During the week of February 22, 2021, International Press Institute (IPI) representatives, as part of IPI’s Turkey trial monitoring programme, attended and monitored two hearings at Istanbul’s Çağlayan Courthouse where several journalists, including current or former reporters from Bloomberg News, Tele1 and Cumhuriyet, were on trial for critical coverage of the authorities. These cases are both examples of the ongoing crackdown on reporting on issues sensitive to the Turkey’s government.
Three reporters on trial for “revealing identity of a police officer”
On February 23, 2021, International Press Institute (IPI) Turkey Programme Coordinator Renan Akyavaş attended the fourth hearing of former Cumhuriyet journalists Canan Coşkun and Ali Açar and BirGün reporter Can Uğur. This journalists face criminal charges over their reporting on the investigation into the death of 15-year-old Berkin Elvan, who died after being hit on the head by a tear gas canister during the Gezi Park protests in 2013.
The journalists are accused of revealing the identity of a police officer who is a suspect in the murder investigation although the officer’s name was coded in the articles as “Emin Y”, which the defendants have stressed was in accordance to Turkish law. They face charges of “targeting public officials who participated in anti-terror operations”. Turkish President Erdoğan had previously claimed that certain groups participated in the Gezi Park protests as part of terrorist groups. The charge of targeting public officials who participated in anti-terror organizations has been being increasingly used when the complainant is a prosecutor or a member of security or armed forces.
The hearing started with a half-hour delay at 10:30 am. Coşkun was the only defendant present in the courtroom while the two other co-defendants were represented by their lawyers. The court stated that a document from the Istanbul Police Department indicating the department in which the police officer had been working had not been yet submitted. Therefore, the court ruled to postpone further action until the documents were received.
Following this statement, Coşkun’s lawyer, in order to underline the absurdity of the charges, pointed out that the journalists were being accused of revealing a police officer’s identity, even though the police department couldn’t yet identify the officer or the department in which he worked. The court adjourned the hearing until June 8, 2021 at 10:30 am.
Six journalists, economists accused of “defying the Capital Market Law” for reporting on currency shock
The second trial observed by IPI representatives involved nearly 40 co-defendants including six journalists from various outlets: Reporters Fercan Yalınkılıç and Kerim Karakaya of Bloomberg News; Halk TV economist and programme host Mustafa Sönmez; Tele1 TV founder and Editor-in-Chief Merdan Yanardağ and host Sedef Kabaş; and actor and SolHaber news portal columnist Orhan Aydın.
Along with other 32 individuals, the journalists faced baseless charges of “defying the law on capital market” for their coverage of Turkey’s economic troubles.
The case against Bloomberg journalists Yalınkılıç and Karakaya shows the absurd nature of the charges. The pair are being prosecuted over a news story published by Bloomberg on August 10, 2018. The article was about the biggest currency shock in the country since 2001 and how authorities and banks were responding to it. Subsequently, Turkey’s Banking Regulation and Supervision Agency (BBDK) filed a complaint over the news story, accusing the journalists of seeking to undermine the country’s economic stability. The Turkish authorities are sensitive about negative depictions of the country’s financial situation. The Capital Markets Board of Turkey (SPK) also intervened in the case as a complainant. The other journalists and co-defendants in the case are charged in relation to their social media posts and comments about the currency shock.
According to the Capital Market Law (107/2), the journalists face between two and five years in prison for allegedly attempting to “undermine Turkey’s economic stability, spreading misinformation, false and fake news, publishing news, reports and commentaries in order to affect investors’ decisions and to financially benefit from it”.
IPI attended the fourth hearing on February 26, 2021 at Istanbul 3. Criminal Court. The hearing started on time as scheduled at 10:00 am. None of the defendant journalists were present in the courtroom as they were represented by their lawyers. The judge informed the lawyers that the expert opinion requested during the previous hearing on October 23, 2020, had not been submitted yet. The BDDK lawyers requested defendants to be tried under Article 158 of Turkey’s banking law, which stipulates the prosecution of damaging a bank’s reputation.
The court ruled to wait until expert opinion to be submitted, and adjourned the hearing to June 4, 2021 at 10:00am.