The last two defendants held in the Odatv trial were released at the end of the hearing in Istanbul’s 16th High Criminal Court on Thursday 12 December. (Odatv is an online news portal known for its fierce criticism of government policies.)However, both defendants, journalist and writer Professor Yalçin Kücük and former police chief Hanefi Avci, will remain in jail as they are serving sentences in connection with other cases. It is a good result, which leaves the case against all the remaining defendants, (still under threat of imprisonment) in ruins. The decent thing would be to drop all the charges and release them all from the control of the courts.
The day started with a lively demonstration and rally outside the court in support of all the defendants, despite snow and freezing conditions. The rally was addressed by Patrick Le Hyaric, a Left Front French MEP and me, representing the European Federation of Journalists.
As well as Le Hyaric, who is also Director of L’Humanité, whose newspaper had adopted Odatv owner Soner Yalçin, the trial was attended by Daniele Lebail a French regional councillor and Syluie Jan, head of the French Kurdish Friendship Association.
I told the rally that I was there to express the solidarity of the National Union of Journalists and the European Federation of Journalists to all journalists in prison or facing charges for just doing their job.
‘Without justice there is no democracy. Without freedom of expression there is no democracy. Only a movement rooted in the people, and working together can achieve this democracy,’ I concluded.
Patrick Le Hyaric said ‘We came here to show our support to the jailed journalists in prison on the basis of unfounded accusations, false trials and justified only by the government’s antiterrorism policy. The antiterrorist law is used to gag those who are doing nothing but their job – to inform. The right to pluralistic information and the right to be informed are signs of a democratic country.’
He ended by saying that he would ask the French President, François Hollande, to raise these matters with the Turkish authorities when he visits Turkey at the end of January.
Other Odatv journalists who have also been on trial for over two and a half years on terrorist related charges have been released over the period. But all will return to court for a further hearing on 1 April 2014. Among them is Muyesser Yildiz, the journalist adopted by the NUJ.
Commenting on the outcome, I said that the decision showed that none of the defendants had a case to answer and the charges against them should be dropped immediately.
‘Until that happens we will continue to show our solidarity with the defendants as well as to the sixty journalists currently in prison in other cases and those journalists currently facing charges in other trials,’ I said.
Meanwhile, a few days earlier two more journalists, Mustafa Balbay and Nilgun Yildiz were released from prison. Balbay’s release came on 9 December after serving more than four years for allegedly plotting against the government. He was convicted and sentenced to 34 years and 8 months, but the Constitutional Court granted his release while his appeal is pending. He is also an elected MP for the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) and took his seat in the Turkish parliament on 10 December. (Following Balbay’s release, hopes have now risen for six MPs who remain in prison.)
Nilgun Yildiz, a reporter for the Dice News Agency, was released on 6 December. A defendant in the KCK case, (see ‘Standing up for journalism in Turkey’), she will return to the court on 14 January 2014, together with a further 19 journalists accused in the case who remain in prison.
The day after Mustafa Balbay was released – 10 December – International Human Rights Day, saw the release of the annual report jointly prepared by the Human Rights Association and the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey. In the section on Freedom of thought, expression and faith, it pointed out that violations of freedom of thought and expression during the Gezi Park protests in June proved that freedom of speech and the right to assemble should be assessed together.
The government had pressed the media to impose self-censorship and took restrictive measures against reporters and photographers in a bid to cloud protests and police brutality. Many journalists, columnists and human rights activists have been prosecuted and magazines and books confiscated. It went on to point out that the Turkish Penal Code still included many articles restricting freedom of expression. Some 35,000 websites remain banned the report stated.
The EFJ has launched a petition ‘Justice for Journalists in Turkey’ as part of its campaign for the freedom of journalists in Turkey. You can sign it at: