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Sick journalist sentenced to more than 14 years in prison

A journalist, who has already spent more than three years behind bars and requires a medical operation, was sentenced by a Turkish court to 14 years and three months in prison on the charge of being a member of a terror organization, the online news portal Gazete Duvar reported on Tuesday.

The Sirnak 1st Heavy Penal Court also ruled on Tuesday for the continuation of detention of the journalist in the Van High-Security Prison.

Ziya Ataman, a trainee reporter at the news agency Dicle (DIHA) which was shut down by decree, was convicted of “membership of terror organization” in the court’s 12th hearing in which the journalist addressed the court via Audio and Visual Information System (SEGBIS) from the prison.

The reporter was arrested on April 11, 2016, on the accusation that he was “participating in an operation of a terrorist organization” which was an anti-government protest in the eastern province of Van.

Ataman appeared in court for the first time on March 2, 2018, after being kept in pre-trial detention for almost two years.

Ataman was standing trial alongside 20 other defendants, ten of whom had been jailed pending trial, in the case overseen in Sirnak, a south-eastern province in Turkey.

In the indictment, Ataman was charged with eight different offences, including disrupting the unity and integrity of the state, attempting to intentionally kill a civil servant because of the public service he performs with premeditation, intentionally killing a civil a servant because of the public service he performs with premeditation, and attempting to premeditated murder.

During the previous hearings, Ataman said the indictment had been prepared without taking his deposition and the accusations were not based on concrete evidence.

In the final hearing, Ataman repeated his previous defense, underlining that the statements against him were made under torture and that the witnesses had withdrawn their statements afterward.

The ill reporter said he was innocent, requesting his acquittal and release.

Ataman’s lawyers from the Media and Law Studies Association (MLSA) said the opinion as to the accusations presented by the prosecutor was prepared in a “copy-paste” manner, stating that they would appeal against the ruling.

Ataman had worked as an intern reporter at the DIHA for seven months when he was detained. The journalist had previously worked as a distributor for another shuttered daily, Ozgur Gundem.

The DIHA and Ozgur Gundem were both shut down by a government state of the emergency decree in 2016, after a failed military coup attempt on July 15, 2016.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) government has detained thousands of rights activists, journalists, and lawyers since the July 15 coup attempt.

The detained journalist sent a thank-you letter to daily Evrensel which published it on Monday.

“I and many of my journalist colleagues have been thrown behind bars for insisting on true journalism. I have a hearing on 24 September at which journalism will continue to be put on trial. Ours will be an important message that invites to the hearing all our journalist colleagues who support true and free journalism so as to create awareness around standing by true journalism and the tradition of a free press,” Ataman wrote in the letter.

The journalist has been suffering from a chronic digestive system disease that has reportedly deteriorated. Despite the medical reports by the prison doctor recommending it, Ataman has not been operated on.

Last year in June, he told P24 Platform for Independent Journalism that he was being served the same food as everyone else, even though he filed a petition requesting special meals that agreed with his condition.

At the time, he also claimed that he and two fellow inmates in the prison were constantly subjected to psychological harassment by a group of correctional officers who insult and yell at them. “We were further made to undergo investigations on baseless accusations based on groundless claims by those correctional officers. They had been filing complaints to no avail,” he added.

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