Turkey’s courts continue to prosecute journalists for practising their craft while ignoring fair trial principles, the International Press Institute (IPI) said on Wednesday in its third trial monitoring report on freedom of expression cases in Turkey.
Published in collaboration with the Media and Law Studies Association (MLSA), IPI’s September 2019 report has been created in the context of a monitoring programme that started in June 2018.
The reports say Turkey’s criminal justice system fails its people, notably journalists, by violating fundamental rights to liberty, freedom of expression and a fair trial.
The report has covered 42 hearings of 38 court cases which involve 202 defendants of which 157 are journalists. The hearings covered by the report took place between June 1 and July 21 this year.
As for some of the findings of the report 31 out of 42 [85%] hearings involved terrorism-related offences, including conducting propaganda for a terrorist organization and being a member of a terrorist organization.
The two offenses are followed by insult-related crimes, such as insulting the president and humiliation of the Turkish nation.
In the cases, 157 journalists have been tried with 34 of them being held in pre-trial detention of whom 18 for over one year. Nine of 157 journalists face terrorism-related charges.
Evidence justifying journalists’ pre-trial detention and the terrorism related charges consisted especially of journalistic work, such as published articles and photos, contacts with sources or social media posts.
The report underlined concerns about the arbitrary removal of judges which affects the defendants’ rights to a judge. The report said the presiding judges had been replaced during the proceedings in 13 percent of cases, five out of 38, providing an example from a case related to the 2013 Gezi Park protests.
The presiding judge was removed by Turkey’s Council of Judges and Prosecutors (HSK) – the disciplinary body of the Turkish legal system – after the judge had expressed an opinion in favor of the defendants, the report stated.
Since 2017 the HSK members have been appointed directly by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the Turkish Parliament which is mostly under his influence.
The Gezi demonstrations began with a small group of people as a protest against the urban development plan for Taksim Gezi Park in Istanbul, a city with very limited green space, and later spread across the country.
At the time Erdogan argued that the protests were not environmentally motivated, claiming that they aimed to topple his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) government.
“Journalists continue to be held in detention on the most serious terrorist charges justified by evidence of their legitimate journalistic work. Their days in court are subjected to countless breaches of procedure denying the right to a fair trial in what amounts to a deliberate attempt to intimidate and silence critical voices”, IPI Turkey programme manager Oliver Money-Kyrle said.
An IPI-led mission to Turkey and a joint human rights submission to the United Nations (UN), recently highlighted the loosely drafted anti-terrorism legislation which enables the courts to conflate journalistic practice with terrorism propaganda.
The mission said the Turkish courts easily label journalists as members of a terrorist organization based on their engagement in a media organization.
Journalists’ detention based on their journalistic output is a flagrant violation of international law breaches the fundamental rights to freedom of expression, according to the IPI.
The trial monitoring programme is supported by the European Union (EU) through the Turkey Civil Society Support Programme that lasts until April 2020.
The IPI, a global network of editors, media executives and leading journalists, conducts the trial monitoring reports based on data collected by the MLSA.