase in the frequency of changes of presiding judges was observed. The presiding judge had changed in 31% of these trials monitored during the previous reporting period, whereas now this share has hit 38%.
  • A slight increase in the frequency of changes in the judicial panels was also observed. The judicial panel changed in 40% of the trials monitored during the period covered by our previous report, whereas this share has risen to 42% during this reporting period.
  • A decrease has been observed in the share of journalistic activities among the cited evidence. This share was 79% during the previous reporting period, whereas now it has fallen to 64%.
Indicators December 2018
June 2018
February 2019
March 2020
June 2020
December 2020
January 2021
July 2021
Pre-trial detention %40 %49 %6 %3
Number of imprisoned journalists 148 95 66 60
Terror-related charges %72 %61 %46 %58
Share of TMK in convictions %86 %78 %78 %30
Share of TCK Art. 327 in convictions - - %3 %25
Share of TCK Art. 299 in convictions %7 %10 %10 %25
Share of TCK Art. 125/3a in convictions - - %5 %17
Change of presiding judge - - %31 %38
Change in judicial panel - - %40 %42
Share of journalistic activities in evidence cited %77 %76 %79 %64

2. Overview

2.1. Trials by the number of defendants

562 defendants stood trial in 147 hearings of 98 trials. The largest portion of the trials monitored were those where only one defendant stood trial (57), whereas 2 trials were monitored each where 46 defendants were tried.

Number of defendants Number of trials
1 57
2-15 30
16-34 6
35-45 3
46 2
General sum 98

2.2. Cities where hearings were held

The 147 hearings of 98 trials monitored were held in 11 different cities. The largest share of hearings was held in İstanbul (%46), which was followed by Diyarbakır (25%).

Court hearing the trial Number of trials
Adıyaman 1
Kars 1
Muğla 1
Erzurum 2
Antalya 4
Batman 6
İzmir 6
Ankara 8
Van 13
Diyarbakır 37
İstanbul 68
General sum 147

2.3. Davalara Bakan Mahkemeler

The largest portion of the 98 trials monitored were heard by High Criminal Courts (67). Only one trial was heard by a Commercial Court of First Instance.

Court hearing the trial Number of trials
High Criminal Court 67
Criminal Court of First Instance 27
Civil Court of First Instance 2
Commercial Court of First Instance 1
Appeals Court 1
General sum 98

2.4. Defendants by occupation

A total of 225 journalists were among the 562 defendants who stood trial during this reporting period. Journalists were followed by 122 activists, who exercised their right to free assembly in order to collectively express themselves or because they are members of an association or political party. A total of 76 people come from a variety of occupational backgrounds, including shopkeepers and fashion designers who are accused of organizing an “economic coup” via their social media posts. Another significant group of defendants is made up by politicians, as 58 politicians stood trial in the trials monitored during this period; the vast majority of them consist of Kurdish politicians.

Occupation Number of defendants
Journalist 225
Activist 136
Politician 58
Lawyer 13
Student 12
Writer 8
Artist 7
Media worker 6
Academic 4
Architect 2
Publisher 1
Teacher 1
Soldier 1
Other 82
General sum 562

2.5. Sanıklara Yöneltilen Suçlamalar

A total of 149 charges were imputed in 98 trials monitored. The largest share consisted of terrorism-related crimes: in 37 instances “terrorist propaganda” (Art. 7/2 of TMK), in 31 “membership of a terrorist organization” (Art. 314 of TCK, Art. 7/1 of TMK), in 9 “disclosing the identity of those involved in anti-terrorism operations” (Art. 6 of TMK), in 6 “committing a crime on behalf of a terrorist organization without being a member/aiding and abetting a terrorist organization” (Art. 220/6-7 of TCK), in 3 “founding a criminal organization” Art. 220 of TCK) and in 1 “violating Law No. 6415 on Prevention of Financing of Terrorism” charges were imputed. Thus in 58% of the charges, terror-related crimes were cited.

The most frequent charge that followed terrorism-related ones was that of “insulting the president.” In 8 of the cases defendants were charged with “insulting the President” (TCK Art. 299), which amounts to 5% among all other charges. Moreover defendants also faced the following charges: “Defying Law No. 2863 on the Conservation of Cultural and Natural Property” (2), “Defying Law No. 2911 on Meetings and Demonstrations” (4), “Defying Law No. 6136 on Firearms/Knives and Other Tools” (1), “Defying Law No. 6362 on Capital Market Law” (1), “Insulting a Public Official” (TCK Art. 125/3a) (2), “Public insult” (TCK Art. 125/4) (1), “Violation of Privacy” (TCK Art. 134) (3), “Aggravated Looting” (TCK Art. 149) (3), “Damaging Property” (TCK Art. 151) (3), “Damaging Public Property” (TCK Art. 152) (1), “Possession or Exchange of Hazardous Substances Without Permission” (TCK Art. 174) (2), “Praising a crime and a criminal” (TCK m. 215) (1), “Attempting to Overthrow the Government or Prevent It From Carrying Out Its Duties Through Force and Violence” (TCK Art. 309/1) (2), “Injury” (TCK Art. 86) (1), “Aggravated Injury” (TCK m. 86/3) (1), “Intentional Injury Resulting in the Fracture of Bones” (TCK Art. 87/3) (1), “Insult (TCK Art. 125)” (5), “Damaging Sanctuaries and Cemeteries” (TCK Art. 153) (2), “Inciting the Public to Hatred and Hostility” (TCK m.216/1) (5), “Degrading a Section of the Public” (TCK Art. 216/2) (1), “Prevention of Public Duty” (TCK Art. 265) (3), “Degrading TUrkish Nation, State of the Turkish Republic, the Organs and Institutions of the State” (TCK Art. 301) (2), “Disrupting the Unity and Integrity of the State” (TCK Art. 302) (2), “Obtaining Confidential Information Regarding the Security of the State” (TCK Art. 327) (2), “Defaming Commercial Reputation” (2).

