The court in Gerger, Adiyaman province decided on 30 May to place Haci Bogatekin in custody until the next hearing of his trial set for 30 June, which will make more than two months that the editor has been imprisoned for criticising the policy of Turkish authorities in the region and for questioning the impartiality of the prosecutor responsible for his case.
Haci Bogatekin, aged 58 and father of 12 children, has been held in Kahta prison in Adiyaman province since 13 April this year. The prosecutor Sadullah Ovacikli laid a complaint against him over an article in which the journalist said the official had links with the Islamist movement of Fethullah Gülen, which has several million sympathisers and members in Turkey. He has been imprisoned for “trying to influence the court in his own trial”, “insulting prosecutor Sadullah Ovacikli in the execution of his duties” and having “defamed” him. He faces up to ten and a half years in jail.
The judge, Aysegul Simsek, on 30 May remanded him in custody on the recommendation of the prosecutor Sedat Turan who considered that the journalist could run away and could put pressure on witnesses.
“We are deeply alarmed by the plight of Haci Bogatekin, unfairly being held in custody simply for his work as a journalist and for questioning the impartiality of the prosecutor responsible for taking proceedings against him”, the worldwide press freedom organisation said.
“This case echoes the tensions marking Turkish society. The journalist criticised the political programme of the regional authorities who have prioritised the struggle against the Kurdish movement, and exposed the danger to the country from the growing influence of a powerful Islamist community, linked to the preacher Fethullah Gulen.”
“Sparing neither the state nor the army, Haci Bogatekin has been isolated and deprived of the support of those who are committed to secularism. His case also raises the question of the independence of Turkey's justice system” the organisation continued.
Reporters Without Borders attended the latest hearing and has investigated the case against Haci Bogatekin. Its initial conclusions are the following:
Three charges for two articles
The charges of insult and defamation and attempt to influence the courts followed the publication of two articles. The journalist on 4 January 2008, wrote an editorial headlined “Feto" and Apo”. “Feto” is the nickname of Fethullah Gulen - leader of one of the most influential Turkish Muslim communities -, and “Apo” that of the leader of the Kurdistan Worker's Party (PKK), Abdullah Ocalan, who is serving a life sentence on the island prison of Imrali in north-western Turkey.
In the articles, Bogatekin said that the religious movements and the Kurdish groups rivalled one another in attracting support and that “this struggle was spreading in Turkey's Kurdish regions and abroad”. The editorial also criticised the policy of the army which, he said, was to “go to fight the PKK militants in the mountains while the growing influence of Fethullah Gulen's Islamist community at the expense of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) was making itself more and more felt in the region".
The journalist also accused the Turkish Army - seen by the people as the guardian of secularism - of abandoning the cities to the influence of the religious communities: “This is how the army has opened the path for these people so that they can rule the country. There is a lot to worry about in the future. The conflict between the army and the PKK has to stop. Otherwise, it will be too late (...).”
The prosecutor Sadullah Ovacikli summoned the journalist on 8 January and according to Bogatekin, told him: “you can say what you like about this terrorist (Apo), but how dare you call our master Fethullah Gulen, beloved of millions, Feto? You will apologise in your next edition or you will regret it!” The journalist refused to reply to these questions. The prosecutor then accused him of having “done the PKK's propaganda” (Article 7 paragraph 2 of the anti-terrorist law 3713) along with his “eulogy” (Article 215 of the criminal code), offences respectively punishable by three and seven and a half years in prison, by calling members of the KKK “Apo patriots”. Sadullah Ovacikli also asked for the journalist to be held in custody, which was rejected on the same day by the police court in Gerger and later by the court in Malatya (provincial prefecture of the same name north of Adiyaman).
Haci Bogatekin took the case to the Higher Council of Judges and Public Prosecutors (HSYK), the Justice ministry and the Malatya prosecutor's office, to condemn the prosecutor's bias.
The most influential Islamist movement
Bogatekin carried out an investigation to prove that Ovacikli was a sympathiser with Fethullah Gulen's religious movement and in April published an article saying that the prosecutor's website () had been created by Halit Sait Altuner, an individual with links to the religious community “Nur Asya”, close to Fethullah Gulen.
This preacher, who has lived in exile in the United States since 1999, heads one of the country's most powerful Islamist movements. His influence also extends beyond Turkey to central Asia and the Balkans, through a network of schools, financial institutions and media, including the daily Zaman and Samanyolu television, and publishing houses. He has six to eight million members and sympathisers in Turkey and on 25 June 2008 he was finally acquitted of a charge of creating a secret organisation with the goal of overturning the country's secular order.
