“We are forgotten journalists in Silivri Prison,” said a group of Turkish journalists who are being held in İstanbul’s Silivri Prison as part of the Turkish government’s post-coup witch hunt targeting alleged members of the Gülen movement.
Calling for justice, the 19 jailed journalists — Abdullah Kılıç, Ahmet Memiş, Ali Akkuş, Bayram Kaya, Cemal Azmi Kalyoncu, Cuma Ulus, Gökçe Fırat Çulhaoğlu, Habip Güler, Hanım Büşra Erdal, Hüseyin Aydın, M. Sait Kuloğlu, M. Erkan Acar, Mutlu Çölgeçen, Oğuz Usluer, Seyit Kılıç, Ufuk Şanlı, Ünal Tanık, Yakup Çetin and Yetkin Yıldız — stated in a letter that “as ‘forgotten journalists’ who are mostly reporters and who are not well known by the public, we have been held in Silivri Prison for more than two years. We, who have no job other than journalism, want to say that we want to be remembered and that we expect justice.”
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 237 journalists and media workers were in jail as of August 15, 2018, most in pretrial detention. Of those in prison 169 were under arrest pending trial while only 68 journalists have been convicted and are serving their time. Detention warrants are outstanding for 145 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.
The full text of the letter signed by jailed 19 journalists is as follows:
Forgotten journalists expect justice
We are journalists who have been forgotten in Silivri Prison. We were detained on July 25, 2016, and then arrested over alleged membership in “FETÖ.” [FETÖ is a derogatory term coined by ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) to refer to the Gülen movement.] As 19 out of 26 journalists [in the same case and still in prison], we were released by a court on March 31, 2017.
However, all of us who were released by the court were arrested again the same night. Immediately afterwards, the prosecutor who requested our release and all members of the panel of judges that ruled for our release were suspended by the Board of Judges and Prosecutors [HSK].
The members of the panel and the prosecutor were soon returned to their jobs after it was seen that there was no mistake in their ruling. However, we were arrested again that night and have been held in Silivri Prison for more than two years.
So far, only two journalists in the case file [Atilla Taş and Murat Aksoy], who are well known by the public, and three journalists who had serious health problems have been released. Some of the defendants were sentenced to six years, three months and some to seven years, six months in prison by the court at the last hearing on March 8, 2018. Despite the fact that all those defendants who were given similar sentences in similar cases were released pending appeal, no one from our trial was released.
Furthermore, the verdict was givenin the case of columnists who used to write for the Zaman newspaper, which is known as the “Main Case of FETÖ’s Media Structure,” in the days when the state of emergency [OHAL] was ending. All the defendants who were sentenced to less than 10 years in prison were released pending appeal in this case. Columnists Ali Bulaç, Şahin Alpay, Ahmet Turan Alkan were released pending appeal and at least got their freedom from incarceration despite the fact that they were given sentences ranging between eight years, six months, and nine years in prison. The court decided for the continuation of the imprisonment of only two columnists in that case in which more than 30 defendants were tried.
There are no concrete charges in our files. The fact that we were released after our first hearing in court indicated this reality. However, we were not released even though we received lesser sentences at our last hearing.
As ‘forgotten journalists’ who are mostly reporters and who are not well known by the public, we have been held in Silivri Prison for more than two years.
We, who have no job other than journalism, want to say that we want to be remembered and that we expect justice.
Cemal Azmi Kalyoncu
Gökçe Fırat Çulhaoğlu
Hanım Büşra Erdal
M. Sait Kuloğlu
M. Erkan Acar