Solidarity with Turkish journalists as jail terms stretch before them

by Jane Whyatt

Trials in Turkey continue, with jail terms facing more journalists who were just doing their jobs. Long stretches behind bars are likely. Nedim Türfent of the pro-Kurdish Dicle News Agency (DİHA) has just notched up one thousand days, prompting a soldarity action.

Solidarity with Turkish journalists as jail terms stretch before them Picture: International Press Institute

The media freedom community’s Turkey Advocacy Group, where the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF) is a member, is urging everyone to sign a letter and send Türfent a message. ECPMF Legal Advisor Flutura Kusari comments:

We have supported Nedim's case through our legal aid programme and we will continue to support him until he is freed".

Meanwhile 62-year old journalist Ayse Düzkan has won the support of the UK National Union of Journalists. The union has 'adopted’ her to offer support as she serves an eighteen-month sentence that began on 29.01.2019.

Düzkan was one of a group of senior journalists who volunteered to act as editor-of-the day for a pro-Kurdish publication threatened with closure. 

More than 150 journalists and media workers are already behind bars in Turkey, following the failed coup and state of emergency imposed by President Erdoğan in 2016. 

In the first week of February 2019, a further twelve Turkish journalists face court appearances. They include Can Dündar and Erdem Gül, former editors of the Cumhuriyet national daily newspaper that published details of secret arms shipments going from Turkey to Syria. The arrests followed shortly afterwards. 

The first court hearings in 2016 were adjourned and Can Dündar fled to Germany. Dündar and Gül were jointly awarded the Leipzig Prize for the Freedom and Future of the Media in 2016 by the Media Foundation of the Sparkasse Leipzig, ECPMF’s founding partner. Can Dündar went on to found an independent news portal, Özgurüz, from his place of exile, working with the Correctiv media activists’ group. 

'Sham trials'

Nora Wehofsits, Advocacy Officer for the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom, comments: “Can Dündar and Erdem Gül have had the threat of a prison term hanging over them for almost three years now and the trial, which I have observed in Turkey, is a sham like many  others. Journalism is not a crime.

ECPMF’s partners International Press Institute and Media Law Studies Association have been monitoring trials of journalists in Turkey throughout 2018 and just published a report showing severe shortcomings in the judicial processes. 

Some of the key findings:

  • In 36 percent of court sessions, defendants were brought in by handcuffs, again in violation of Turkish law.
  • At least one defendant was held in ongoing detention in 27 separate cases. Over half of these defendants had spent more than a year in pre-trial detention, even though such lengthy detention periods violate Turkish law and have been condemned by the ECtHR.
  • In 41 percent of court sessions, changes were made to the panel of judges scheduled or assigned to the case, violating the principle of the lawful judge and casting doubt on courts’ independence and impartiality. 

The full report is available here 

Journalists’ own stories of how they are coping with life in Turkish prisons are collected and recounted here as part of the Expression Interrupted proect.

Solidarity actions in support of many of the other jailed journalists in Turkey are being co-ordinated by ECPMF’s partner organisation, the European Federation of Journalists.