October 19, 2015

Crackdown on media increases with new detentions, attacks, censorship, report says

Many Turkish media outlets continue to face increasing pressure, with growing numbers of investigations into journalists, detentions and arrests for their critical stance against the government, independent press agency Bianet has found.

Within the past three months, 101 news sites and 40 Twitter accounts were blocked; 178 news reports were censored; 21 journalists and three media outlets were attacked; 88 journalists faced legal action; and 24 others involved in the media, including nine newspaper delivery men, were arrested, the Bianet report said.

It pointed out that all media groups known for their critical views have been targeted by the government.

Bianet attributed the pressure on the media to the interim Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government losing its majority to govern the country alone after the June 7 election and its move to terminate talks with Kurdish groups to solve the decades-long Kurdish problem.

The report stated that after the government launched an air-strike campaign targeting terrorist Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) bases in the Kandil Mountains, media outlets that prioritized the Kurdish issue faced widespread police operations and their Internet pages were censored.

Bianet noted that the İpek Media Group was also recently raided by the police, seven TV channels were dropped by the Digiturk satellite network and Bugün daily columnist Gültekin Avcı was arrested.

The report went on to state that the Doğan Media Group as well as the Cumhuriyet daily were subject to a series of investigations on accusations of "promoting terrorism," "espionage" and "insult." It pointed out that verbal attacks by senior government officials laid the groundwork for a physical assault on Hürriyet columnist Ahmet Hakan.

The report found that 14 journalists were tried on accusations of insulting President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan during that period of July to September.

In addition, 19 members of the critical media had undergone investigations based on Article 299 of the Turkish Penal Code (TCK), which states that anyone convicted of insulting the president serves a jail term of between one and four years.

The monitoring report concluded that after the Kurdish settlement process was frozen, many members of the media were deemed "criminals" and faced ill-treatment.

Between July and September this year, 28 journalists were tried and face up to 430 years in prison, as per the Counterterrorism Law (TMK). Four journalists and the authors of 18 books that are critical of Erdoğan and the government were under investigation pertaining to other offenses defined in the TMK.

Sixty journalists are currently being tried on charges of "leadership of a terrorist organization," "membership of a terrorist group" or "assisting a terrorist group," and if convicted face up to 546 years in prison in total, the report noted.

Three journalists are being tried on accusations of "violating secrecy," while two others are accused of "insulting sacred values" and "provoking the people towards hatred and enmity," according to the report.

It also stated that during 2014 one journalist was sentenced to 16 years in prison concerning an offense defined in the TMK, while four others faced up to 268 years in prison.

In addition, 10 journalists, who were charged with "provoking the people towards hatred and enmity," "insulting sacred values" and "insult" were sentenced to three years and five months in prison last year.

Between July and September of this year, one journalist was sentenced to three years and six months in prison, while criminal suits filed against 10 journalists and two dailies are proceeding, as three more criminal complaints were launched against the journalists.

A daily that was accused of violating personal rights was fined TL 5,000 over charges of insult. Five more journalists are being tried over insult charges and more than TL 1 million in damages are being sought.

Also, two columnists were fined over TL 8,000 on charges of "violating personal rights."

The bans or punishments are not limited to only journalists. Main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu and CHP deputy Hüseyin Aygün were fined TL 45,000 in total over the charge of insulting President Erdoğan.

Erdoğan also sued two other deputies, pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) Co-chair Selahattin Demirtaş and another CHP deputy, Eren Erdem, seeking TL 80,000 in total in damages.

The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) ordered the Turkish government to pay compensation after finding it guilty of violating freedom of expression after journalist Abdurrahment Dilipak filed a suit against the government between July and September of this year. It is not yet known how much Dilipak will receive in compensation as he did not demand an exact amount for damages in his petition to the ECtHR.

The Constitutional Court ruled that the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of information were violated for five individuals, including a journalist, and ordered the government to pay over TL 12,000 in compensation to the defendants between June and September of this year.

Journalist Faraç detained for critical article

Aydınlık daily columnist and program producer for Halk TV Mehmet Faraç was detained on Monday at a hotel in the southeastern province of Adana for an article that is critical of the government.

Faraç was referred to court for arrest, but the judge ruled for his release pending trial.

Faraç was in Adana to record a program for local channel Çukurova TV when he was detained. It was 5 a.m. when the police came to his hotel.

In April 2014 Faraç published an article titled “The AK Party's Backyard and Bastinado Mentality” in the Aydınlık newspaper where he mentioned an event that took place at the Hoca Ahmet Yesevi religious vocational high school in Mersin.

Published on Today's Zaman, 19 October 2015, Monday