A total of 95 journalists and 35 distributors have spent the Press Freedom Day on July 24, which marks the publication of the first uncensored newspapers 104 years ago, behind bars in Turkey this year. Courts have also sentenced 24 people, including six journalists, to a total of 91 years, nine months and 18 days in prison, as well as to pay fines in the amount of 40,000 Turkish Liras during the same period in connection with charges stipulated in the country's infamous Anti-Terror Law (TMK.)
As of July 2011, some 68 journalists were residing in Turkey's jails. Courts had handed out sentences totaling 44 years and eight months in prison, while prosecutors had demanded 223 years for the suspects.
Journalists poured out onto the streets and flocked into courts to show their solidarity with their colleagues and oppose their plight.
The Third Judicial Reform Package propounded by the government in consequence of the resulting backlash and which introduced a conditional amnesty for press-related offenses also continued to feature in public debates until its ratification on July 2. Journalist associations, however, struck a cautious note and said the legislation would not resolve the fundamental issues in Turkey pertaining to the freedom of expression, as it fell short of preventing courts from qualifying certain press offenses as "acts of terrorism" and their arbitrary extension of detention and arrest periods.
Throughout the trials and the investigations, authorities have persistently confronted the 95 journalists and the 35 distributors with allegations concerning their presumed involvement in the "media outlets of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK,)" basing their claims on such "evidence" as "following a news story," "writing a book," "engaging in journalism that is critical toward the government" and "working in the Kurdish media."
The journalists and the distributors are facing charges of committing offenses and/or intentionally aiding and abetting the PKK without being its members. Other journalists are also standing trial on charges of establishing an armed or an unarmed organization, leading it or being a member of it, while some have also received sentences in connection with these charges.
Azadiye Welat's managing editors Vedat Kurşun, Ruken Ergün and Ozan Kılınç, as well as Bedri Adanır, the owner of Aram Publishing House and the chief editor of Hawar, are the only journalists standing trial directly in connection with the news stories, commentaries and books they have penned down.
Authorities cited a plethora of reasons to keep the suspects under arrest, including "doubt regarding [the probability of the suspects] running away," "destroying, concealing or tampering with evidence," "putting pressure on the witnesses," "a strong and intense probability of the offense having been committed" and the inclusion in article 100 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CMK) the offenses attributed to the suspects.
The BIA Media Monitoring and Freedom of Expression Report for April, May and June, 2012 consists of the headings "Journalist Murders / Trials," "Imprisoned Journalists," "Distributors and Employees," "Releases," "Attacks, Threats and Obstructions," "Inquiries, New / Ongoing Trials, Decisions," "Trials Against Kurdish Politicians," "Articles 285-288 of the TCK (Turkish Penal Code,)" "Actions for Libel, Personal Rights and Compensation," "Decisions by the Prime Ministry's Board for the Protection of Minors from Obscene Publications," "Bans, suspensions, confiscations," "ECHR (European Court of Human Rights,)" and "RTÜK (Higher Board of Radio and Television) Decisions."
The report relates trials pertaining to articles 215, 220, 285, 288 and 314 of the TCK, with an emphasis on the number of journalists in prison, the length of their detentions or arrests, investigations and trials regarding the freedom of expression and article 7 / 2 of the TMK that authorities frequently employ to restrict the freedoms of expression and press.
Article 7 / 2 of the TMK is also often accompanied in the trials by article 220 / 7 of the TCK ("aiding a terrorist organization without being a member of it,") and article 314 / 2 of the TCK ("being a member of an armed terrorist organization.")
91 years and nine months in jail for violating the TMK
Courts have sentenced 24 people, including six journalists, to a total of 91 years, nine months and 18 days in prison, as well as to pay 40,000 Turkish Liras in fines during the second quarter of 2012 for violating article 7 / 2 of the TMK. Courts had issued sentences totaling 44 years and eight months in prison during the same period in 2011.
Summary of Proceedings for Kurdish deputies
Prosecutors issued 61 summaries of proceedings against 25 deputies of the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP,) which holds 29 seats in Parliament in all.
BDP deputies Adil Kurt, Ahmet Türk, Altan Tan, Aysel Tuğluk, Bengi Yıldız, Demir Çelik, Emine Ayna, Ertuğrul Kürkçü, Esat Canan, Gültan Kışanak, Hüsamettin Zenderlioğlu, Halil Aksoy, Hasip Kaplan, İbrahim Binici, İdris Baluken, Leyla Zana, Nursel Aydoğan, Özdal Üçer, Pervin Buldan, Mülkiye Birtane, Sabahat Tuncel, Selahattin Demirtaş Selma Irmak, Sırrı Sakık ve Sırrı Süreyya Önder consequently received the summaries of proceedings.
Deputy Özdal Üçer, on the other hand, topped the list with nine summaries of proceedings against him.
The charges leveled against the BDP deputies in the summaries of proceedings include "making PKK propaganda" (TMK article 7 / 2,) "Contravening the Law of Assembly and Demonstration" (article 28 / 1 of the 2911th Law,) "praising a crime and the criminal" (article 215 of the TCK,) "Contravening the Law of Political Parties" (article 78 of the 2820th Law,) "insulting a civil servant for his / her duties" (article 125 of the TCK,) "insulting the prime minister" (article 301 of the TCK,) "inciting people to hatred and enmity" (article 216 of the TCK) and "having membership in a terrorist organization by committing a crime on its behalf without being its member." (article 314 / 2 of the TCK.)
The trials of 16 persons, including nine journalists, were underway during the publication of the report. Courts sentenced four suspects, two of them journalists, to a total of one year and 11 months behind bars and to pay fines in the amount of 12,000 TL on allegations of "libel" and "attacking personal rights."
During the same period last year, courts had sentenced eight suspects to nine years and four months in jail and five suspects to pay fines in the amount of 29,860 TL, three of them directly to the person of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
Officials removed a book from the Education Ministry's "100 Essential Works" on the grounds it contained obscenity.
Officials also banned a song, censured a comic strip and returned a magazine back to its publisher on the same charge. They also banned a May 1 celebration banner of the Turkish Communist Party (TKP) upon the allegation that it contained an insult.
Authorities also shut the weekly Demokratik Vatan ("Democratic Homeland") down for a month on the charge they had made propaganda on the PKK's behalf.
Appeals to the European Court of Human Rights
A journalist filed a suit at the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) during the second quarter of 2012 on the charge that Turkey had violated the "ban on torture" and "the right to freedom and security."
Higher Board of Radio and Television
Turkey's Higher Board of Radio and Television (RTÜK) issued 96 warnings and 68 fines against broadcasting stations, while it also issued 18 warnings and two fines against radio stations.
RTÜK cited a number of reasons for its warnings and fines, including articles pertaining to "rating symbols [regarding age-restricted content,]" "human dignity and the right to privacy," "the presumption of innocence," "proper use of the Turkish language," "exploiting people through fortune-reading and superstitions," "the right to rebut," "contests and lotteries," "explicit publications," "the rule of law," "discrimination," "tobacco and tobacco products," "news presentation" and "advertisement, sponsorship and product placement." (EG / BA)