2.6 Evidence cited

A total of 187 pieces of evidence were cited for 149 charges in 98 trials. As the majority of the defendants standing trial were journalists, a significant portion of the evidence consisted of journalistic activities of the defendants. The articles, news stories and publications of the defendants and photos taken by them were presented as evidence for crime in 59 instances in 57 trials. Posts shared by journalists on social media about news they have written were presented as evidence for the accusations against the defendants 35 times during this period. Phone calls made with news sources in cases where journalists stood trial were cited as evidence 20 times in 19 cases, and participation of journalists in events such as press statements, demonstrations and meetings while following the news was presented as evidence 5 times. Thus, the rate of journalistic activities among all the evidence brought forward for the accusations in this trial monitoring period was 64 % in total.

Other evidence presented for the accusations in the monitored trials was as follows:

Evidence Number of instances cited
Camera footage 1
Alleged presence of Bylock on the defendant’s phone 1
Materials seized via body searches 1
Financial activities/documents 2
Travel documents 2
Statements/Defenses of suspects 2
Statements/Speeches 3
Phone tapes and audio surveillance 3
Minutes and reports 4
Demonstrations-Press releases attended for news coverage 5
Memberships of associations 6
Other occupational activities 6
Event participation 8
Political activities/materials 9
Phone calls with news sources 20
Statements of complainants/defendants/witnesses/ 20
Social media posts 35
Articles/writings/news/publications written or photos taken by the defendant 59
General sum 187

2.7 Defendants in pre-trial detention

The trend of trial without pre-trial detention that was observed in our previous report continued during this monitoring period. During the previous monitoring period, 14 defendants, of whom 10 were journalists, were in pre-trial detention. During this monitoring period 3 defendants, of whom 2 were journalists, were tried in 3 trials whilst in detention.

Case-file No. Defendant in pre-trial detention Date of arrest Date of release Occupation Prison Duration of pre-trial detention (Days)
2021/17 Osman Kavala 19.02.2020 - Businessperson, human rights defender Silivri Prison 5515
2016/218 Mehmet Baransu 02.03.2015 - Journalist Silivri Prison -
2017/322 Volkan Uyar 08.10.2020 11.02.2021 Activist Silivri Prison 126

2.8. Trials where a ruling was reached

In 24 of the 98 trials monitored, a ruling has been reached for 44 defendants.

Court ruling Number of defendants
Trial dropped 1
Trial rejected 3
Conviction 12
Acquittal 28
General sum 44

11 defendants received 12 convictions, of which 1 was a fine and 11 were prison sentences. In 5 of the convictions, the announcement of the verdict was deferred, whereas in 7 it was not.

2 defendants were convicted of “insulting a public official (TCK Art. 125/3a)”, 3 defendants were convicted of “insulting the president (TCK Art. 299)”, 3 defendants were convicted of “terrorist propaganda (TMK Art. 7/2”, 3 defendants were convicted of “obtaining confidential information regarding the security of the state (TCK Art. 327)” and 1 defendant was convicted of “disclosing the identity of those involved in anti-terror operations (TMK Art. 6)”.

2.9. Convictions

Case-file No. Defendant Sentence Charge Occupation
2020/211 İsmail Çoban Prison - 4 years 6 months Terrorist propaganda (TMK m. 7/2) Journalist
2020/3 Ayten Akgün Prison - 11 months 20 days Insulting the president (TCK Art. 299) Journalist
2019/821 Hakkı Boltan Prison - 1 year 2 months 17 days Insulting the president (TCK Art. 299) Journalist
2019/821 Hakkı Boltan Prison - 10 months Insulting a public official (TCK Art. 125/3a) Journalist
2018/478 Şebnem Korur Fincancı Fine - 7080 TL Insulting a public official (TCK Art. 125/3a) Academic
2020/206 Müyesser Yıldız Prison - 3 years Prison - 7 months 10 days Obtaining confidential information regarding the security of the state (TCK Art. 327) Journalist
2020/206 İsmail Dükel Prison - 1 year 15 days Obtaining confidential information regarding the security of the state (TCK Art. 327) Journalist
2020/206 Erdal Baran Prison - 5 years Obtaining confidential information regarding the security of the state (TCK Art. 327) Soldier
2020/65 Alican Uludağ Prison - 10 months Disclosing the identity of those involved in anti-terrorism operations (TMK Art. 6) Journalist
2020/125 İsmail Cem Şimşek Prison - 11 months 20 days Insulting the president (TCK Art. 299) Journalist
2020/322 Perihan Kaya Prison - 1 year 3 months Terrorist propaganda (TMK Art. 7/2) Journalist
2018/317 Nahide Aslan Prison - 1 year 6 months Terrorist propaganda (TMK Art. 7/2) Journalist

2.10. Acquittal decisions

In 16 of the trials where a verdict was reached, courts ruled for the acquittal of 28 defendants.

