Türkiye: Trials reaffirm urgent need to protect journalists from harsh laws

Türkiye: Trials reaffirm urgent need to protect journalists from harsh laws - Protection

On March 19, 2024, ARTICLE 19 attended the hearings in cases against four journalists in Istanbul. We welcome the acquittal of Ayça Söylemez, who was accused of ‘disclosing the identity of officials on anti-terrorist duties and identifying such persons as targets’, and continue to call for the acquittal of Can Ataklı, Görkem Kınacı and Kürşat Yılmaz. Can Ataklı is charged with ‘provoking the public to hatred and hostility’, while Görkem Kınacı and Kürşat Yılmaz are facing charges of ‘insult’ and ‘calumny’. 

ARTICLE 19 has consistently documented numerous instances of the abuse of certain provisions of the Penal Code and the Anti-Terrorism Law to intimidate journalists and punish them for criticism. We have long advocated against the routine misuse of these laws against public watchdogs and underscored the necessity to align the legislation with international standards on freedom of expression. We assess that all three cases bear hallmarks of undue interference with the right to freedom of expression. 

Ayça Söylemez and ‘identifying officials on anti-terrorist duties as targets’

Ayça Söylemez was indicted following an article for BirGün news website, detailing the involvement of judge Akın Gürlek in several of the most controversial cases concerning terrorism-related charges. In her article, Söylemez refers to Gürlek as ‘The Talented Mr. Judge,’ highlighting his frequent reassignments to head of tribunal positions in cases where his presence was deemed ‘necessary’. The article discloses no personal information about Gürlek beyond the circumstances surrounding his reassignments.

During the hearing at İstanbul 29th Assize Court, Söylemez’s lawyer pointed out that the amendment to the Press Law in 2022 requires that all civil and criminal cases against online press must be brought before the court within four months after the content is released. The lawyer argued that since the indictment against Söylemez was issued three years after the publication of the article in question, this renders it unwarranted and necessitates the dismissal of the case.

Söylemez’s lawyer also highlighted that four other cases of ‘identifying officials on anti-terrorist duties as targets’, which had judge Akın Gürlek as the victim, resulted in acquittal and added that the ECtHR has found violations in four cases concerning the same article of the Anti-Terrorism law. He stressed that all information shared by Söylemez in the article was publicly available at the time and that Söylemez did not have the required specific intent to identify Gürlek as a target for terrorist organisations.

 The case was not dismissed but Söylemez was acquitted of the charges. 

Can Ataklı and ‘provoking hatred and hostility’

Can Ataklı was indicted for his words in a YouTube video, where he addressed the father of a soldier who died in battle. The soldier’s father had previously stated, ‘I do not forgive those who demand freedom for Selahattin Demirtaş and Osman Kavala’, to which Ataklı responded in his video: ‘Who are you? Just because you are the father of a martyr, does that give you the right to say anything you want?’  During his hearing at İstanbul 5th Court of First Instance for ‘provoking the public to hatred and hostility’, he stated that his remarks were taken out of context and disseminated on social media to cause public outrage. The judge decided to lift the judicial control order against Ataklı, prohibiting him from leaving the country, and adjourned the trial until 10 September 2024.

Görkem Kınacı and Kürşat Yılmaz and charges of ‘insult’ and ‘calumny’ 

Görkem Kınacı and Kürşat Yılmaz were indicted for ‘insult’ and ‘calumny’ against Serhat Albayrak, CEO of the pro-government Turkuvaz Media Group, and brother of Berat Albayrak, ex-Minister of Treasury and Finance and son-in-law of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. The charges stem from two articles published on the Evrensel news website in August 2022.

 The articles detail accusations of bribery and corruption made by Sedat Peker, an ex-leader of an organised crime group, who revealed his connections with influential political and business figures through videos. During the hearing at İstanbul 2nd Criminal Court of First Instance, Kınacı and Yılmaz’s lawyer stated that the elements of ‘insult and ‘calumny’ have not been established, as the articles merely repeat accusations made by Sedat Peker and are within the bounds of the right to freedom of expression. In addition, she pointed out that the crime of ‘calumny’ requires that one accuses another of a crime that they know has not been committed, which does not apply in this situation. The trial was adjourned to 25 April 2024.

ARTICLE 19 denounces all forms of judicial harassment against journalists and urges Turkish authorities to cease the misuse of criminal and anti-terror legislation as a means to intimidate journalists. We will continue to monitor these cases, as well as other instances of harassment for critical reporting, closely.