Court dishes out penalties for journalists who show solidarity with Özgür Gündem daily

Veteran journalist Hasan Cemal (c) has frequently appeared before Turkish courts in recent years.

An İstanbul court has dished out penalties for the prominent Turkish journalists who showed solidarity with the now-closed pro-Kurdish Özgür Gündem daily on Tuesday.

Veteran journalists Hasan Cemal, Nadire Mater, Yıldırım Türker and famous writer Murat Uyurkulak, who joined Özgür Gündem newspaper’s “Editors-in-Chief on Watch” campaign, appeared before the İstanbul 22nd Heavy Penal Court on Tuesday.

As Hasan Cemal was fined 6,000 TL (1,500 Euros) on charge of “publishing statement of an [illegal] organization,” Türker was given a prison sentence of 1 year 10 months and 15 days. Meanwhile, Mater was sentenced to 15 months in prison and fined 6,000 TL (1,500 Euros) on charge of “terror propaganda.” Well known novelist Uyurkulak has also been sentenced to 15 months in prison on charge of “terror propaganda.”

The sentences of Cemal, Türker, Mater and Uyurkulak have been suspended for five years.

According to a report by bianet.org, during his defense before the court, Hasan Cemal stated that Turkish journalists cannot be free before Kurdish journalists become free. “I am here to defend the free and independent media and to stand up to say that journalism is not a crime. In this sense, I am here to defend also the freedom of Kurdish journalists and while I do that, I have to emphasize that in an environment in which Kurdish journalists are not free, Turkish journalists can neither be free,” said Cemal.

Cemal continued his defense as saying “I am 73 years old and have been practicing journalism for 47 years. I have spent many years by observing the Kurdish issue. I believe that handling the Kurdish issue in peace and free from guns and violence is a huge step for the democratic governance, peace and law in Turkey. That is why I took part in the Editor-in-Chief on Watch campaign, acted in solidarity with my Kurdish colleagues.”

Journalist Yıldırım Türker.

In the absence of Yıldırım Türker before the judge, his lawyer Emel Ataktürk has pointed out the decisions of the bodies of the Council of Europe and the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) and stated that “The press doesn’t have to use a language which prioritizes the state. The press itself makes decisions based on its own terminology, interpretations and principles, and within the scope of rights and liberties determined at national and international level. When we take a look at the terminology used in the news and compare it with the other press organs in the world, we see similarities.”

Novelist Murat Uyurkulak.

Saying that “here, the solidarity with Özgür Gündem is tried,” novelist Uyurkulak’s lawyer Hürrem Sönmez has stated before the court that “My client is a man of letters. Advocating freedom of expression is a basic life-act for my client… Editorial policies of the newspapers can be discussed at the universities. It is not the courts but society to evaluate and judge newspapers’ editorial policies.”

Journalist Nadire Mater (R).

Journalist Mater’s attorney Meriç Eyüboğlu has noted that Özgür Gündem fought various crackdowns including shut downs, arrest of its employees and murders, so Mater has joined the campaign to show her solidarity with the newspaper.

56 journalists and writers have participated in the Özgür Gündem daily’s “Editor-in-Chief on Watch” campaign organized between May 3-August 7, 2016. 50 of those attendees have faced prosecution and 38 files have been turned into cases.

Stockholm Center for Freedom, an advocacy group that monitors rights violations in Turkey, issued a report on March 1, 2017, saying that the number of jailed journalist has reached to a new record of 200 with Germany’s Die Welt, Deniz Yücel being among new arrestees.

Of these journalists, 179 are arrested pending trial and without a conviction. Most of the journalists do not even know what the charges are or what evidence, if any, the government has because the indictments were not filed yet. Also, over 180 media outlets have been closed by AKP government last year.

March 7, 2017

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