These acquittals were from the following charges: “Disclosing the identity of those involved in the fight against terrorism/anti-terrorism operations” (TMK Art. 6) (9 defendants), “Terrorist propaganda” (TMK m. 7/2) (9 defendants), “Membership of a terrorist organization” (TCK Art. 314, TMK Art. 7/1) (6 defendants), “Disclosing or publishing the identities of informants” (TMK Art. 6/3) (2 defendants), “Obtaining confidential information regarding the security of the state” (TCK Art. 327) (1 defendant), “Inciting the public to hatred and hostility” (TCK Art. 216/1) (1 defendant).

Case file No. Defendant Charge Occupation
2020/322 Perihan Kaya Membership of a terrorist organization (TCK Art. 314, TMK Art. 7/1) Journalist
2020/578 İdris Yılmaz Inciting the public to hatred and hostility (TCK Art. 216/1) Journalist
2020/206 İsmail Dükel Obtaining confidential information regarding the security of the state (TCK Art. 327) Journalist
2020/220 Faik Bulut Membership of a terrorist organization (TCK Art. 314, TMK Art. 7/1) Journalist
2018/317 Serdar Altan Terrorist propaganda (TMK Art. 7/2) Journalist
2018/317 Kadir Cesur Terrorist propaganda (TMK Art. 7/2) Journalist
2018/317 Gülsün Altan Terrorist propaganda (TMK Art. 7/2) Journalist
2018/317 Sibel Özcan Terrorist propaganda (TMK Art. 7/2) Journalist
2021/3 Hatice Kamer Terrorist propaganda (TMK Art. 7/2) Journalist
2020/277 Hakkı Boltan Membership of a terrorist organization (TCK Art. 314, TMK Art. 7/1) Journalist
2020/10 Erhan Akbaş Membership of a terrorist organization (TCK Art. 314, TMK Art. 7/1) Journalist
2019/205 Barış Barıştıran Terrorist propaganda (TMK Art. 7/2) Journalist
2019/205 Hilmi Aydoğdu Terrorist propaganda (TMK Art. 7/2) Journalist
2019/312 Seyhan Avşar Disclosing the identity of those involved anti-terrorism operations (TMK Art. 6) Journalist
2019/312 Necdet Önemli Disclosing the identity of those involved anti-terrorism operations (TMK Art. 6) Journalist
2020/171 Arif Aslan Membership of a terrorist organization (TCK Art. 314, TMK Art. 7/1) Journalist
2020/334 Selda Manduz Membership of a terrorist organization (TCK Art. 314, TMK Art. 7/1) Journalist
2021/14 Melis Alphan Terrorist propaganda (TMK Art. 7/2) Journalist
2021/1221 Ömer Çelik Disclosing the identity of those involved anti-terrorism operations (TMK Art. 6) Journalist
2021/1221 A. Vahap Taş Disclosing the identity of those involved anti-terrorism operations (TMK Art. 6) Journalist
2021/1221 Çağdaş Kaplan Disclosing the identity of those involved anti-terrorism operations (TMK Art. 6) Journalist
2021/1221 Selman Çiçek Disclosing the identity of those involved anti-terrorism operations (TMK Art. 6) Journalist
2021/1221 Hamza Gündüz Disclosing the identity of those involved anti-terrorism operations (TMK Art. 6) Journalist
2021/1221 İnan Kızılkaya Disclosing the identity of those involved anti-terrorism operations (TMK Art. 6) Journalist
2021/1221 Kemal Sancılı Disclosing the identity of those involved anti-terrorism operations (TMK Art. 6) Journalist
2020/293 İnci Aydın Terrorist propaganda (TMK Art. 7/2) Journalist
2020/120 Alican Uludağ Disclosing or publishing the identities of informants (TMK Art. 6/3) Journalist
2020/120 Olcay Büyüktaş Akça Disclosing or publishing the identities of informants (TMK Art. 6/3) Journalist

2.11. Other verdicts

In 3 of the trials where a verdict was reached, the courts ruled to either reject or drop the cases against 4 defendants. In two different cases, the trials against 3 defendants were rejected, whereas in one trial against 1 defendant, the case was dropped.

