On 20 December 2021, ARTICLE 19 submitted an expert opinion in the case of journalist Buse Söğütlü, who is facing charges under several terrorism offences in Turkey. The accusations stem from a social media post in which she criticised a judge. ARTICLE 19’s submission focuses on the lack of compatibility of the respective offences with key international and European human rights standards and submits that the prosecution of Söğütlü violates her right to freedom of expression. In addition we argue that the respective Turkish criminal legal provisions have been misused in order to punish Söğütlü for her criticism of the judge.
In March 2019, Buse Söğütlü, a journalist for the Gazete Yolculuk newspaper, tweeted a harsh criticism of Akın Gürlek, the President of the 37th Assize Court in Istanbul, that is in charge of terrorism prosecutions in cases of several lawyers (accused of being members of DHKP-C [the Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party/Front]). She has been subsequently charged with crimes of disclosing or publishing the identity of an official on counterterrorism duties or identifying counterterrorism officials as targets and a membership of a terrorist organisation. Although Buse Söğütlü admits to posting the tweets, she argues that the opinion expressed in the tweet followed her close observation of the hearings led by the judge and was strictly linked to her journalistic work. She stresses that the tweet was within the scope of freedom of expression.
In the expert opinion to the 23rd Assize Court in Istanbul, ARTICLE 19 submits that the charges brought against the journalist and the legislation on which these charges are based fail to comply with Turkey’s obligations under international human rights law, in particular the right to freedom of expression. If the journalist were to be convicted, her conviction would equally constitute an unnecessary interference with the right to freedom of expression. In addition, ARTICLE 19 reiterates that certain Turkish criminal legal provisions, in particular relating to the potential cooperation with terrorist organisation, have been disproportionately used to silence critical voices and opposition in Turkey.
ARTICLE 19 particularly highlights the following vital issues that should be taken into consideration while analysing this case.
- Buse Söğütlü’s tweet must be viewed in a specific context. She was not the sole individual criticising judge Akin Gurlek. Turkish press broadly criticised and expressed concern over Akin Gurlek’s courtroom manner and conduct.
- Buse Söğütlü’s comment was based on the close observation of judge Akin Gurlek’s behaviour in the high-profile trial. She had a right to express her opinion and make value judgments on what she perceived to be deficiencies in the execution of criminal justice.
- There is no evidence in this case that any of the journalist’s impugned comments incited direct violence against judge Akin Gurlek or identified him in any way as a target for terrorist organisations.
- International standards clearly indicate that restrictions and sanctions are considered disproportionate unless the criticism is essentially unfounded – regardless of how derogatory criticism might appear.
- The Prosecution has not provided any evidence that the journalist is a member of a terrorist organisation. There has been extensive discussion at an international level on misuse of Article 314(2) of the Turkish Criminal Code in order to stifle opposition in Turkey.
- The provisions of the Turkish Criminal Code, under which Buse Söğütlü is charged, have been misused in order to punish the journalist for her criticism of judge Akin Gurlek’s conduct in the relevant trial. It cannot be argued that she disclosed or published his identity as he had already been the subject of extensive criticism and debate in the press.