August 7, 2013 - Updated on January 20, 2016

Number of journalists convicted in Ergenekon trial rises to 20

Several Turkish nationalist media have reported that some of their journalists were among the approximately 250 people who received sentences in the main “Ergenekon” trial on 5 August (see below). This has brought the number of journalists and essayists convicted in the case to 20.

In addition to the journalists named in its 5 August press release, Reporters Without Borders has learned that the following were convicted:

- Mehmet Bozkurt, editor in chief of the daily Aydinlik (sentenced to nine years and three months in prison)
- Özlem Konur Usta, Aydinlik social issues editor (six years and three months)
- Ruhsar Senoglu, former Aydinlik editor in chief (eight years and one month)
- Hayati Özcan, Aydinlik reporter (10 years and 11 months)
- Ufuk Akkaya, head of news at Ulusal Kanal TV (eight years and two months).

Contrary to initial reports, Caner Taspinar of the newspaper Yurt was acquitted on only one of several charges and was sentence to six years and one month in prison. Yurt publisher Merdan Yanardag, for whom an arrest warrant has been issued, was given a 12-year sentence.

Other cases have been reported but have to be confirmed. The court is to issue detailed verdicts in the coming weeks.


05.08.2013 - Long jail terms for at least 12 journalists in Ergenekon trial

At least 12 journalists accused of colluding with the so-called Ergenekon ultra-nationalist conspiracy were among those who received long jail terms today from the Istanbul court hearing the case, which took five years to prepare and try.

The court has not yet published its detailed grounds for the verdicts reached with each of the 275 defendants. Those details will be released in the coming weeks.

Restricted access to courtroom, journalists’ homes searched

The verdicts and sentences were issued in a courtroom inside a high security prison in Silivri, 60 km west of Istanbul. The police blocked most road access and fired rubber bullets and teargas to disperse the groups that tried to approach the prison.

Under a decision taken on 2 August, journalists who did not have an official press card (the so-called “yellow card”) were barred from the courtroom. Thousands of journalists in Turkey have only the Press ID provided by their employers. Relatives of some of the defendants, such as journalist Tuncay Özkan’s daughter Nazlican Özkan, were also denied access.

In another sign of criminalization of the nationalist and secularist opposition, the Istanbul homes of several nationalist journalists were searched on the morning of 3 August on suspicion of “calling for demonstrations likely to threaten constitutional order and create a climate of unrest, inciting groups to demonstrate violently against the government, and pressuring the jury as it prepares to issue its verdict in the Ergenekon trial."

The targeted journalists included Ilker Yücel and Osman Erbil of Aydinlik, Mustafa Kaya and Mehmet Kivanç of Ulusal Kanal. The headquarters of the Turkish Youth Union (TGB) and the home of the head of the Ankara branch of the Workers Party (IP) were also searched.

Long prison sentences

The judges took the view that the existence of the “Ergenekon terrorist organization” had been established beyond all doubt.

The main charge against the defendants was holding clandestine meetings within the armed forces and in academic and political circles in an “attempt to destroy the Government of the Turkish Republic or prevent it, partially or fully, from doing its duty” (article 312.1 of the criminal code).

Mustafa Balbay, a former reporter for the secularist daily Cumhuriyet and Ankara parliamentary representative for the opposition CHP party, was sentenced to 34 years and eight months in prison while journalist, politician and former Biz TV owner Tuncay Özkan was given an aggravated life sentence (without possibility of pardon). Balbay has been detained for the past four years, Özkan for five.

The court sentenced Mehmet Haberal, a surgeon who owns Baskent TV (BTV), to 12 and a half years in prison but granted him a conditional release on the grounds of the time spent in pre-trial detention. Deniz Yildirim, the former managing editor of the nationalist weekly Aydinlik, was sentenced to 16 years and 10 months in prison.

Hikmet Ciçek, a Workers Party leader and Aydinlik reporter, was sentenced to 21 years and nine months in prison. The journalist Vedat Yenener got seven years and six months, as did Serhan Bolluk, the former CEO of the nationalist TV station Ulusal Kanal. His successor, Adnan Türkkan, got 10 years and six months. Turan Özlü got nine years. Güler Kömürcü got seven years. Ünal Inanç, the head of the Aykiri Haber news website, got 19 years and one month.

The court gave the writer Ergün Poyraz 29 years and four months in prison, gave the essayist Yalçin Küçük 22 years and six months, and issued a warrant for the arrest of Merdan Yanardag, the publisher of the nationalist daily Yurt. On the other hand, the journalist Caner Taspinar was one of the 21 defendants to be acquitted.

Those who received long jail terms included former leading military officers such as Gen. Ilker Basbug (a former chief of the general staff), Gen. Veli Küçük, Gen. Hursit Tolon, Gen. Sener Eruygur and Col. Dursun Cicek. But they also included Alparslan Arslan, convicted of murdering a Council of State judge in 2006, and Bedirhan Sinal, convicted of a grenade attack on the Istanbul-based newspaper Cumhuriyet in 2008.