Case file No. Defendant Charge Verdict Occupation
2018/317 Koçali Özipek Terrorist propaganda (TMK Art. 7/2) Dropped Journalist
2019/678 Hazal Ocak Wrongful act via the press Rejected Journalist
2019/678 Alev Coşkun Wrongful act via the press Rejected Journalist
2020/231 Canan Kaya Ticari İtibarın Zedelenmesi Rejected Defaming commercial reputation

3. Conduct of judges during the hearings

3.1. Use of SEGBİS

In 7 of the 147 hearings monitored during this period, the trial video-conference system (SEGBİS) was used. In 4 of these hearings, the hearings were delayed due to technical problems in the system. In 2 other hearings, our monitors reported that bad connection seriously affects the operation of SEGBİS.

3.2. Open court principle

The monitors could enter the courtroom in 109 of the 147 hearings monitored during this period; in 14 of these instances they were asked to provide their identity card. In 78 of the hearings our reporters were admitted as press members; in 31 as members of the audience.

In 38 of the hearings, the reporters were not allowed to enter the courtroom at all. In 25 of these hearings, “pandemic precautions” were the reason for not allowing observers in the courtrooms, whereas in 11 hearings, no reason was stated. In 1 hearing, the monitor noted they were not allowed because the courtroom was too small, and in 1 other hearing the monitor stated that they were not allowed because the defendant and their lawyers did not attend the hearing.

With 12 hearings, İstanbul had the highest number of hearings where monitors were denied entry. However the most concerning city with regards to the open court principle guaranteed under Article 141 of the Turkish Constitution is Van, as our monitors could not enter the courtroom in 11 of the 13 hearings monitored there.

City Number of hearings where monitors were denied entry
Ankara 1
Antalya 1
Muğla 1
Batman 2
Diyarbakır 10
Van 11
İstanbul 12
General sum 38

3.3. Changes in judges

In 39 out of the 98 trials monitored, the presiding judge changed. This type of change occurred mostly in trials heard by High Criminal Courts.

28 of the trials were heard without a judicial panel, whereas in 41 out of the 70 trials heard by judicial panels, a change in the panel was observed. In 33 of the 41 trials where the judicial panel changed, the presiding judge had also changed.

Court type Number of trials where judicial panel changed
Appeals Court 1
High Criminal Court 40
General sum 38

3.4. Punctuality of hearings

100 of the 147 hearings started late due to various reasons. 43 of the hearings started on time, whereas 4 hearings started earlier than planned.

It was noted that 28 hearings began late due to the delay of the previous hearings. No reason was stated for 26 of the delayed hearings, whereas 26 hearings began late due to either the judge or the judicial panel running late. 9 hearings were delayed due to the workload of the court, 4 were delayed due to lawyers or defendants running late, 4 were delayed due to problems with SEGBİS and 3 were delayed due to a recess.

3.5. Monitor notes on right to a fair trial

In 30 of the 147 hearings monitored, the monitors stated they had doubts with regards to respecting the defendants’ right to a fair trial. In this respect, the most frequent concerns noted by the monitors were related to the independence of courts (11). For instance, in the cases where journalists Hatice Şahin and Nurcan Yalçın are accused of terrorism-related charges in Diyarbakır, the monitors noted that the courts did not take into account the fact that the defendants are journalists. Additionally, the monitors also stated that the courts requested additional case files (not concerning the defendants) from the Diyarbakır Security Directorate to be added to evidence. In 3 of the hearings, the monitors noted that the defense suspected the real existence of the secret witnesses in the case files.

Monitor notes Number of hearings
Use of SEGBİS 1
Suspicion of fake witnesses 3
Lengthy trial 5
Disrespect against open court principle 10
Suspicion of court independence 11
General sum 30

4. Thematic case studies

The situation which has been recorded in the previous report continues and journalists are often charged with terrorism charges because of their occupational activities. In this period, 58% of all the charges were terrorism charges. In this regard, the trend of accusing journalists, activists and politicians with charges of “membership of an armed terrorist organization” (TCK art.314, TMK art. 7/1), “terrorist propaganda” (TMK 7/2) and “committing a crime on behalf of a terrorist organization without being a member/aiding and abetting a terrorist organization” (TCK art. 220/6-7) on which the Constitutional Court recently ruled that it paves way for violations and asked the Parliament to amend the article in question, continued. The charging of journalists with “Disclosing the identity of those involved in anti-terrorism operations (TMK Art. 6)” charges has also continued. In the previous report, it has been recorded that the TMK Art. 6 charges are interpreted rather liberally.

A decrease in the “insulting the president” charges (TCK m. 299) has been recorded in this period compared to the previous period. Even though there was an increase in “public insult” (TCK m. 125/4) and “insulting a public official” (TCK m. 125/3) charges, overall, a decrease in “insult”(TCK m. 125) charges has been recorded. Despite the decrease, however, a journalist was given a troubling sentence. Jinnews reporter Hikmet Tunç was sentenced to prison after a “simple trial procedure” because of her news reports. The court which decided to try Tunç over the case file, sentenced Tunç to 8 months 22 days in prison. There is a concern that this method, which was applied to a journalist for the first time, where the defendants are not even given the opportunity to testify and which is a violation of the principles determined by the Code of Criminal Procedure (CMK), may be used more in the cases of journalists who frequently face similar charges. Journalist Onur Öncü will also be tried with this method in a case in which he is accused of insulting the Minister of Interior Süleyman Soylu.

