The Media and Legal Studies Association (MLSA), a non-profit institute focused on freedom of expression, press and information in Turkey, has published its Case Monitoring report from September 1, 2021 to July 20, 2022. According to the report, an inordinate number of journalists were sentenced to a combined total of 299 years, 2 months and 24 days in prison, daily Birgün reported on Dec. 7.
In its assessment, MLSA said, "Compared to previous reporting periods, there has been a radical increase in prison sentences in cases decided during this period. In addition to the higher profile aggravated life sentences given to rights defender Osman Kavala and to journalist Rojhat Doğru — reflecting the pressure on freedom of expression and the increasing will of the courts to punish with the changing political conjuncture — 67 people tried in 41 cases decided during this period were sentenced to a total of 299 years, 2 months and 24 days in prison."
The report, which was introduced on Dec. 6 in the central Istanbul district of Beyoğlu, presented data on 446 hearings of 210 cases from 23 different cities across Turkey. According to the data, the cases in which the most news and social media posts were cited as evidence involved journalists being tried on terrorism charges. Stating that there has been an increase in cases filed against peaceful assemblies and demonstration marches, the report also pointed out that prosecutors and courts of first instance have not implemented the decisions of the Turkish Constitutional Court (AYM) and the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).
The report stated that the accusation of "propaganda for an organization" featured in 62 cases and that 143 journalists were tried on this charge. Journalists were tried in 38 of the total 44 cases in which the accusation of "membership of an organization" was directed, with 132 journalists overall having appeared before a judge with this accusation. According to the data in the report, the news and social media posts written by journalists in these cases were cited as evidence for the accusations.
Journalists were most often accused of "terrorism" by 38 percent. This was followed by insulting the president with 10 percent and insulting the president with 7 percent.
According to the report, there are currently 59 journalists and media workers in prisons. The number of journalists on trial during this period was recorded as 318 and the number of those in pre-trial detention as 12.
MOST TRIALS IN ISTANBUL
In terms of geographical distribution, Istanbul, with 238 cases, was the region with the most cases. This was followed by the predominantly Kurdish city, Diyarbakır with 73 cases, and the capital city, Ankara, with 32.
During this period, 56.4 percent of such trials involved journalists. Rights defenders and activists followed journalists with 9.1 percent.
UNLAWFULLY OBTAINED EVIDENCE PRESENTED IN ACCUSATION OF 'INSULTING THE PRESIDENT'
Of those tried in 90 different cases, 53.9 percent were charged with making propaganda for a terrorist organization, 39.1 percent on membership of a terrorist organization, 4.3 percent on revealing the identity of persons involved in the fight against terrorism, and 0.9 percent on opposing the Law on the Prevention of the Financing of Terrorism. Of the thousand 398 people on trial, their news, articles and photographs taken and social media posts were mainly cited as evidence.
In the near one-year period, 34 people were tried in 29 cases filed on charges of "insulting the president" and it was stated that these cases targeted journalists the most. According to the report, 18 journalists appeared before a judge on charges of "insulting the president." In the years since Recep Tayyip Erdoğan moved from Prime Minister to President in 2014, thousands have been charged and sentenced for “insulting the president.” Turkey changed from a parliamentary to a presidential system in 2018.
Noting that in 19 cases related to the accusation of insulting the president, social media posts alone were presented as evidence against the defendants, the report stated that in 14 of these cases, the evidence was obtained through the "virtual patrol" method. Beyond simply controversial, this method was declared unconstitutional by a AYM ruling on February 19, 2020, which cancelled the relevant article of the law. Despite this, the report shows that 8 indictments prepared in the dates after the AYM decision and including evidence obtained by the "virtual patrol" method were accepted by the courts.
"AYM AND ECHR CASE LAW ARE IGNORED"
MLSA stated that the decision-makers did not apply the case law in favor of those on trial, and said, "As in the Gezi Case, which was the most popular case in this period regarding the 11-month period, judges, court committees and prosecutors exhibited attitudes that constituted a violation of the right to a fair trial. Judges have ruled in disregard of established jurisprudence, particularly the AYM and the ECHR; it was seen that the prosecutors also demanded punishment with the opinions on the merits they submitted without taking into account the evidence and facts in favor of the people on trial."