The International Press Institute (IPI) today reiterated its call on Turkish authorities to release journalists from prison who were excluded from the most recent parole law passed in April. The parole law enabled the immediate release of up to 90,000 inmates in order to relieve overcrowded prisons during the pandemic.

Journalists and other political prisoners who were sentenced or under trial for terrorist-related crimes were left out of COVID-19 emergency measures under the new law. According to IPI’s database, of the 89 journalists in jail, over 50 percent of them are there on terrorism charges, the result of politicized targeting of journalists for their critical reporting.

Since late March, all judicial proceedings, including journalists’ trials, were suspended in Turkey due to COVID-19 pandemic. This has been extended via presidential decree until June 15. The Justice Ministry has announced that trials with defendants in pretrial detention will be exempted from this suspension.

Meanwhile, journalists in Turkey continue to be targeted and detained for their reporting and continue to face violations of their rights in court.

On Saturday May 2, the criminal court of peace, which is responsible for the investigation phase, conducted an ex officio hearing for six journalists who were arrested for reporting on the funeral of an intelligence officer who died in Libya. The hearing was conducted at the request of the prosecutor’s office without the presence of journalists’ lawyers (appointee lawyers were present instead). The court decided to extend the detention of the journalists, who have been jailed since early March. One of the defendants, Barış Pehlivan, has reported being the victim of physical assault during detention.

Prosecutors had filed an indictment in late April requesting sentences for the six journalists and journalist Erk Acarer from eight to 19 years in prison on charges of “defying the National Intelligence Law” and “revealing state secrets”. Turkish lawmakers had included at the last minute the offence of “crimes against the Intelligence Services” from among the types of crimes excluded from the parole law regulation.

Local bar associations have reported similar incidents of hearings that took place without defendants’ presence and in which their detention was extended.

“The lives of jailed journalists in Turkey continue to be at risk amid the ongoing pandemic”, IPI Deputy Director Scott Griffen said. “The Turkish authorities’ refusal to release the journalists and others targeted for their critical views is unconscionable and endangering the health and lives of those prisoners. We call once again on Turkey to release all jailed journalists and let them return home.”

According to the latest statement by Minister of Justice Abdülhamit Gül on April 28, 120 people had tested positive for COVID-19 in four prisons.

On May 8, the regional prosecutor’s office announced that 44 convicts and detainees had reportedly tested positive in Silivri Prison. Silivri Prison in Istanbul is one of the main prisons where political prisoners such as journalists, activists, politicians, and human rights defenders are sent. Among those currently jailed in Silivri Prison are the six journalists for reporting on the Libya casualty.