A Turkish court has ruled for the release from prison of Barış Polat, a media worker for the pro-Kurdish Özgürlükçü Demokrasi newspaper, which was shut down by a government decree under a now-ended state of emergency after a trustee was appointed to run it, subject to an international travel ban.
Polat, who had been held in prison for seven months, attended a hearing at the Gaziantep 7th High Criminal Court on Tuesday. In his defense Polat said: “It is not a crime to sell a legal newspaper. Phone calls I had with friends were presented as crimes, but none of them included any criminal content.”
His lawyer, Ahmet Hartavi, also said the newspaper his client distributes is a legal publication and added that his client can’t be held responsible for the content even if it was illegal. “His job is to distribute the paper. The indictment cites the word ‘heval’ and some Kurdish songs as evidence, but these do not constitute crimes. We demand the release of my client.”
The court ruled to release Polat subject to an international travel ban. The next hearing was set for April 20, 2019.
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 236 journalists and media workers were in jail as of September 20, 2018, most in pretrial detention. Of those in prison 168 were under arrest pending trial while only 68 journalists have been convicted and are serving their time. Detention warrants are outstanding for 147 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.