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Two Turkish journalists get jail terms for solidarity campaign role

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns the 18-month prison sentences that an Istanbul court passed today on two journalists, Ragıp Duran and Ayşe Düzkan, for taking part in a campaign of solidarity in 2016 with Özgür Gündem, a Kurdish newspaper that was the victim of judicial persecution.

RSF, whose Turkey representative is being tried separately for participating in the same campaign, regards the sentences as motivated by a desire to intimidate Turkish civil society.

“They haven’t shown enough remorse,” the court said today, explaining the sentences passed on Duran and Düzkan. These two journalists were among a total of 56 civil society figures who took turns in acting symbolically as Özgür Gündem’s “editor for a day” from May to August 2016 in a show of support for the principle of media pluralism. The authorities ended up shutting the newspaper down.

Duran and Düzkan were convicted of “propaganda on behalf of a terrorist organization,” namely the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), because of columns that were published in the newspaper while they were its symbolic editors.

Also on trial in the same case were the two journalists who wrote the offending columns, Mehmet Ali Çelebi and Hüseyin Bektaş, and the newspaper’s “real” editor, Hüseyin Aykol. Çelebi and Bektaş were also given 18-month jail terms today, while Aykol was sentenced to three years and nine months in prison on the grounds of prior convictions.

Although represented by their lawyers, none of the five journalists attended the hearing and they will not have to go to prison before their appeals are heard, which could take several months.

“The aim of the Özgür Gündem solidarity campaign was to defend media freedom and pluralism,” said Johann Bihr, the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk. “Treating its participants as criminals is designed solely to intimidate Turkish civil society at a time when the need for action is greater than ever. We call on the courts to overturn all the convictions in connection with this campaign and to abandon the prosecutions still pending.”

Those still being prosecuted for their role in the campaign include RSF’s Turkey representative, Erol Önderoğlu, who is being tried with Şebnem Korur Fincancı, the head of the Turkey Human Rights Foundation (TIHV), and the writer Ahmet Nesin. These three are the only ones to have been placed in pre-trial detention for their part in the campaign. That was in June 2016, when they were held for ten days.

They are facing up to 14 and a half years in prison on charges of PKK propaganda, condoning criminal activity and inciting criminal activity. Their trial will resume on 18 April before the same court that sentenced Duran and Düzkan today.

According to the Bianet news websites, 20 journalists, writers and intellectual have so far been convicted in connection with this campaign. Most of them have been given fines or suspended prison sentences. Until now, only two, Murat Çelikkan and İmam Canpolat, had been given actual jail sentences.

Turkey is ranked 155th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2017 World Press Freedom Index. The already worrying media situation has become critical under the state of emergency proclaimed after the July 2016 coup attempt. Around 150 media outlets have been closed, mass trials are being held and Turkey now holds the world record for the number of professional journalists detained.

(c) 2018 Reporters Without Borders

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