Turkey should stop prosecuting journalists, CPJ says as courts re-open

Turkey should halt its prosecution of journalists and ensure that more than a dozen due in court in the coming days are protected from the COVID-19 virus, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said.

“The sheer number of trials targeting Turkish journalists shows authorities’ contempt and hostility towards the media,” said CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Gulnoza Said. “This situation is even more unacceptable during the coronavirus pandemic.”

Turkish Justice Minister Abdülhamit Gül announced on June 16 that trials would resume in the country following a three-month suspension due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Turkey is one of the world’s leading jailers of journalists, frequently switching places with China for the top global ranking.

 On June 17, a court in the southeastern city of Diyarbakır sentenced Beritan Canözer, a reporter for pro-Kurdish news website Jin News, to one year, 10 months in prison for making propaganda for a terrorist organisation in her social media posts, according to local press reports. The same day, a judge in the city acquitted Yeni Yaşam editor Semiha Alankuş on charges of membership of a terrorist group.

Three separate trials of journalists were scheduled to resume on Wednesday, including of seven accused of violating the country’s national intelligence laws, and more are scheduled to re-start later this week, the CPJ said.

“Turkish authorities must stop putting journalists on trial for their reporting; if they will not drop their charges against members of the press, they must at least ensure journalists can attend court safely,” Said said.

On Thursday, the trials of six journalists for their alleged involvement in a hacker group will resume, CPJ said, citing news reports. The legal proceedings have been ongoing for three years, it said.

Many Turkish journalists are also tried in absentia after fleeing the country following a failed military coup in July 2016. Among those abroad is Turkish-German journalist Deniz Yücel, who lives in Germany. He is being tried this week on charges of terrorist propaganda and “provoking the people to animosity and hatred”, CPJ said.

The CPJ said it had emailed Turkey’s Justice Ministry for comment but had not received a response.