Turkish court rules for continuation of pro-Kurdish DİHA reporter Sayılğan’s imprisonment

A Turkish court on Wednesday decided for the continuation of Kurdish journalist İdris Sayılğan’s pretrial detention, according to a report by the Platform for Independent Journalism (P24).

The 2nd High Criminal Court in Muş province ruled that Sayılğan, a reporter for the now-shuttered pro-Kurdish Dicle news agency (DİHA), would remain in jail. Sayılğan has been in pretrial detention for 19 months.

According to P24’s report, the third hearing of Sayılğan’s trial took place in the eastern city of Muş on Wednesday. Sayılğan was unable to appear before the court due to a technical failure in the judicial teleconferencing system that would connect to the prison in the Black Sea province of Trabzon where the reporter is currently held. The court ruled to continue Sayılğan’s detention, setting October 5, 2018 as the date of the next hearing.

Among other defendants being tried in the same case, Medeni Işık, an executive of the Mesopotamia Association of Solidarity with Families Who Lost Their Relatives (MEYA-DER) was released under judicial supervision.

The court, however, ruled to continue the detention of three other defendants: Hatice Şeker, the co-president of the Democratic Regions Party’s (DBP) Muş branch; Ayşe Söylemez, the former co-chair of the Peoples’ Democratic Party’s (HDP) Muş branch; and Çiçek Tutuş, a member of Muş’s municipal assembly.

The trial was observed by P24 and the Media and Law Studies Association (MLSA).

Sayılğan’s lawyer Barış Oflas criticized the court’s failure to ensure the reporter’s presence via the tele-conferencing system, adding that it amounted to a violation of the rights of the defense. He also called on the prosecutor to justify the claim that Sayılğan would present a flight risk if freed pending the continuation of the trial. “Sayılğan will continue doing journalism after he is released. There is no question of an attempt to escape,” he told the court.

Lawyer Veysel Ok, who also represents Sayılğan in the case, told the court that the reporter’s continued pretrial detention was against European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) case law. “You may not like Sayılğan’s reports or the terminology he uses, it may even disturb you. However, what you can do at most is to not read those news articles,” Ok said. Ok also noted that the only evidence presented against Sayılğan were recordings with his news sources. The confidentiality of a journalist’s news sources is under the protection of the Turkish Press Law, Ok said.

Meanwhile, journalist Erdoğan Alayumat, a reporter for pro-Kurdish Dicle news agency (Dihaber), which was closed by a government decree, was released by a Turkish court on Wednesday following a detention of 10 months.

Charged with “obtaining confidential state documents for political and military purposes” and “membership in an illegal organisation,” reporters Alayumat and Nuri Akman each face 45 years in prison.

Referred to a Hatay court 14 days after being detained under the principle of “reasonable suspicion” while covering news on Turkish-Syrian border, Alayumat was arrested on July 27, 2017.

Turkey is ranked 157th among 180 countries in the 2018 World Press Freedom Index released by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) on Wednesday. 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 253 journalists and media workers were in jail as of May 11, 2018, most in pretrial detention. Of those in prison 192 were under arrest pending trial while only 61 journalists have been convicted and are serving their time. Detention warrants are outstanding for 142 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 the coup attempt in Turkey on July 15, 2016.

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