Over 217 years of imprisonment handed in cases regarding freedom of expression in Turkey: MLSA report

Over 1,640 people were put on trial in 233 cases regarding the freedom of expression monitored by MLSA observers in Turkey. In 32 cases, 116 defendants were sentenced to a total of more than 217 years of imprisonment.

Duvar English

Some 1,646 people were put on trial in 233 cases regarding the freedom of expression in Turkey's 20 provinces in September 2022-September 2023, according to the case monitoring report shared by the Media and Law Studies Association (MLSA).

The report of MLSA, which aims to protect freedom of expression, press, and information in Turkey, revealed that restrictions on freedom of expression have continued to increase in the country.

In 32 cases, 116 defendants were sentenced to a total of more than 217 years of imprisonment. Among them, 23 journalists were sentenced to more than 67 years in 17 separate journalism cases. In six of the cases, 12 defendants were sentenced to a judicial fine of 75,000 Turkish liras ($2,580) while in 59 cases the defendants were acquitted.

Almost all of those arrested in cases threatening freedom of expression were journalists, including 11 journalists in the capital Ankara, and 15 in southeastern Diyarbakır province. In addition to journalists, and students organizing peaceful demonstrations, women, and LGBTI+s  were targeted the most. 

In the cases monitored within the scope of monitoring, in which a total of 1646 defendants were put on trial, 655 students (37 percent of defendants), 329 activists (20 percent), 314 journalists (19 percent), 241 politicians (14.6 percent) were put on trial.

The table is taken from the MLSA's report.

The allegation of "violating Law No. 2911 on Meetings and Demonstrations" was brought as an accusation in 20 percent of the cases monitored, which was the most frequent accusation against those exercising their right to freedom of expression. 

Some 21.5 percent of the cases (50 cases) were filed in connection with peaceful demonstrations. In two cases, a total of 41 defendants were sentenced to more than 22 years in prison.

Students, women, and LGBTI+ individuals were the groups who were most frequently prosecuted for expressing their opinions by exercising their right to assembly and demonstration. Students were tried in 24 cases, 15 of which were filed due to peaceful protests. Women were put on trial in five separate cases and LGBTI+s in four separate cases.

The report also demonstrated that peaceful demonstrators faced baseless and evidence-free charges of "injury," "deprivation of liberty," or "damage to property.”

The rate of pre-trial detention also increased by 150 percent during this period. Some 30 defendants, 29 of whom were journalists, were tried in pre-trial detention. 

Over 300 journalists put on trial for ‘doing journalism’

Some 314 journalists were tried as defendants in a total of 154 cases, accounting for 66 percent of the cases. Of them, 133 (57 percent) were filed solely for journalistic reasons such as reporting and publishing news. 

Journalists were detained while covering peaceful demonstrations and were put on trial together with protesters on charges of violating the Law on Meetings and Demonstrations.

In 43 percent of the cases where journalists were put on trial, "terrorism" charges were the most common. Journalists were charged with "making propaganda for a terrorist organization" in 29 cases, "membership in a terrorist organization" in 15 cases, and "targeting public officials involved in the fight against terrorism" in 10 cases.

Journalists were sentenced to over 28 years in total for “membership” and more than 15 years in total for "propaganda" charges. 

Of the 90 different pieces of evidence presented in the cases against journalists for "membership in a terrorist organization,” 20 (22 percent) were news articles and 11 (12 percent) were social media posts.

The "Disinformation Law" adopted in October 2022 was also used as a new tool of repression on freedom of expression in the last year. MLSA determined that at least 26 journalists were investigated, six journalists were detained, and at least four of them were arrested under this regulation.