The International Press Institute (IPI) in collaboration with the Media and Law Studies Association (MLSA), today published the third trial monitoring report on freedom of expression cases in Turkey.
This report is part of a programme of monitoring that started in June 2018 and confirms findings of the two earlier reports, published in July and January 2019, that the country’s criminal justice system is failing its people and specifically its journalists by violating fundamental rights to liberty, freedom of expression and a fair trial.
This current report covers 42 hearings (38 cases) involving 202 defendants of which 157 were journalists that took place between June 1 and July 21, 2019.
Key findings include:
85 percent of hearings involved terrorism-related offences, primarily conducting propaganda for a terrorist organisation (19 of 42 hearings) or being a member of a terrorist organisation (12 out of 42 hearings). Other common charges included defamation-related offences such as insulting the president and humiliation of the Turkish nation.
Of the 157 journalists tried, 34 of them were held in pre-trial detention of whom 18 had been held for over one year and nine of them faced terrorism-related charges.
Quality of evidence:
Evidence used to justify pre-trial detention and the terrorism related charges consisted primarily of journalistic work including articles and photos published, contacts with sources and social media posts.
As highlighted in the findings of a recent IPI-led mission to Turkey and a joint human rights submission to the U.N., the loosely drafted anti-terrorism legislation enables the courts to conflate journalistic practice with terrorism propaganda and label journalists who have been engaged by a media organization perceived as politically aligned with the Gülen movement, or that is pro-Kurdish, as proof of membership of a terrorist organisation.
Holding journalists in detention based on their journalistic output breaches the fundamental rights to freedom of expression, contravenes established jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights and rulings handed down by Turkey’s Constitutional Court.
The right to a lawful judge:
The report showed that in 13 percent of cases (five of 38) the presiding judge had been replaced during the proceedings. This is down from 20 percent in the previous report but still underlines concerns about the arbitrary removal of judges. For example, in a case related to the 2013 Gezi Park protests the presiding judge was removed by the Council of Judges and Prosecutors (HSK) after the judge had expressed an opinion in favour of the defendants. Since 2017 the HSK is appointed directly by the president and parliament.
The report also confirmed the disturbing trend of the judge’s panel failing to deliberate in private. In 47 percent of cases (consistent with previous reports) judges deliberated in open court in the presence of defendants, prosecutors and the public. This would appear to be a clear breach of art 227 of Turkey’s Criminal Procedural Code.
“Journalists continue to be held in detention on the most serious terrorist charges justified by evidence of their legitimate journalistic work. Their days in court are subjected to countless breaches of procedure denying the right to a fair trial in what amounts to a deliberate attempt to intimidate and silence critical voices”, Oliver Money-Kyrle, IPI Turkey programme manager, said.
The trial monitoring programme is supported by the European Union through the Turkey Civil Society Support Programme that lasts until April 2020. The trial monitoring reports are written by IPI, a global network of editors, media executives and leading journalists, based on data collected by MLSA.