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ACTION ALERT: Turkey Turns Dictatorial, Seizes Newspapers, Jails Reporters


March 10, 2016
Turkish Minute & Just Foreign Policy

The Turkish government recently seized a major newspaper, the latest episode in the Turkish authorities' ongoing onslaught on dissenting media. Several reporters also have been arrested and jailed by the government. TV channel IMCTV was taken off air, silencing the only national news channel reporting a critical view of the situation in southeastern Turkey, where round-the-clock curfews were imposed as armed clashes devastated entire towns.

http://www.justforeignpolicy.org/act/congress-turkey-human-rights

Urge Congress to Speak Up against Human Rights Abuses by the Government
Robert Naiman / Just Foreign Policy

(March 9, 2016) -- The Turkish government's takeover of Zaman newspaper is the latest deeply troubling episode in the Turkish authorities' ongoing onslaught on dissenting media, Amnesty International says. Last week, TV channel IMCTV was taken off air, silencing the only national news channel reporting a critical view of the situation in southeastern Turkey, where round-the-clock curfews were imposed as armed clashes devastated entire towns. [1]

Kurdish residents recently returned to the town of Cizre in southeastern Turkey to find many of their homes obliterated by the government's military campaign to crush Kurdish rebels. [2]

Some residents called the destruction a "second Kobani," referring to the Kurdish town in Syria that endured a brutal siege at the hands of ISIS. [3] Turkey's most prominent journalist compared it to Dresden in 1945. [4]

The US government characterizes the government of Turkey as a close NATO ally. [5] So the US government should use its influence to press the Turkish government to respect human rights.

Urge your representatives in Congress to speak up against human rights abuses by the government of Turkey by signing and sharing our petition:
Urge Congress to speak up against human rights abuses by the government of Turkey by signing our petition at MoveOn:
http://www.justforeignpolicy.org/act/congress-turkey-human-rights

References:
1. https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2016/03/turkey-fears-of-zaman-newspaper-takeover/
2. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/turkey/12181740/Cizre-Kurds-PKK-Turkey-military-rubble-offensive.html
3. http://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory/turkey-rolls-back-curfew-kurdish-town-37327505
4. http://www.radikal.com.tr/yazarlar/cengiz-candar/dresden-1945ten-cizre-2016-adindaki-mezarliga-1521904/
5. http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/dpb/2016/03/253948.htm#TURKEY



Journalism under Police Surveillance in Erdogan's 'New Turkey'
Gunay Hilalaygun / Turkish Minute

ISTANBUL (March 7, 2016) -- Turkey has literally become a police state. That fact became crystal clear to me on the walk to my newspaper's office on a supposedly regular Monday morning. This is the fourth day since the government's confiscation of the Feza Media Group, which includes Today's Zaman, Turkey's best-selling English-language daily and where I have been working for almost three years.

On my way to work, I first ran into a foreign cameraman and reporter who were trying to cover the invasion down the street. After walking past hundreds of meters of police barricades surrounding my newspaper's building and lined up across the road, I was welcomed by a young riot police officer holding a machine gun in front of the entrance.

I nervously held up my cell phone to take a picture of him with my hands shaking. It was likely that I would face a reaction from him as several colleagues of mine had over the past few days. He turned around and noticed that I had taken his photograph. But the police were probably too tired of tear gassing, manhandling and harassing us since Friday, when they forcibly entered the building at close to midnight.

Dozens of police vehicles were stationed both outside and inside the office courtyard. And these vehicles had of course not arrived empty. Hundreds of police officers, most of them from the counterterrorism unit, had already filled the courtyard "to protect" the newspaper from its employees, and the general public, who might show up later in the day to stand with us in solidarity.

After I passed by all these "guards" and managed to enter the building, I came across other policemen wandering about all five floors, some having brunch at the downstairs café. Two or three officers on each floor were tasked with sitting in the hallway -- and periodically giving us disturbing looks as we tried to do our jobs.

Most of the computers in our office no longer had an Internet connection or even a connection to our internal network, something the court-appointed trustees claimed was "unintentional" and a problem they were working to sort out. It didn't sound convincing because they had interfered significantly with the content of our publication the day before, which was the first issue since the takeover. Four columns and one op-ed were scrapped entirely.

We confronted a similar scene when we headed downstairs to the cafeteria for lunch; the entire cafeteria had been invaded by police officers.

Our courtyard was littered with cigarette butts and wrappers thrown away by the policemen, who apparently lacked all courtesy. Indeed, the trustees placed in charge of our daily seem no better.

