More journalists arrested as novelist goes on trial

Update: The Istanbul court ordered the conditional release of Aslı Erdoğan, Necmiye Alpay and Zana Kaya at the end of the first hearing today. They continue to be defendants in the case and are still facing a possible life sentence if found guilty. They are also banned from leaving the country. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) urges the judicial authorities to lift these restrictions, abandon the proceedings against them and to quickly release all other journalists held in the absence of evidence against them.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls on the Turkish authorities to stop criminalizing journalists and to release Ahmet Şık, a leading investigative reporter who was arrested today, and five other journalists who were arrested four days ago. Well-known novelist and newspaper columnist Aslı Erdoğan meanwhile goes on trial in Istanbul today along with eight other journalists and intellectuals.

“Not content with reducing pluralism to almost nothing and holding the world record for the number of journalists in prison, the Turkish authorities continue to throttle journalism more and more every day,” said Johann Bihr, the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk.

“Five months after the coup attempt, the government keeps on using the state of emergency and the terrorism law to silence its critics. Given the scale and frequency of the arrests, there will soon be no one left to tell the world what is happening in Turkey.”

Arrested at his Istanbul home at dawn today, Ahmet Şık is charged with “propaganda for a terrorist organization” and “denigrating the Turkish Republic and its institutions” in a dozen tweets, five articles for the opposition daily Cumhuriyet and what he said at a public event organized jointly with the European parliament.

His comments criticized the government’s handling of the Kurdish issue and terrorist threat, and Turkey’s arms deliveries to Islamist groups in Syria. His lawyer, Can Atalay, told RSF that he has been denied access to his client – a curtailment of rights permitted under the state of emergency in effect since July.

Şık has been awarded many prizes for his investigative reporting, including UNESCO’s Guillermo Cano prize in 2014. He spent more than a year in preventive detention on trumped-up charges in 2011 and 2012, which RSF condemned in a report at the time.

Aslı Erdoğan’s trial

Aslı Erdoğan is one of nine contributors and employees of Özgür Gündem, a daily newspaper closed by decree in August, whose trial at the justice palace in the Istanbul district of Çağlayan starts today.

Five of the defendants escaped arrest and are being tried in absentia. Erdoğan will appear in court along with linguist and fellow columnist Necmiye Alpay, editor-in-chief İnan Kızılkaya and reporter Zana Kaya. They have been held for the past four months and are facing possible life sentences on charges of “membership of a terrorist organization” and “endangering the integrity of the state.”

The very small courtroom chosen for the trial will not be able to accommodate the many observers, some of whom have come a long way to show their support for the journalists.

Erdoğan is known both for award-winning novels that have been translated into many languages and her human rights advocacy. She has been defending peace, women’s rights and the rights of minorities for years. Her books and columns have drawn attention to rights violations, prison conditions and the violence to which the civilian population in the mainly Kurdish southeast is exposed.

Although she suffers from asthma and diabetes, she was placed in solitary confinement when initially taken into custody. RSF reiterates its call for as many signatures as possible to the petition for the release of Erdoğan and her colleagues, which is available here.

Five journalists in custody for the past four days

The five journalists who have been held since 25 December were all arrested in dawn raids on their homes and are all charged with "propaganda for a terrorist organization.”

They are Tunca Öğreten, an investigative journalist and former editor of the news website Diken; DİHA news agency reporters Ömer Çelik and Metin Yoksu; ETHA news agency reporter Derya Okatan; and Eray Sargın, the editor of the news website Yolculuk.

Both DİHA and ETHA are among the many media outlets that have been closed by decree in recent months.

The main point in common among these journalists is that they reported revelations by a group of far-left hackers about energy minister Berat Albayrak, who is President Erdoğan’s son-in-law. RedHack announced in late September that it had hacked into his email accounts and published their contents. But its revelations were drastically censored.

Already ranked as low as 151st out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2016 World Press Freedom Index, Turkey has seen an unprecedented crackdown since the abortive coup attempt in July.

The government is using the state of emergency to silence all of its critics and has closed many media outlets. The authorities have withdrawn press cards and passports from many journalists, and more than 100 journalists are currently in prison.

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Updated on 30.12.2016