Bogatekin was arrested on 13 April 2008 as he left a plane bringing him from Istanbul, as a result of an arrest warrant issued in the journalist's absence on 12 March. He was brought to the court in Gerger on 30 May after 47 days in custody, handcuffed and surrounded by uniformed police officers.
The court called eight witnesses, six of them police officers, all on the side of the prosecutor who brought the case. They said they had not seen the journalist go into the prosecutor's office in which the dispute reportedly took place. Bogatekin said that the prosecutor closed the door of his officer before threatening him. He also rejected the police statements, considering it logical that they would give evidence in support of their superior. He finally protested his innocence, saying, “I have been in prison for 47 days. I am 58 years old and suffer from asthma. I do not want to suffer any more of this”.
Extension of the journalist's period in custody
The journalist's lawyers argued that imprisoning their client for “the simple fact of having sent petitions to the authorities” in which he denounced Sadullah Ovacikli, undermined his right to a defence in the other trials he is facing. They also pointed out that there were ample guarantees to allow him to be released and that his continued imprisonment was pointless.
However the prosecutor Sedat Turan said that Bogatekin was “lucky” and the precautions in the Turkish criminal code offered more protection than Article 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). “Our criminal law requires a “strong suspicion” whereas the ECHR calls for “enough suspicion”, he said.
The judge nevertheless accepted the reasons given by the prosecutor to justify holding Haci Bogatekin in continued detention, taking the view that he was capable of putting pressure on a police officer who had not yet given evidence, Aydin Onat, that he could escape justice, go into hiding or destroy evidence.
Several witnesses are due to testify on 30 June, among them the journalist's son, Ozgur Bogatekin, and Aydin Onat. The General Directorate of criminal cases at the Justice ministry will also have to give an update on the investigation being held into Sadullah Ovacikli as a result of the journalist's complaint. The court will also have to rule on whether or not the prosecutor should give evidence.
Reporters Without Borders has learned that another trial has just been opened against Bogatekin by Sadullah Ovacikli and the head of the local police for “using the press to publish an insult”. Since the charge had only just been made known to him, the court decided to give the journalist more time and adjourned it until 30 June.
The court on 30 May also examined two other cases implicating the journalist. The first related to a complaint made by a religious leader relating to an article that revealed the drying up of gifts to the community could be explained by financial embezzlement on the part of its management.
The journalist is also facing proceedings under Article 301 of the criminal code over a previous editorial headlined “Turkey has made a mistake”, that appeared on 10 March 2007. He is accused of “open humiliation of Turkish identity, of the republic and state institutions and bodies” for which he faces two years in prison. In this non by-lined piece, the journalist said “the state has made mistakes”. He gave names of cities in which he said there had been abuses implicating Turkish state services.
A critical newspaper
None of the six daily newspapers in Adiyaman sent reporters to cover the trial and none of them announced on the previous day that it would be taking place.
Apart from the correspondent for Reporters Without Borders and the website Bianet.org, there were representatives of a few national media, as well as Faruk Balikci, president of the South-eastern and eastern Anatolian Journalists' Association, sent at the request of the president of the Turkish Press Council.
The Reporters Without Borders' correspondent went to Kahta, another Adiyaman sub-prefecture, on 31 May to visit Bogatekin in prison but he was not allowed to see him. The chief of police responsible for the prison told him that detainees were not allowed visits at weekends. The journalist shares a cell with ten other prisoners, 60 kilometres from his family home. The father of 12 children usually lives in a very modest house on the outskirts of Gerger. His son Ozgur is doing his best to keep his father's paper Gerger Firat going.
The bi-monthly is the only paper in Gerger (population 4,200), is critical in tone and has given itself the mission to counter the renewed vigour of the region's Islamist organisations and the “retreat of republican values”. Some 300 copies of the paper are delivered free in Gerger and 2,500 more are paid for by subscribers.
Haci Bogatekin has been acquitted at the end of most of his trials. He was for example initially sentenced to a fine equivalent to 10,000 euros for failing to specify the full date of the appearance of the first edition of his paper on 31 August 2004. He appealed and the fine was reduced to 250 euros, because it was caused by a simple mistake at the printers.
A trial was opened against him at the start of 2005 for “denigrating the security forces” in connection with an article headlined “the bandit state” and he faced up to three years in jail under Article 159 of the former criminal code. But he was acquitted on 6 July 2005, after the law was amended.
The prosecutor Sadullah Ovacikli himself dismissed a case against him on 12 February 2005 after the appearance of an editorial headlined “The lice, the pig and the village head”. The prosecutor decided that the article that appeared on 7 December 2006, was in the public interest, basing his decision on two ECHR rulings.