Stop prosecuting journalists, take measures against COVID in upcoming trials, says CPJ

Turkey should stop prosecuting journalists and ensure that necessary safety measures are taken vis-à-vis the COVID-19 pandemic in upcoming trials, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has said.

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

Said urged Turkish authorities to 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.”

Turkish Justice Minister Abdülhamit Gül announced on June 16 the resumption of trials in the country following a three-month suspension due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

More than a dozen journalists are due in court in the coming days, the CPJ said, citing news reports.

On June 17 a court in Diyarbakır, a southeastern city largely populated by Kurds, sentenced Beritan Canözer, a reporter for the pro-Kurdish Jin News, to one year, 10 months, 15 days in prison for spreading the propaganda of a terrorist organization in her social media posts, while a Diyarbakır court acquitted Yeni Yaşam editor Semiha Alankuş on charges of membership in a terrorist organization on the same day, the CPJ said.

Three separate trials of journalists are scheduled to resume on Wednesday, including the first hearing in the case of seven journalists from various outlets for allegedly violating the country’s intelligence laws by reporting on the death of an intelligence officer in Libya, and more are scheduled to resume later this week, the CPJ added.

Turkish-German journalist Deniz Yücel‘s trial in absentia on charges of disseminating terrorist propaganda and provoking the people to hatred and animosity is also scheduled to resume on Wednesday,

Also on Wednesday a court in Istanbul will hear the case of leftist daily Evrensel writer Erdal İmrek, who has been released pending trial on criminal insult charges over a June 29, 2019 column about Turkish first lady Emine Erdoğan’s Hermes handbag, the CPJ said.

On Thursday the trials of six journalists released pending trial for their alleged involvement in a hacker group will resume, the CPJ said, citing local media. The legal proceedings have been ongoing for three years, it added.

Sabiha Temizkan, a reporter from the pro-Kurdish Yeni Yaşam daily, accused of spreading terrorist propaganda; Ahmet Altan, a journalist and novelist sentenced to life in prison over his alleged ties to a 2016 coup attempt in the country; Sibel Hürtaş and Hayri Demir, journalists on trial for their coverage of Turkey’s military activity in Syria in 2017; and Oktay Candemir, a freelance journalist accused of resisting police, are due to appear in courts across the country on Thursday.

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

According to the Reporters Without Borders’ (RSF) 2020 World Press Freedom Index in which Turkey was ranked 154th among 180 countries in terms of press freedom, Turkey is the world’s biggest jailer of professional journalists.

The Stockholm Center for Freedom (SCF) has documented that 178 journalists are currently behind bars in Turkey, while 168 wanted on fabricated terrorism charges have been forced to live in exile.

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