An increase was also recorded in “violation of privacy” (TCK m. 134) charges during this period. The article in question may be used more in future as it can serve as a basis for charges leveled against journalists after the April 27, 2021 circular of the General Directorate of Security forbidding the recording of police intervention towards public demonstrations and meetings. In the lawsuit filed by MLSA against the Ministry of Interior , the Ministry defended the circular with reference to TCK 134 and 135 and argued that the circular aims to protect not only the privacy and the personal data of law enforcement officers but also of other citizens who may also be recorded during these interventions.

4.1. Membership of an armed terrorist organisation

Selda Manduz

Journalist Selda Manduz was among those who were detained in house raids conducted as part of an operation against the politicians of Peoples’ Democratic Party in Kars on October 1, 2020. Manduz was released pending trial after four days in detention. In the indictment, the prosecution presents secret witness statements and Manduz’s phone conversations with her colleagues Oktay Candemir and Rudaw TV reporter Rawin Sterk as evidence against Malduz. The prosecution requests up to 15 years imprisonment for Malduz.

Manduz’s trial began on February 10, 2021 after Kars 2nd High Criminal Court accepted the indictment. Journalist Manduz rejected all accusations and the secret witness statements and her lawyer Ömer Çapkurt argued that his client’s phone conversations do not constitute basis to the accusations. At the third hearing, Manduz was acquitted of all charges due to “insufficient evidence.”

Hatice Şahin

Diyarbakır Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office launched an investigation against Yeni Yaşam reporter Hatice Şahin as part of the investigations launched against the Democratic Society Congress (DTK) after the Solution Process was ended in 2015. The prosecutor completed the indictment and presented it to the court in 2020. In the indictment, the prosecutor presents Şahin’s phone conversations with her colleagues and news sources, secret witness statements and plane tickets as evidence against the journalists and requests imprisonment for Şahin for up to 15 years.

The first hearing of the trial was held on January 20, 2021 at Diyarbakır 9th High Criminal Court. Şahin rejected all accusations stating that the evidence presented against her are journalistic activities. The next hearing of the trial will be held on October 11, 2021.

Vedat Dağ

Vedat Dağ, press consultant for HDP’s Diyarbakır Provincial Organization, has been on trial since 2020, facing “membership of a terrorist organization” and “terrorist propaganda” charges. In the three different indictments prepared at different dates, the demonstrations, meetings and press releases Dağ attended as a journalist between 2018 and 2021, posts he had shared on the organization’s social media accounts and secret witness statements are presented as evidence against him.

At the seventh hearing of the trial held on January 27, 2021, the presiding judge asked Dağ if he attended these events for the “organization” referring to the PKK. The judge’s question confirms the suspicion that Dağ is on trial for his journalistic activities. The next hearing of the trial will be held on October 6, 2021.

Arif Aslan

At the tenth hearing of the trial held on February 11, 2021 where journalist Arif Aslan is tried separately and faces “membership of an armed terrorist organization charges”, the prosecutor presented its final opinion as to the merits of the case. The prosecutor claimed that Aslan’s shooting in front of the Van Metropolitan Municipality was “an exploration aiming to facilitate the targets and actions of PKK/KCK” and requested imprisonment for Aslan. At the hearing on March 18, the court acquitted Aslan of all charges for which he spent eight months in prison, arguing that there is no sufficient evidence to convict him.

4.2. Terrorist propaganda

Perihan Kaya

Diyarbakır Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office launched an investigation against journalist Perihan Kaya in 2018. In the indictment, the prosecutor presented phone records which were gathered during the investigation, social media posts and her membership of Free Journalists’ Association (ÖGC) as evidence against Kaya and claimed that she is a “KCK Press operative”. The prosecution leveled “terrorist propaganda” and “membership of a terrorist organization” charges against Kaya and requested imprisonment for up to 22 years and 6 months.

The first hearing of the trial was held on March 24, 2021 at Diyarbakır 10th High Criminal Court. At the hearing, the prosecutor who presented his opinion, requested Kaya’s acquittal for “membership” charges, arguing that the evidence is insufficient but requested imprisonment for Kaya claiming that “she spread terrorist propaganda consecutively” via her social media account.

Kaya rejected the statements of secret witnesses who claimed that she is a member in the organization and argued that all the evidence presented against her are journalistic activities. The court acquitted Kaya of “membership” charges arguing that the alleged crime is not grounded but sentenced Kaya to 1 year 3 months in prison for “propaganda” charges because of her social media posts. This sentence, however, was not postponed due to Kaya’s previous convictions.

İsmail Çoban

The retrial of the since-shuttered Azadiya Welat newspaper’s former editor-in-chief İsmail Çoban who has been imprisoned since 2018 began at Diyarbakır 7th High Criminal Court after the prison sentence he received was overturned. At the hearing held on June 29, the court sentenced Çoban to 4 years 6 months in prison for “consecutive terrorist propaganda.”

Previously, Çoban was sentenced to five years in prison by Diyarbakır 7th High Criminal Court. The indictment presented news reports and articles in 15 different issues of the newspaper as evidence for “consecutive terrorist propaganda” charges. The Appeals Court had overturned the sentence because of another case where he was tried.