Later on, our managing editor held a meeting and announced that "the trustees do not want any pieces denouncing Turkey any more." Indeed, this statement was in stark contrast with what we had been told by the trustees only a day earlier.

"We are nobody's men. There is nothing to be worried about. We will not be meddling in your work much. We just want an objective editorial line and there won't be any praise -- or criticism -- of people who are being tried," they had said. We had found it hard to believe, and it didn't take more than 24 hours to see it for what it was.

In today's Turkey, where made-up "terrorism" charges can be used to silence dissident media outlets -- or any group, for that matter -- through bought off courts, what bothers me most is the dishonesty of the authorities.

In Third World countries, they are at least honest enough to declare that it was a "government takeover." There is no beating around the bush; pretending that they are acting in line with the law or as though there is a legitimate court order to justify such a brazen move.


Journalist Tunca Gets 49-year Jail Term on Terror Charges
Turkish Minute

ISTANBUL (March 09, 2016) -- Journalist Sami Tunca, managing editor of the Mucadele Birligi magazine, has been handed down a prison sentence of 49 years on charges of being a member of a terrorist organization.

Tunca, 27, was arrested on Sept.17, 2013 for taking part in the Gezi Park demonstrations which sparked in the summer of the same year in protest of government plans to demolish the Gezi Park in İstanbul's Taksim neighborhood.

The journalist was being accused of being a member of the Communist Labor Party of Turkey/Leninist (TKEP/L) and holding a banner during the Gezi Park protests representing the TKEP/L in addition to damaging public property, hurling a Molotov cocktail, attending a ceremony for the commemoration of leftist idol Deniz Gezmiş. He was facing a jail sentence from 54 years up to 185 years.

Over the past several years, a growing number of journalists are prosecuted in Turkey over their critical views or terror charges in a development that raises serious concerns about the state of the freedom of the press in the country.

On Tuesday, another journalist from the BirGun daily, Barış İnce, was handed down 21 months of jail time for allegedly insulting President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in his plea for another case in which he was being tried for insulting the president and his son over a news report.

The BirGun daily reported on Tuesday that İnce submitted a plea to the court and the first letters of each paragraph in his plea added up to "thief Tayyip" while he was being tried for a news report about the corruption scandal which went public in December, 2013. Four ministers from the Justice and Development Party (AK Party), their sons and President's son Bilal Erdogan were implicated in the scandal.

İnce was accused of insulting Erdogan and his son in a news report titled "They constructed double highways into their pockets." After he submitted his plea another complaint was filed for him for insulting Erdogan.

BirGun said that İnce's sentence was not suspended however he will appeal to the decision.


Journalist Sentenced to 21 Months in Jail for Insulting Erdogan in Plea
Turkish Minute

ISTANBUL (March 8, 2016) -- A journalist for the BirGun daily was handed down 21 months of jail time for allegedly insulting President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in his plea for another case in which he was being tried for insulting the president and his son over a news report.

The BirGun daily reported on Tuesday that Barış İnce submitted a plea to the court and the first letters of each paragraph in his plea added up to "thief Tayyip" while he was being tried for a news report about the corruption scandal which went public in December, 2013. Four ministers from the Justice and Development Party (AK Party), their sons and President's son Bilal Erdogan were implicated in the scandal.

İnce was accused of insulting Erdogan and his son in a news report titled "They constructed double highways into their pockets." After he submitted his plea another complaint was filed for him for insulting Erdogan.

BirGun said that İnce's sentence was not suspended however he will appeal to the decision.


Journalist Baransu to Appear in Court over His Release of MGK Report
Turkish Minute

ISTANBUL (March 9, 2016) -- Journalist Mehmet Baransu, an outspoken government critic who is currently incarcerated in the Silivri Prison, will appear at an İstanbul court in the fourth hearing of a trial concerning his release of National Security Organization (MGK) documents in 2013. The hearing will be held at the Anatolia 10th High Criminal Court in Kartal on Thursday.

Baransu's report was published in the Taraf daily in November 2013. The MGK report, dated 2004, discussed an action plan that calls for a fight against the faith-based Gulen movement.

The approval of the MGK document by the cabinet members of the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government who undersigned the document led to great disappointment among the followers of the Gulen movement because the AK Party was in good terms with the movement until the becoming public of a corruption investigation in December 2013 in which senior government members were implicated.

Baransu is facing 52 years in jail over charges of releasing classified documents.

The journalist has been kept under arrest since March 2, 2015 for releasing classified documents. He was arrested over documents he had submitted to prosecutors in 2010 prompting a major coup trial known as "Sledgehammer" (Balyoz) that implicated military top brass.

