Trial of journalists over reporting on 2018 lira meltdown begins in Turkey

A Turkish court has held the first hearing in the trial of 38 people accused of seeking to “cause chaos” in the country’s financial markets with their commentary on a currency crisis last year.

Prosecutors say the defendants, including Bloomberg reporters Kerim Karakaya and Fercan Yalınkılıç, broke capital market laws with their news reports and social media commentary on a currency crisis that broke out in August 2018.

The charges could land the defendants with prison sentences of up to five years. The court refused a request to immediately clear the charges during the hearing on Friday, and the trial will resume on Jan. 17.

The currency crisis broke out in August 2018 amid a diplomatic spat between Ankara and Washington over Turkey’s imprisonment of Andrew Brunson, a U.S. pastor, on terror charges. The crisis wiped nearly 30 percent off the lira’s value against the dollar by the year’s end, rocketing inflation and ushering in a recession.

Turkey’s Banking Regulation and Supervision Agency (BDDK) brought charges against Karakaya and Yalınkılıç for an Aug. 10 report it said had sought to destabilise the Turkish financial system.

"What this news said in brief was that the value of U.S. dollar increased by 24 percent on that day,” Turkish news site Bianet quoted Karakaya as saying at the trial. “We also wrote that the BDDK would meet with bank executives at the weekend. We did not gain any benefits from this news. The BDDK did not refute our news after all.”

The other 36 defendants have been charged for social media comments that the BDDK says were posted with malicious intent.

“We are charged with plotting an economic coup,” said one of the defendants, journalist Merdan Yanardağ. “It’s a completely ridiculous charge … I’m a journalist, if I don’t write about these things, who will?”

“I think that this case will go down in the legal history of Turkey,” said economist Mustafa Sönmez, another defendant in the case. “This case is not a case of economics, but a case of politics. It has been filed to silence dissenting voices."