Hatice Kamer

The first hearing of the retrial in which a prison sentence of up to seven and a half years for journalist Hatice is requested, was held at Diyarbakır 8th High Criminal Court on February 9, 2021. The social media posts which the police had gathered through “open source investigation” and Kamer had shared on her personal account are presented as evidence against Kamer.

The indictment in which Kamer was accused of “making terrorist propaganda” presented the photos of HDP events Kamer followed as a journalist between 2015 and 2016 and shared on her social media account as evidence against the journalist. Kamer was tried at Diyarbakır 8th High Criminal Court and was acquitted of all charges. The local court where the case was heard acquitted Kamer of all charges without holding a hearing in 2019. The Gaziantep Regional Court of Appeals, however, overturned the decision and ruled that Kamer be retried.

Melis Alphan

The Press Crimes Investigation Bureau of the Chief Public Prosecutor's Office in İstanbul launched an investigation against journalist Melis Alphan after Eskişehir Chief Public Prosecutor's Office had sent the investigation file to İstanbul. The investigation in Eskişehir had been opened after a report was made but then dropped due to lack of jurisdiction. The indictment in which Alphan was accused of “terrorist propaganda”, was presented to the court on January 5, 2021. The indictment presented a post Alphan had shared on her personal social media account on March 21, 2015 and in which she celebrated Newroz and thus wrote “Newroz Piroz Be (Happy Newroz)” as evidence against the journalist. The prosecutor requested imprisonment for Alphan up to seven and a half years.

The first hearing of the trial was held on April 6, 2021 at İstanbul 32nd High Criminal Court. The prosecutor presented his opinion at the second hearing which was held on May 21, 2021 and requested Alphan’s imprisonment for “terrorist propaganda” charges. Alphan and her lawyers rejected all accusations and argued that the post should be considered in line with Alphan’s freedom of expression. The court acquitted Alphan of all charges on the grounds that “the elements of the crime were not constituted.”

4.3. Obtaining and disclosing information related to the state security

Müyesser Yıldız ve İsmail Dükel

Journalists Müyesser Yıldız and İsmail Dükel were detained on June 8, 2020 for alleged “political and military espionage.” After four days in detention, Müyesser Yıldız along with sergeant Erdal Baran who was also detained during the investigation were arrested whereas İsmail Dükel was released with judicial control measures imposed on him. Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor's Office completed its indictment against the defendants on September 23, 2020. The prosecutor charged journalists Yıldız, Dükel and sergeant Baran with “obtaining and disclosing information related to the State Security” and requested imprisonment for each defendant for up to ten years. The prosecutor presented among other things the news reports published on OdaTV website where Müyesser Yıldız was the news director along with her phone conversations with the news source as evidence against the defendants.

At the first hearing which was held on November 9, 2020 at Ankara 26th High Criminal Court, Yıldız was released pending trial with international travel ban after five months in prison. At the hearing which was held on March 8, 2021, the court sentenced the journalists in prison. Yıldız was sentenced to prison in 3 years 7 months 10 days in total for “obtaining and disclosing information related to the State Security” and postponed the 1 year 1 month 10 days of the sentence. Dükel was sentenced to 1 year 15 days in prison for “obtaining information related to the State Security”. The court postponed Dükel’s sentence.

4.4. Insulting a public official

Hikmet Tunç

Muradiye Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office presented its indictment against JinNews reporter Hikmet Tunç to the Muradiye Criminal Court of First Instance on April 2, 2020. The indictment in which Tunç’s imprisonment for up to two years and four months was requested, the prosecutor presents Tunç’s news report about Erkan Savar who was the district governor and the trustee appointed to the Muradiye Municipality and in which Savar was pointed as responsible for corruption. For its request for imprisonment, the prosecutor claimed that Tunç offered no evidence to her claims in the news report for alleged corruption and thus “moved way beyond the limits of freedom of expression.”

Before the first hearing, Muradiye Criminal Court of First Instance ruled to try the case without hearing, a procedure known as “simple procedure trial” afforded to the courts with “the First Judicial Reform” which came into force on October 24, 2019. In its interim decision dated October 20, 2020, the court gave the parties 15 days to submit their statements and evidence in writing. The court announced its verdict on August 13 and sentenced Tunç to 8 months 22 days in prison for “insult” and deferred the announcement of the verdict.

Tunç has become the first journalist to be sentenced with this procedure which is widely considered to be in violation of the principles of fair trial guaranteed in CMK.

4.5. Insulting the president

Hakkı Boltan

Diyarbakır Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office prepared an indictment against Hakkı Boltan in which he was charged with “insulting the president” and “insulting a public official” for the statements in a 2016 press release about Azadiya Welat newspaper’s former editor-in-chief Rohat Aktaş who was killed in Cizre while following news. In the indictment, the prosecutor requested imprisonment of Boltan for up to seven years. Boltan’s case was heard at Diyarbakır 12nd Criminal Court of First Instance. Some hearings of the trial were attended by police officers in civilian clothing.