Baransu has frequently faced prosecution for insulting President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and government officials as well as releasing documents claimed to violate confidentiality. The journalist has also been detained and released pending trial four times in 2014 in connection with these accusations.

Baransu's Sercan Sakallı who spoke to Turkish Minute about his client's hearing on Thursday said he expects a recent ruling by the country's Constitutional Court about two jailed editors from Cumhuriyet daily to set a precedent for Baransu's case.

The top court last month ruled for rights violations in the case of Cumhuriyet editor-in-chief Can Dundar and Ankara representative Erdem Gul who were jailed in November due to a report they published in the daily in May 2015 about National Intelligence Organization (MİT) trucks that were illegally carrying arms to Syria.

The journalists were released from jail after the Constitutional Court's ruling.

Sakallı recalled that Baransu petitioned the Constitutional Court last April but the court is still refusing to discuss his appeal although it discussed appeals made by Dundar and Gul in two months.

"There is double-standards here," the lawyer said, adding that although the top court's ruling increased the prospects of Baransu's release from prison, he may still remain behind bars particularly after the recent statements of President Erdogan.

Erdogan who was angered by the Constitutional Court's ruling about Dundar and Gul recently said the local court might have resisted against the Constitutional Court and not rule for the release of the journalists.

Baransu is actually facing more than 50 court cases in which he faces a total 1,000-year-long prison sentence. The cases filed against him include in addition to the release of Sledgehammer and MGK documents, his release of MİT documents that showed MİT's profiling of senior

Republican People's Party (CHP) and Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) officials and covering reports about genetically modified rice in the Taraf daily in 2013.

Turkey is becoming a more and more difficult place for journalists to perform their profession because many of them are facing legal action just because of their writings or views.

Dozens of journalists are being prosecuted over charges of insulting the president or government officials while the management of critical media outlets such as the Zaman Media Group and İpek Media Group, are handed over the government-appointed trustees in politically-motivated moves.


Top Court Says Shocking Content
Is Free Speech in Ruling for Release of Journalists

Turkish Minute

ISTANBUL (March 09, 2016) -- Turkey's Constitutional Court has issued its detailed ruling that ordered the release of veteran journalists Can Dundar and Erdem Gul, who are being tried on espionage charges, citing the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) criterion, which says free speech includes shocking and disturbing opinions, according to a report by the Dogan news agency on Wednesday.

The ruling elaborated that the lower court's decision on arresting the pair was an "obvious mistake of use of discretion." Out of the 17 judges, who are member of the Constitutional Court, three objected the ruling and put an emphasis on "national security."

A large number of rulings by the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) were cited in the ruling, where the notions of press freedom and free speech were interpreted from a wide perspective.

The Constitutional Court based its decision on the well-known ECtHR criteria on the issue, saying ""Freedom of expression...is applicable not only to 'information' or 'ideas' that are favourably received or regarded as inoffensive or as a matter of indifference, but also to those that offend, shock or disturb the State or any sector of the population."

The ruling also said "Freedom of expression is one of the most essential elements of a democratic society." According to the Constitutional Court, there is lack of evidence to justify the confinement of Dundar and Gul and to support the assertion that they are involved in political spying.

The top court found it unreasonable that an arrest warrant was released for the two journalists six months after the publication of the news reports that are subject to criminal investigation.

In response to the criticism that local legal remedies have not been exhausted in the case before the application to the higher court, the top judges stated that the issue of being released pending trial was already concluded and rejected by lower courts.

The three Constitutional Court judges, who opposed the ruling, claimed that the top court stepped over its jurisdiction and interfered with the discretion of the local court, as the indictment has not been completed yet.

The three judges also asserted that the local legal remedies have not been exhausted. "The verdict [of the lower court] should have been waited for," the annotation said.

Cumhuriyet daily Editor-in-Chief Can Dundar and Ankara Bureau Chief Erdem Gul had been arrested in November 2015, after the newspaper released a footage showing weapons loaded in two National Intelligence Organization (MİT) trucks en route to Syria. The Cumhuriyet report dated May 29, 2015 bore the title "Here is the arms Erdogan said do not exist".

Dundar and Gul are being tried on charges of espionage and revealing state secrets. On Feb. 26, the Constitutional Court ruled that the rights of the pair had been violated through arrest, leading to their release pending trial after three months of incarceration. The ruling also stated "Their freedom of expression and freedom of press" was violated. Upon the top court's decision, the criminal court handling the case removed the order of arrest.

Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.

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