They also included the lawyer Kemal Kerinçsiz, the ultranationalist activist Kemal Kerinçsiz, who threatened the Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink before his January 2007 murder, Workers Party president Dogu Perinçek and former High Council for Education president Kemal Gürüz.

Defence lawyers met after today’s hearing in order to file their appeals as soon as possible.

The investigation into the Ergenekon network on suspicion of plotting to destabilize and topple Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s pro-Islamic conservative government began in 2007. A total of 23 different indictments were gradually incorporated into the case after the trial began the following year.

The crimes blamed on the Ergenekon conspiracy include Hrant Dink’s murder, the murder of three Protestant missionaries in April 2007 and the attempted murders of human rights activists and representatives of religious minorities.

Initially hailed as helping to strengthen Turkish democracy, the investigation aroused mounting concern as its targets were extended beyond the military and anti-terrorist police operations were carried out against other sectors of society on increasingly less well substantiated grounds.

Twelve other journalists are still the subject of a separate trial involving the Oda TV news website and investigative journalists Ahmet Sik and Nedim Sener. The next hearing in the Oda TV trial is scheduled for 11 September.


20.03.2013 - Life imprisonment for journalists in terrorism case?

Four journalists – Mustafa Balbay, Tuncay Özkan, Yalçin Küçük and Güler Kömürcü Öztürk – are among the more than 150 defendants for whom long jail sentences were requested in the “Ergenekon” conspiracy trial when the prosecutor presented a 2,271-page summation to an Istanbul court on 18 March.

Three of the journalists, Balbay, Özkan and Küçük are among the 64 for whom life sentences were requested for their presumed membership of a secularist conspiracy and for allegedly plotting against Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan’s Islamic-leaning government.

“The life imprisonment demanded by the Istanbul prosecutor for three journalists shows that the Turkish authorities are acting with incomprehensible vindictiveness,” Reporters Without Borders said.

“Such long jail terms for journalists who have already spent years in arbitrary preventive detention are unacceptable. We urge the authorities to grant these journalists conditional releases and the benefit of a fair trial, far from political revenge.”

Balbay was a columnist for the daily Cumhuriyet (Republic) and a parliamentary representative for the Republican People’s Party (CHP) in the western city of Izmir. Özkan was a presenter on BizTV (We TV), which he used to own.

They have been held for more than four years in a prison in Silivri (a city to the north of Istanbul) on a charge of membership of the presumed “terrorist organization Ergenekon” but are still awaiting a verdict in the case against them.

When the prosecutor presented his summation on 18 March, during what was the 281st hearing in the trial, he insisted that “the existence of the terrorist organization is established” and requested “aggravated life imprisonment” for Balbay, Özkan and 62 other defendants, who include military officers and politicians.

The sentence is being requested under article 312-1 of Turkey’s criminal code, in effect since June 2005. It says: “Anyone trying to destroy the Turkish Republic’s government or trying to prevent it from partially or fully performing its duties shall be punished by aggravated life imprisonment.”

Balbay is also facing a possible sentence of 14 to 33 years in prison on a charge of possessing and disseminating classified documents.

After the prosecutor’s presentation, Balbay protested: “For the past five years, the requests of the defendants and their lawyers have been rejected. This is a judicial sham. We reject the summation. The court is reducing all the charges to crimes against the government. We are in a government security tribunal.”

There are a total of 275 defendants in the Ergenekon case, of whom 67 are currently in preventive detention. Küçük is one of those who was granted a conditional release in the Ergenekon case, but he continues to be detained in connection with the parallel Oda TV trial.

As well as life sentences for 64 of the defendants, the prosecutors requested sentence of seven and a half to 15 years in prison for 96 other defendants on a charge of “membership” of Ergenekon.

This group includes Öztürk, who used to be a columnist for the evening newspaper Aksman. She has never been detained but she was fired after being named as a defendant and because she is married to another defendant.

This is also the reason for the charges brought against another journalist, Merdan Yanardağ, editor of the daily Yurt (Fatherland), who is not currently detained but is also facing up to 15 years in prison.

Celal Ülgen, a lawyer who represent several of the Ergenekon defendants, said the court has ignored their requests for an evaluation of the prosecution evidence and for the withdrawal of certain evidence they regard as illegal.

“The sentences requested by the prosecutor in his summing-up are clearly the ones that are going to handed down in seven or eight months from now,” Ülgen said, adding that the defence lawyers have already filed a motion challenging the conduct of the trial.

Verdicts are not expected for at least six months. The 282nd hearing will be held on 8 April. Reporters Without Borders will continue to follow the trial closely, just as it is following the Oda TV case, in which the next hearing is scheduled for tomorrow.

Read the July to November 2012 reports on judicial harassment of the Turkish media.

(Picture: Mustafa Ozer / AFP)