At the seventh hearing of the trial on June 29, the court sentenced Botan to 1 year 2 months 17 days in prison for “insulting the president” and 10 months in prison for “insulting a public official” because of his statements about the former Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu. The court decided not to reduce or postpone the sentence because Botan had a prior conviction and because of his “personal attributes.”

5. Legal Evaluation

BThis trial monitoring report once again shows that the commitment to international standards of fair trial continues to get weaker. The latest decisions by the Committee of Ministers prove that Turkey insists upon not upholding international standards for freedom of expression even in cases in which acquittal decisions are handed down by local courts after a retrial or in cases for which the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Turkey must pay compensations for the violations and in cases. After the Committee’s October 16th decision, Turkey is closer to becoming the second country against which infringement proceedings are triggered after Azerbaijan because of its insistence upon not upholding the Court’s judgments on Osman Kavala and Selahattin Demirtaş.

Even though at first sight, the decrease in the percentage of the TMK charges in cases in which the defendants were sentenced may seem like Turkey heeded the ECtHR’s April 13, 2021 ruling on Ahmet Altan or the January 21 2021 decision of the European Parliament whereby Turkey was criticized of abusing “terrorism charges” in cases related to freedom of expression, there are actually two reasons for the decrease. The first reason is that most of the case files in which the defendants were sentenced for TMK charges have already been closed. Therefore, the decrease in this period can be interpreted as a periodic one. Another reason which can explain the decrease is the fact that the statements which are presented as evidence against the defendants are more carefully written compared to those in previous periods. This situation shows how much the practices of self-censorship recorded by the Susma Platform have been internalized. This decrease, however, does not mean that the practice of punishing journalists for the work they do has stopped. Journalists are continuously sentenced for “insulting the president”, “insulting a public official” and “obtaining and disclosing information related to the state security” charges. Additionally, the trend of charging journalists via reference to the TMK continues in an increasing manner.

Considering the attitude in regard to the “insulting the president” cases, investigations and prosecutions for this charge will likely increase. The Constitutional Court ruled that the punishment of individuals for their statements against the president, with prison sentences, serve as deterrence for others with similar opinions. The Court remarked that the punishment of all those who make statements against the president undermines the public space where people should be able to freely criticize and inform others and which is vital for a pluralistic society. The application of the recent rulings of the Constitutional Court to similar cases is all the more imperative now. 

