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Nearly two dozen Turkish journalists given prison sentences in "Ergenekon" trial

Protesters run after a prison van as an unidentified defendant sticks his fist out as he's driven to a courthouse in Silivri, 5 August 2013.
Protesters run after a prison van as an unidentified defendant sticks his fist out as he's driven to a courthouse in Silivri, 5 August 2013.

Reuters/Murad Sezer

UPDATE from Reporters Without Borders: Number of journalists convicted in Ergenekon trial rises to 20 (7 August 2013)

The International Press Institute (IPI) and its affiliate, the South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO), express alarm over a Turkish court's convictions of journalists in connection with the alleged “Ergenekon” coup plot.

On 5 August 2013, a special court set up at the Silivri Prison west of Istanbul convicted all but 21 of the 275 defendants implicated in the alleged plot and sentenced nearly two dozen journalists to prison sentences varying from five years to life behind bars.

IPI Executive Director Alison Bethel McKenzie said: “We have long feared that many of the journalists in Turkish prisons were detained in retaliation for their work, a conclusion that appears bolstered here by the numerous, troubling accusations of due process violations in this case. Given that most of these journalists have already spent years behind bars in connection with these allegations, we urge authorities to release them pending appeals that we anticipate they will file.”

She added: “These verdicts also demonstrate the extreme lengths to which Turkey's vague anti-terror and criminal laws have been stretched. In a meeting with an IPI delegation last December, Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc pledged that the then-pending 'Fourth Judicial Package' would address press freedom violations and lead to the release of imprisoned journalists. That package, ultimately, made little progress in that regard, and we urge Turkish lawmakers to enact reforms to ensure that critical reporting on matters of public interest is not conflated with terrorism and that any new constitution safeguards press freedom and freedom of expression in accordance with international norms, including the European Convention on Human Rights.”

The defendants in the Ergenekon case included politicians, retired military officers, academics and journalists. Turkish officials said the alleged plot contemplated assassinations and attacks that would create chaos and lead to calls for the military to take power from the current government headed by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's Justice and Development Party (AKP).

Critics allege that the case is a political witch hunt in which the AKP, whose roots lie partially in a banned Islamist party, sought to sideline the military and secularists in order to eliminate potential challenges to its rule.

Journalists convicted on 5 August included former journalist and Yeni Party leader Tuncay Ozkan, who was sentenced to life in prison plus an additional 16 years behind bars. Ozkan was given an “aggravated” life sentence, meaning he is set to serve his term in solitary confinement with only one hour of fresh air per day.

Other journalists who received prison sentences include:

-Mustafa Balbay (Cumhuriyet daily): sentenced to 34 years and eight months in prison
-Hikmet Cicek (Aydinlik daily): sentenced to 21 years and nine months in prison
-Unal Inanc (Avrasya TV) and Adnan Akfirat (Aydinlik magazine): sentenced to 19 years in prison
-Deniz Yildirim (Aydinlik magazine): sentenced to 16 years and 10 months in prison
-Ferid Ilsever (Ulusal Kanal): sentenced to 15 years in prison
-Behic Gurcihan (Acik Istihbarat news website): sentenced to 13 years and six months in prison
-Hayati Ozcan (Ulusal Kanal): sentenced to 10 years and 11 months in prison
-Adnan Turkkan (Ulusal Kanal) and Merdan Yanardag (Yurt daily): sentenced to 10 years and six months in prison
-Mehmet Bozkurt (Aydinlik daily): sentenced to nine years and three months in prison
-Turhan Ozlu (Ulusal Kanal): sentenced to nine years in prison
-Ufuk Akkaya (Ulusal Kanal): sentenced to eight years and two months in prison
-Ruhsan Senoglu (Aydinlik daily): sentenced to eight years and one month in prison
-Ufuk Mehmet Buyukcelebi (Tercuman daily), Vedat Yenerer (Yenicag daily), Guler Komurcu (worked for Aksam daily until the investigation) and Serhan Bolluk (Ulusal Kanal): sentenced to seven years and six months in prison
-Adnan Bulut (Kanalturk TV) and Ozlem Konur Usta (Aydinlik daily): sentenced to six years and three months in prison
-Fatma Sibel Gurcihan (Acik Istihbarat news website): sentenced to six years in prison
-Muhammed Murat Avar (Milletin Sesi daily): sentenced to five years and four months in prison

Journalist Caner Taspinar (Yurt daily) was acquitted.

Other defendants convicted on 5 August included author and academic Yalcin Kucuk, who was sentenced to 22 years and six months in prison. He also faces trial in the OdaTV case, named for a news website that has been fiercely critical of Turkish authorities' pursuit of investigations into various alleged coup plots. Authorities accuse the 12 defendants in that case of having acted as the media wing of the Ergenekon plot, allegedly advancing it by questioning the government's investigation.

Journalist Nedim Sener – an IPI World Press Freedom Hero currently facing trial in the OdaTV case, who spent over a year in pre-trial detention before his release in March 2012 – told U.K. newspaper The Guardian: “We were all happy when [the Ergenekon] court case started because we thought it was an effort to clean up the deep state. But we soon realised it was an effort to clean up political opponents.”

In related news, a chief adviser to Erdogan took to Twitter on 5 August to blast those who criticised the verdicts. Specifically targeting five journalists by name, Ertan Aydin wrote: “All the fascist coup-lovers are showing up one by one on Twitter.” The post was subsequently deleted.

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