OSCE’s Désir condemns harsh prison sentences for Zaman journalists, calls for their release

Harlem Désir

Harlem Désir, representative on freedom of the media for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), voiced strong disapproval of a Turkish court’s sentencing decisions for former Zaman journalists.

“Today’s sentences confirm the critical state of press freedom in Turkey. Terrorism charges for articles and news are unacceptable. Today’s sentences against Şahin Alpay and his colleagues are unjustified and exceptionally severe. I recall that the European Court of Human Rights emphasized that freedom of expression also applies to views that offend, shock or disturb the State or any sector of the population,” said Désir.

On Friday the İstanbul 13th High Criminal Court sentenced former Zaman journalists Şahin Alpay, Mustafa Ünal, İbrahim Karayeğen, Ahmet Turan Alkan, Mümtaz’er Türköne, Ali Bulaç to prison sentences ranging from eight years, niine months to 10 years, six months for “membership in a terrorist organization.” İhsan Dağı, Orhan Kemal Cengiz, Nuriye Akman, Mehmet Özdemir and Lale Sarıibrahimoğlu were acquitted of all charges.

Following a controversial coup attempt on July 15, 2016, the Zaman newspaper was closed by statutory decree and many of its employees were taken into custody.

Désir emphasized the poor health of journalist Alpay, who received a prison sentence of eight years, nine months. He recalled that both the Constitutional Court of Turkey and the European Court of Human Rights ruled that his pre-trial detention was a violation of his right to freedom of expression.

“I call on Turkey to release the arrested journalists and hope that this decision will be reversed on appeal. I have been following the Zaman trial from the very beginning. It highlights once again the urgent need to reform Turkey’s criminal legislation which allows for numerous ways to silence critical journalists,” said Désir.

Turkey is ranked 157th among 180 countries in the 2018 World Press Freedom Index released by Reporters Without Borders (RSF). If Turkey falls two more places, it will make it to the list of countries on the blacklist, which have the poorest record in press freedom.

Turkey is the biggest jailer of journalists in the world. The most recent figures documented by SCF show that 243 journalists and media workers were in jail as of June 27, 2018, most in pretrial detention. Of those in prison 184 were under arrest pending trial while only 59 journalists have been convicted and are serving their time. Detention warrants are outstanding for 143 journalists who are living 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 some 200 media outlets, including Kurdish news agencies and newspapers, after a coup attempt in Turkey on July 15, 2016.

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