Journalism and Freedom of Expression Trials Monitored between January 1 - July 15
Case File Number of defendants City where the hearing was held Court types Name(s) of the defendants
2020/559 46 İstanbul Criminal Court of First Instance Maside Ocak and others
2014/139 46 İstanbul High Criminal Court Kenan Kırkaya and others
2020/67 38 Diyarbakır High Criminal Court Tayip Temel and others
2019/616 38 İstanbul Criminal Court of First Instance Merdan Yanardağ and others
2020/500 35 İstanbul Criminal Court of First Instance Buse Söğütlü and others
2019/18932 31 Batman Criminal Court of First Instance Sonya Bayik and others
2016/18302 28 Batman Criminal Court of First Instance İdris Yayla and others
2017/322 27 İstanbul High Criminal Court Meşale Tolu and others
2018/89 23 İstanbul High Criminal Court İsminaz Temel and others
2018/216 22 Antalya High Criminal Court Olgun Matur and others
2017/408 22 İstanbul Criminal Court of First Instance Ersin Çaksu and others
2021/17 16 İstanbul High Criminal Court Osman Kavala and others
2018/165 11 Ankara High Criminal Court Sibel Hürtaş and others
2017/64 9 Ankara High Criminal Court Kenan Kırkaya and others
2020/10 8 Van High Criminal Court Bayram Çiçek and others
2018/317 8 Van High Criminal Court Sibel Eres and others
2021/1221 7 Diyarbakır Court of Appeal İnan Kızılkaya and others
2021/178 7 İstanbul Criminal Court of First Instance Doğu Demirtaş and others
2020/41 7 Van High Criminal Court Rojda Oğuz and others
2020/50 7 İstanbul High Criminal Court Can Dündar and others
2017/102 6 İstanbul High Criminal Court Derya Okatan and others
2016/106 6 İstanbul High Criminal Court Eren Keskin and others
2016/218 5 İstanbul High Criminal Court Mehmet Baransu and others
2020/231 5 İstanbul Criminal Court of First Instance Canan Kaya and others
2020/240 4 İstanbul High Criminal Court Hazal Ocak and others
2016/34 4 Diyarbakır High Criminal Court Jake Hanrahan and others
2018/185 4 İstanbul High Criminal Court Pınar Gayıp and others
2021/12 3 İstanbul High Criminal Court Şahin Alpay and others
2020/206 3 Ankara High Criminal Court Müyesser Yıldız and others
2020/240 3 İstanbul High Criminal Court İpek Özbey and others
2019/188 3 İstanbul High Criminal Court Canan Coşkun and others
2019/205 3 Diyarbakır High Criminal Court Barış Barıştıran and others
2017/230 3 Batman High Criminal Court Şerife Oruç and others
2020/120 2 İstanbul High Criminal Court Alican Uludağ and Olcay Büyüktaş Akça
2020/236 2 İstanbul Criminal Court of First Instance Cengiz Çandar and Kemal Işıktaş
2020/33 2 İstanbul High Criminal Court Sadiye Eser and Sedat Topaloğlu
2019/312 2 İstanbul High Criminal Court Seyhan Avşar and Necdet Önemli
2019/647 2 İstanbul Criminal Court of First Instance Aziz Oruç and Ersin Çaksu
2019/678 2 İstanbul Criminal Court of First Instance Hazal Ocak and Alev Coşkun
2019/53 2 İstanbul High Criminal Court Kemal Demir and Kemal Karagöz
2018/122 2 Van High Criminal Court Mikail Tunçdemir and Ferhat Duman
2016/589 2 Antalya Criminal Court of First Instance Eylem Sonbahar and Hamiyet Sema Karakurt
2021/3 1 Diyarbakır High Criminal Court Hatice Kamer
2020/294 1 Diyarbakır High Criminal Court Hatice Şahin
2020/403 1 Erzurum High Criminal Court Dindar Karataş
2020/335 1 Diyarbakır High Criminal Court Abdurrahman Gök
2020/277 1 Diyarbakır High Criminal Court Hakkı Boltan
2021/14 1 İstanbul High Criminal Court Melis Alphan
2021/100 1 İstanbul High Criminal Court Mehmet Aslan
2021/24 1 Diyarbakır High Criminal Court Roza Metina
2021/109 1 Van High Criminal Court Ruşen Takva
2021/72 1 Diyarbakır High Criminal Court Ayşe Kara
2021/130 1 Van High Criminal Court Oktay Candemir
2021/120 1 Diyarbakır High Criminal Court Cihan Ölmez
2020/289 1 İstanbul Criminal Court of First Instance Caner Taşpınar
2020/211 1 Diyarbakır High Criminal Court İsmail Çoban
2020/578 1 Van Criminal Court of First Instance İdris Yilmaz
2020/220 1 Diyarbakır High Criminal Court Faik Bulut
2020/65 1 Ankara High Criminal Court Ali̇can Uludağ
2020/279 1 Diyarbakır High Criminal Court Nurcan Yalçın
2020/311 1 Ankara High Criminal Court Mehmet Özer
2020/322 1 Diyarbakır High Criminal Court Perihan Kaya
2020/293 1 İstanbul High Criminal Court İnci Aydın
2020/252 1 İstanbul Criminal Court of First Instance Can Ataklı
2020/230 1 İstanbul Criminal Court of First Instance Nagehan Alçı
2020/3 1 İstanbul Criminal Court of First Instance Ayten Akgün
2019/445 1 İstanbul Asliye Ticaret Mahkemesi Ceren Sözeri
2020/114 1 İstanbul High Criminal Court Buse Söğütlü
2020/211 1 Diyarbakır High Criminal Court İsmail Çoban
2019/237 1 Antalya Criminal Court of First Instance Engi̇n Korkmaz
2020/222 1 Muğla Criminal Court of First Instance Hakan Aygün
2019/401 1 İstanbul Criminal Court of First Instance Rüstem Batum
2019/442 1 İstanbul Criminal Court of First Instance Derya Okatan
2020/125 1 İstanbul Criminal Court of First Instance Cem Şimşek
2020/1003 1 İstanbul Criminal Court of First Instance Deniz Gedizlioğlu
2020/32 1 Adıyaman Criminal Court of First Instance Özgür Boğatekin
2020/29 1 İzmir High Criminal Court Ruken Demir
2019/413 1 Diyarbakır High Criminal Court Durket Süren
2019/281 1 İstanbul High Criminal Court Ferhat Tunç
2019/821 1 Diyarbakır Criminal Court of First Instance Hakkı Boltan
2020/29 1 İzmir High Criminal Court Ruken Demir
2020/35 1 İzmir High Criminal Court Melike Aydın
2019/313 1 Diyarbakır High Criminal Court Vedat Dağ
2020/334 1 Kars High Criminal Court Selda Manduz
2018/439 1 Diyarbakır High Criminal Court Ramazan Dündar
2018/949 1 Diyarbakır High Criminal Court Ramazan Akoğul
2018/478 1 İstanbul Criminal Court of First Instance Şebnem Korur Fincancı
2018/536 1 Diyarbakır High Criminal Court Rojhat Doğru
2018/57 1 İstanbul High Criminal Court Ali Sönmez Kayar
2020/171 1 Van High Criminal Court Arif Aslan
2017/194 1 Van High Criminal Court Selman Keleş
2017/859 1 İstanbul Criminal Court of First Instance Ferhat Tunç
2018/827 1 Diyarbakır High Criminal Court Kibriye Evren
2016/327 1 İstanbul Criminal Court of First Instance Rüstem Batum
2016/325 1 İstanbul Criminal Court of First Instance Rüstem Batum
2014/274 1 İstanbul High Criminal Court Arafat Dayan
2014/277 1 İstanbul High Criminal Court Reyhan Çapan
2015/294 1 Batman High Criminal Court Engin Eren