Turkish prosecutors label Guardian, Foreign Policy articles as ‘terrorist propaganda’

Photo: Index on Censorship

Turkish prosecutors listed articles published on the websites of The Guardian newspaper and Foreign Policy magazine as evidence of “terrorist propaganda” in an indictment against jailed Kurdish lawyer and academic Hanifi Barış, according to an article published on Wednesday by press freedom organization the Index on Censorship.

Barış, who holds a doctorate from Scotland’s Aberdeen University, was arrested in İstanbul on July 5, 2018 and accused of disseminating terrorist propaganda through news articles and commentaries he shared on his Facebook and Twitter accounts.

Barış’s academic colleagues at Aberdeen University launched a petition campaign to call for his immediate release. The petition has received about 5,000 signatures.

Arrests on the grounds of social media posts have dramatically increased in Turkey in recent years, affecting a wide range of people, including journalists, human rights activists, politicians, academics and high school and university students.

The full text of the article penned by Noemi Levy-Aksu for Index on Censorship is as follows:

“Hanifi Barış, an outspoken Kurdish academic, and lawyer, has been imprisoned by Turkish authorities since 4 July 2018. His detention for sharing press articles on social media is another demonstration of the repeated attacks against freedom of expression and critical opinions in Turkey.

Hanifi Barış obtained his Ph.D. from the Centre for Citizenship, Civil Society and Rule of Law at the University of Aberdeen in 2017. Interested in political theory and human rights, he has published several articles and book chapters on Kurdish politics. After completing his dissertation, Barış moved back to Turkey and settled in Istanbul, where he started working as a lawyer. In his roles as an academic and a lawyer, Barış stood out as an ardent defender of human rights. In 2012, he drew public attention for representing a famous conscientious objector and defending his client’s rights to answer to the court in Kurdish. In January 2016, he was one of the Academics for Peace who signed the petition “We will not be a party to this crime”, which denounced the state-sanctioned violence in the Kurdish regions and called on the Turkish government to re-establish peace negotiations.

On 3 July, Barış received a call from Istanbul Bakırköy Police station, asking him to give a statement about his social media posts. The next day, after giving his statement to the police, he was referred to the court, where the prosecutor requested his arrest. He was accused of producing “terrorist propaganda” on the ground of article 7/2 of the Anti-Terror Law no 3713. Barış had shared news articles and commentaries from international and local media on his Facebook and Twitter accounts. It is worth emphasizing that he did not add any of his own commentary on the posts. At the court’s request, Barış was sent to prison on the same day. Since then, the appeals of his lawyer, Mehmet Doğan, for his release pending trial have been repeatedly denied. Even worse, when Barış asked to be moved to another dormitory in Silivri Prison, he was sent to an individual cell and remained in solitary confinement for 12 days.

On 23 July 2018, İstanbul’s 29th High Criminal Court accepted the indictment against Barış and re-affirmed his pre-trial detention. The Court based its decision on an ongoing assessment of digital materials that had been supposedly confiscated during an alleged search of his residence and belongings. However, no such search ever took place. This blatant disregard for the rule of law and due process casts serious doubts on Barış’s prospect for a fair trial, highlighting Turkey’s systematic use of pre-trial detention as a means of intimidation.

The news and commentaries shared by Barış on social media were critical of the Turkish government and its policies in Syria. They included articles from websites such as The Guardian and Foreign Policy. It is absurd to construe those articles as “terrorist propaganda” under article 7/2 of the Anti-Terror Law, which criminalizes statements “justifying or praising or inciting the terrorist organizations’ methods which contain violence, force or threat”. Rather, Barış’s indictment reflects the Turkish government’s criminalization of free speech and attempt to silence all critical opinions. Just as the repression of critical newspapers and media has been on the rise in recent years, arrests on the ground of social media posts have witnessed a dramatic increase. While the crackdown has particularly targeted Kurdish politicians and activists, journalists, students, lawyers and academics, arbitrary arrests of social media users serve as a warning to all who voice their dissent against the current Turkish regime.

Since early July, Academics for Peace, Barış’s colleagues from the University of Aberdeen and human rights organizations have strongly protested against his detention. An ongoing petition asking for his immediate release has received almost 5,000 signatures. Many of those who signed are internationally-renowned academics. At the University of Aberdeen, which has actively sought to mobilize support since Barış’s arrest, one of his colleagues describes him as “a clear-headed scholar, who draws on his experience as a practicing lawyer to make original contributions to thinking on political community and direct or semi-direct democracy”. Barış, he says, is “the kind of scholar who could find common ground with academics from almost any perspective: always good-natured, cheerful and unfailingly kind to everyone he interacted with.”

Barış’s first hearing is scheduled for Sep 18th. International observers are invited to monitor his hearing at Çağlayan Courthouse, with the hope that Barış will be immediately released and cleared of unfounded accusations.”

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 September 2, 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.

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