Reporters Without Borders warmly welcomes the release on bail of the investigative journalists Ahmet Sik and Nedim Sener and the OdaTV news website columnists Muhammet Sait Cakir and Coskun Musluk. However, their release should not hide the fact that dozens more media workers are still held.
“Naturally, our thoughts are with those journalists and their friends and families, who can finally see an end to their absurd nightmare after more than a year,” the press freedom organization said.
“However, they have not yet been acquitted and the others in the OdaTV trial are still in custody, as are dozens of other journalists involved in other cases.”
“Thanks to their fame, Ahmet Sik and Nedim Sener have helped remind the world how difficult the job of a journalist can be in Turkey. But their release does not mean we should tone down our campaign. The vagueness and severity of anti-terrorist legislation and some sections of the penal code, as well as the regular use of pre-trial detention, are issues that are as pressing as ever. Things have worsened considerably in recent months. We call once again on the courts and the authorities to demonstrate their goodwill by carrying out a mass release of detainees and undertaking basic reforms.”
At the end of the 11th hearing in the OdaTV trial yesterday, the 16th chamber of the Istanbul Assize Court ordered the release on bail of the four journalists, detained since 6 March 2011. Against the prosecution’s advice, the president of the court took account of the length of time they had already spent in detention and raised the possibility of lesser charges.
The journalists were released yesterday evening from the high security prison at Silivri, north of Istanbul. They were greeted by friends and family, Reporters Without borders correspondent Erol Önderoglu and representatives of other Turkish organizations and media outlets.
“Some day those who hatched this plot, as well as the police officers, prosecutors and judges who implemented it, will in their turn be incarcerated in this prison,” Sik said. “Make no mistake, all the pressure and persecution will lead us into a future where we shall continue to fight and to hope.”
Sener added: “You cannot put reality in prison. My first article will be about Hrant Dink and I shall surprise you.” Three people were jailed in January for the 2007 murder of Dink, a Turkish-Armenian journalist.
Next hearing 18 June
Their colleagues still in detention include the owner of the OdaTV website, Soner Yalçin, the writer Professor Yalçin Küçük, managing editor Baris Pehlivan, columnist Müyesser Ugur. The next hearing in the trial will be held on 18 June.
News editor Dogan Yurdakul, freed on bail on 22 February for health reasons, did not attend this most recent hearing, nor did fellow accused Mümtaz Idil and Iklim Ayfer Kaleli.
Digital files seized from computers at the OdaTV head office in Istanbul have been handed over to the Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey for analysis. Several independent experts have reported that the files were planted on the computers using viruses.
In evidence at the hearing, Sik’s lawyer Fikret Ilkiz once again emphasized the weakness of the case against his client and said the practices of the court were contrary to the principles of the European Court of Human Rights and the Council of Europe.
“We have waited for a year to be told of your accusations,” he told the court. “It is now our turn to point the finger. The allegations against my client today are practically the same as those made when he was arrested on 3 March 2011. The questions and accusations directed at my client relate entirely to his contacts, his sources and his private life, and are based on the fact that he is a journalist. How do you think he might be able to destabilize the government by means of his book? This was published with the support of several journalists well after the election. Did it have such a terrible effect on the AKP?”
More arrests of journalists
Besides the dozens of journalists held in pre-trial detention, more are being arrested every month, particularly among the pro-Kurdish media. At a press conference in the south-eastern city of Diyarbakir yesterday, the DIHA (Dicle Haber Ajansi) news agency recalled that 27 of its staff were currently in prison.
DIHA correspondent Gülsen Aslan was jailed on 21 February in Batman in the south-east of the country and reporter Özlem Agus was taken into custody on 9 March in Karatas prison in the southern city of Adana.
Many other media workers are regularly detained for questioning. Zeynep Kuris, a DIHA correspondent in the southern city of Mersin was picked up on 14 February before being released three days later. Ismet Mikailogullari was released on 16 February after being held in police custody in Diyarbakir. Ali Bulus was also questioned with Agus in Mersin and was released. On 26 December last year, he was freed after serving seven and half years’ imprisonment for alleged membership of the PKK, the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party.