Journalist Nur Ener behind bars in Turkey for reporting on rights violations

Naciye Nur Ener Kılıç

A young woman journalist who reported about rights violations in Turkey languishes behind prison bars for 245 days in Turkey while prosecutor who asked for her arrest is still looking for an evidence of crime to justify 15-year jail time for her.

Naciye Nur Ener, a 26-year-old reporter who works for critical Yeni Asya newspaper, was detained on March 3, 2017 when all-male police squadron raided her home at 3 a.m. in the morning. The Turkish law on criminal code of procedures requires a woman officer to be present when suspect is a female. Yet, witnesses reported no woman officer joined while her home was ransacked and she was placed under police custody.

Ener has been reporting on human rights abuses in Turkish prisons for the daily she works and many believe she was targeted for covering stories of those who faced ill-treatment in jails. Although she is jailed, Ener keeps writing for the newspaper from her cell about the terrible conditions she witnesses in the prison.

According to the detention warrant, a woman identified with initial only as M.B reported to the police in a written statement that Ener is a member of FETÖ [a derogatory term coined by the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government and Turkish autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to refer to the alleged members of the Gülen movement].

Informant M.B. later called Ener expressing her regret that she informed the police about her and others she got acquainted with during university days. Despite the fact that she knew she was under investigation, Ener did not flee and continued to work for the paper as usual. She knew she had not committed any crime and certainly has no association with any terror group.

She was wrong as the rule of law has already been suspended in Turkey and the judiciary are totally controlled by Erdoğan government that does not seem to be bothered with the evidence, due process and presumption of innocence.

Ener told the presiding judge during the arraignment hearing that she was previously informed by M.B. that her name was in the list of suspects in a police investigation and yet she continued to live in the same flat and worked at the same newspaper until she was detained. She asked for her release pending charges.

The court dismissed the fact that she was unlikely to escape or hide any evidence if there was any, and ruled for the arrest on the basis of what it called a strong suspicion that Ener was a member of a terrorist organization. The letter of the informant was accepted as the only solid evidence. She was also accused of using a smart phone application known as ByLock which is no different from WhatApp, Skype, Signal or Blackberry Messenger. She told the judge that she never downloaded such an application.

Ener appeared before judges for the first time on May 3, 2017. She rejected all accusations brought against her and told the panel she was married 7 days ago in the prison and demanded her release. However, the court ruled for the continuation of her arrest and decided to ask authorities whether she used ByLock application and whether she cancelled her cable TV subscription of Digitürk.

The presiding judge told during the hearing that the court received the official document whether she had a Bank Asya account or not, but they could not run the CD in which it was included for technical reasons.

According the courts under Erdoğan regime, cancelling subscription of a pay TV operator, Digiturk which removed a number of critical TV channels from its line-ups late in 2015 is considered as an act of terror. Similarly, if suspect has a bank account at Bank Asya that is affiliated with the Gülen movement, which was one of the three banks with the highest liquidity in Turkey, that is also considered to be criminal evidence although the bank was duly authorized and licensed by the government until it was seized. The government unlawfully took over the bank on February 4, 2015, contrary to strict statutory banking regulations against such a drastic move.

Human rights organizations strongly argue that right to privacy requires encrypted messaging. A document published by Amnesty International (AI) about arrested human rights activists last June in Turkey, has underlined the possession of internationally available and widely downloaded application does not represent a criminal offence. “The Government’s methods for identifying users are seriously flawed in general,” stated in the document.

On March 4, 2016, The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein published a written statement over a hot discussion between Apple and FBI and pointed out that “Encryption and anonymity are needed as enablers of both freedom of expression and opinion, and the right to privacy. It is neither fanciful nor an exaggeration to say that, without encryption tools, lives may be endangered.”

More specifically, David Kaye, the UN Special Rapporteur for Human rights, highlighted in his report submitted to the UN’s Human Rights Committee (6-23 June 2017) that governmental action on Bylock usage is the criminalization of encryption which is an example of human rights abuses.

Finally, a recent report published by Stockholm Center for Freedom (SCF) has revealed the absurd pretexts used by prosecutors to indict suspects and judges to jail innocent people who are alleged to have been affiliated with the Gülen movement. Thus, the report finds that the fundamental principle of law such as “no crime without law,” widely and systematically has been violated.

Naciye Nur Ener appeared at two successive hearings on June 17, 2017 and November 2, 2017. The court again ruled for the continuation of her arrest for the reason that the reply letters from authorities have not been received yet and that the strong suspicion over membership of a terror organization still exists. The next hearing will be held on February 20, 2018 which is 109 days later.

Ener was a graduate of  Communications Department of Erzurum University in 2010. She started her media career as an intern at Yeni Asya newspaper and become full time reporter in 2015 after graduation. Before her arrest, she covered news on impediments on the freedom of speech in Turkey and the disproportionate use of power by Turkish government against civilians in Kurdish region in the southeast of Turkey.

Ener had to get married in prison in order to see his fiancé due to restrictions on visitors imposed during the rule of emergency in Turkey. The couple previously set a date for wedding ceremony but she was arrested a month earlier than the scheduled date. Their parents were not allowed to attend the modest ceremony in prison that lasted only 10 minutes.

Despite being jailed, Ener continues to report and frequently publishes her notes at Yeni Asya daily. Thanks to her reporting, several facts regarding to human rights abuses have been revealed. For instance, Ener wrote about an elderly woman at prison who is severely suffering from Alzheimer disease. She was working at a student dormitory. “My heart aches again and again when she miserably cries,” told Ener. “I am depressed by tears of crying mothers who were separated from their small children,” wrote Ener in her another note from prison.

In the last hearing on November 2, 2017, she asked her colleagues at the hearing to tell her mother not to cry when she heard the court refused to release her from pre-trial detention.

Ener also published a book while she was in prison. The stories of the oppressed people during the rule of emergency in Turkey that she started to edit before her arrest was published by her newspaper with a title of “Three Sprigs of Daisies.”

The lawyer of Ener told judges in previous hearing that Ener is suffering serious physical and mental problems in jail. Ener refuses to eat meals provided by the prison management for fear of being drugged. She informed that the tap water in her cell has disturbing smell and looks rusty in its color. She only takes a shower with bottled water she buys from the market in prison.

She tries to keep her sprit upbeat by reading, writing and training. She looks for the day she will be released and reunite with his newly-wed husband.

Turkey is the biggest jailer of journalists in the world. The most recent figures documented by the SCF has showed that 253 journalists and media workers are in jails as of November 5, 2017, most in pre-trial detention languishing in notorious Turkish prisons without even a conviction. Of those in Turkish prisons, 228 are arrested pending trial, only 25 journalists remain convicted and serving time in Turkish prisons. An outstanding detention warrants remain for 133 journalists who live in exile or remain at large in Turkey.

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

Turkey survived a controversial military coup attempt on July 15, 2016 that killed 249 people. Immediately after the putsch, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government along with President Erdoğan pinned the blame on the Gülen movement. Gülen, who inspired the movement, strongly denied having any role in the failed coup and called for an international investigation into it, but President Erdoğan — calling the coup attempt “a gift from God” — and the government initiated a widespread purge aimed at cleansing sympathizers of the movement from within state institutions, dehumanizing its popular figures and putting them in custody.

Turkey has suspended or dismissed more than 150,000 judges, teachers, police and civil servants since July 15. Turkey’s Justice Ministry announced on July 13 that 50,510 people have been arrested and 169,013 have been the subject of legal proceedings on coup charges since the failed coup.

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