On June 29, 2022, a representative of the International Press Institute (IPI) attended and monitored the trial of journalist Hayri Demir at the Ankara 15th Heavy Penal Court as part of IPI’s Turkey trial monitoring programme. Alongside IPI, Demir’s trial was also attended by representatives from the Journalists’ Union of Turkey (TGS), Amnesty Turkey, and the German Embassy in Ankara.
Demir, a former reporter for Mezopotamya News Agency, is facing criminal charges of “spreading terrorist propaganda” and “membership of a terrorist organization” for his news reporting in northern Syria. IPI has been monitoring Demir’s case since the first hearing on September 24, 2019.
Demir’s indictment revolves around photographs found on two memory cards which were stolen from his house in 2017 and which later were allegedly found on the streets, given to the police, and used as evidence against Demir. The indictment alleges that the photographs portray members of a terrorist organization. Demir states that the photographs were taken as part of his journalistic coverage of a conflict zone in Syria back in 2015 for the subscribers of pro-Kurdish Dicle News Agency. The Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office is seeking a minimum of nine years and a maximum of 22 years and six months imprisonment in relation to the accusation.
The 12th hearing of Demir’s trial took place on June 29, 2022, at the Ankara 15th Heavy Penal Court. The prosecution established a video connection with the Adana F-type Prison to hear a statement from a witness who was convicted for allegedly being an ex-member of the Syria-based People’s Protection Forces (YPG), which is considered a terrorist organization by the Republic of Turkey. The witness stated that he met Demir in northern Syria when Demir was conducting journalistic work in the area. Demir, who stated that he was in Syria in 2015, asked the witness when he had been in the region. The witness responded by saying that he had been in Syria between 2018 and 2021, after which the witness was disconnected from the hearing.
Emphasizing that he was not present in Syria in the years mentioned by the witness, Demir demanded for a criminal complaint to be filed against the witness for making false statements. The prosecutor requested that the witness be heard again. However, the video connection with the witness could not be re-established. The hearing lasted approximately 30 minutes, during which Demir was interrupted a total of four times by the prosecutor.
The hearing in the Ankara 15th Heavy Penal Court concluded with the prosecutor deciding to wait for an expert opinion (requested in the previous hearing) on Demir’s digital materials found on the aforementioned memory cards and to decline Demir’s request for the filing of a criminal complaint against the witness. Demir’s next hearing, which is to be the 13th hearing in his trial, is scheduled for 11:15 on September 28, 2022.
Hayri Demir’s case constitutes yet another instance where the existence of a broader terrorist threat is being instrumentalized to serve an indiscriminate suppression of critical voices. The persistent and deliberate conflation of terrorist propaganda and journalism by the government, courts and prosecutors has been a defining factor in Turkey’s crackdown on freedom of the press in recent years. In 2021, IPI recorded 68 terrorism-related charges against journalists, out of a total of 142 charges. 28 journalists were convicted, nine of whom were convicted on terrorism-related charges. In a recent European Parliament resolution on Turkey, it was stated that “the current repressive form of rule, whose main pillars are abuse of the legal framework – particularly through the application of terrorism charges and the restriction of freedom of expression – and a lack of independence of the judiciary, is a deliberate, relentless and systematic government policy designed to suppress any critical activities, either directly or through a chilling effect”.
IPI will continue to monitor the Turkish journalism on trial and to call for the Turkish state authorities to comply with their international and domestic legal obligations.