Turkey sentenced 67 people to 299 years in prison in freedom of expression trials: report

A trial monitoring study by the Media and Law Studies Association (MLSA) has revealed that 67 people in Turkey were handed down 299 years, two months and 24 days in prison in 41 trials over freedom of expression in the period between Sept. 1, 2021 and July 20, 2022, Turkish Minute reported.

The report, titled “The Cost of Freedom of Expression in Turkey: 299 Years, 2 Months and 24 Days,” contains data gathered through the monitoring of 46 hearings of 210 freedom of expression trials held in 23 cities with the support of the Royal Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Turkey Office of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom.

According to the report, the 299 years handed down to 67 people in total do not reflect the life sentence given to journalist Rojhat Doğru and the aggravated life sentence given to prominent businessman and philanthropist Osman Kavala.

Most of those against whom a case was brought during the monitoring period were journalists (56.4 percent), rights defenders (9.1 percent), activists (9.1 percent), authors (7.3 percent) and politicians (5.5 percent), the report said, adding that the majority of the charges against them were terrorism-related, with an “overall ratio” of 38 percent.

The number of imprisoned journalists and media employees was 59, with 318 of them facing trials during the monitoring period, including 12 arrested pending trial, according to the report.

It showed that the practice of trying journalists in terrorism cases in which their news articles and social media posts were cited as evidence for the charges continued in the monitoring period, with the charge of “making propaganda for a terrorist organization” being leveled against 143 journalists and a total of 132 journalists appearing before the courts on “propaganda” charges.

The report further demonstrated that 18 out of 34 defendants who were tried in 29 cases launched on charges of “insulting the president” during the same period were also journalists and that the only evidence cited for the charges in 19 of the cases were the defendants’ social media posts.

A total of 800 people were tried for having attended peaceful protests and demonstrations in accordance their rights guaranteed in Article 34 of the constitution, according to the report, which added that in some cases, the prosecutors cited the arbitrary demonstration and protest bans of the district or provincial governorships and the demonstration bans imposed during the pandemic to prove that the demonstrations and protests cited in the indictments were “unlawful.”

It was also indicated in the report that the increase recorded in acquittals handed down during the monitoring period – 226 people in 51 of the monitored cases – was to be evaluated positively but that it also showed that investigations concerning freedom of expression are turned into criminal cases too easily.

The report also underlined that the monitors witnessed numerous serious violations of national and international fundamental rules and principles of law, including violations of the right to a fair trial, during the “third Gezi Trial” in which 17 people, including Kavala, faced numerous charges.

“… Even one of the most fundamental rights, namely ‘the right not to be tried or punished twice,’ which is guaranteed by Article 4 of Protocol No. 7 of the European Convention on Human Rights and the 7th clause of Article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, has been blatantly violated,” the report said.

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