Journalist not released despite witness claims to have signed testimonies under torture

Members of the Turkish Journalists Union follow the court hearing of journalist Nedim Türfent (R) in Hakkari on June 14, 2017.

A Hakkari court on Wednesday declined to release journalist Nedim Türfent although 12 of 13 witnesses retracted their written testimonies and said they were threatened and tortured before signing them.

Türfent went on trial on Wednesday at the Hakkari 2nd High Criminal Court after 13 months in jail. Twelve of the 13 witnesses said they were threatened and tortured to give testimony, the Evrensel daily reported. Nonetheless, the court decided to continue the detention of Türfent.

Türfent, who was working for the Dicle news agency, which was closed by government decree, was detained in Van on May 12, 2016, accused of membership in a terrorist organization.

According to Evrensel, Türfent, who was connected to the trial through teleconference, denied the accusations of membership in a terrorist organization and emphasized his profession as a journalist.

“I was tortured while in detention. A security staff member put his foot on my head and took a selfie. Reports of the battery are available. I have filed a complaint about it before. I am saying it now again. I was threatened with death and my photo was shared on a Twitter account called JITEM, which posts the photos of murdered people. Just as it’s legitimate for you to act as a judge here, it is natural for me to do journalism. Just as interviewing a chief physician would not make me a hospital staff member, writing a news story about an organization would not make me a member of that organization,” he said.

The Evrensel report detailed the statements of witnesses who denied having written or signed their testimonies of their free will.

Most of the witnesses did not know Türfent.

One of them said he was kept under detention for five days, during which time he was tortured to sign some papers. The witness said the testimony did not belong to him and that he had no choice but to sign it.

Another witness who had only seen Türfent’s name in the newspaper reported being tortured for three days.

One witness said “Two of my teeth were pulled out while I was being tortured,” and he was threatened that all of his teeth would be extracted if he did not sign the testimony in the prosecutor’s office.

Other witnesses were also threatened with death and forced to sign testimonies. “I was beaten and insulted,” said one of them. “I swear on my honor, I did not give this testimony,” said another.

One witness said he understood Turkish but spoke only Kurdish. He said he was injured and being tortured when he gave his testimony. “The policemen said they would shoot me if I did not accept the testimony, I apologize to Türfent,” he said.

Another one said: “I signed the testimony as my head was being banged on the table. I did not see what was written there as I signed it.”

Turkey is the leading jailer of journalists in the world. The Stockholm Center for Freedom (SCF) has documented that 265 journalists are now in jails as of June 14, most in pre-trial detention languishing in notorious Turkish prisons without even a conviction. Of those in Turkish prisons, 242 are arrested pending trial, only 23 journalists remain convicted and serving time in Turkish prisons. An outstanding detention warrants remain for 105 journalists who live in exile or remain at large in Turkey.

Detaining tens of thousands of people over alleged links to the movement, the government also closed down more than 180 media outlets after the coup attempt. ( June 14, 2017

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