His family, colleagues, and lawyers told Ziya Ataman's story on this 'Press Day'

His family, colleagues, and lawyers told Ziya Ataman's story on this 'Press Day'
ANKARA – For Journalists and Press Day, we spoke to the family, defense lawyers and colleagues of Ziya Ataman, who has been behind bars for the past 1119 days.  Today marks the 108th anniversary of the abolition of official press censorship in Turkey. The formal censorship process that newspapers had to go through before going to print was abolished on July 24th, 1908. To mark this occasion, July 24th is celebrated as Journalists and Press Day, or the Celebration and Struggle for Press Freedom Day. However for the past few years July 24th has not passed with an atmosphere of celebration in Turkey. 134 journalists are currently behind bars, while dozens of journalists face ongoing and increasingly lengthy trials. Turkey was ranked 157th in World Press Freedom Index published by Reporters Without Borders (RSF), and thousands of journalists have lost their jobs. Ziya Ataman has been behind bars for the past 1199 days and suffers from health problems that are reaching serious dimensions. On this ‘Journalists and Press Day’ we spoke to his family, his defense lawyers from the Media and Law Association (MLSA), his colleagues, as well as with the Human Rights Association (İHD). 
Ziya Ataman’s older sister Gülizar Aykut explained that ever since he was a child, Ataman had had good relations with his family and friends and been prone to battle against injustice. She indicated that because they had lost their mother at a very young age, Ataman had come to consider her like a mother. She said, “Ziya was 7 years old when he lost his mother. He had a very difficult childhood. He couldn’t study past high school because our financial situation was bad. However, his dream has always been to become a journalist. He never gave up on this dream and indeed became a journalist.” Noting that people around her brother loved him very much and that his friends asked about him very frequently, Aykut said “Many people call me before I go to visit him. He expects letters especially from his friends. Whenever I go to see him he asks about everyone one by one in this tiny amount of time. He is very much concerned about his loved ones. His words are always filled with concern and longing, which reminds me of how much he misses the outside world. This situation affects me very much.”
Explaining that her brother had had health problems for a long time, Aykut noted “He felt constant pain in his feet and in his kidneys. Despite being unwell, he continued to practice journalism. When we told him he needed to find another job, he said that he loved his job and would continue doing it. We had concerns but we couldn’t really say anything in the face of his determined stance.” She added: “Visiting days are very difficult days for me. Outside, we cry constantly but we try to remain strong when we go to see him. We should be the ones giving him moral support but he ends up being the one who gives us moral support. He welcomes us smiling. He awaits me as though he was awaiting his mother. But there are many times when I am unable to visit him. Unfortunately living in a different city prevents me from visiting him frequently and this situation affects me very much. During visits he mentions his health problems a lot. He says that his kidneys have now ceased functioning and that he is only able to stay afoot with medication.”  Claiming that her brother is not guilty and has been detained for years despite the absence of any concrete evidence in his case file, Aykut stated, “When these events took place, my brother was in another city. They laid all the accusations on him. This is not a fair trial. I want justice to be done as soon as possible and my brother to be released. My brother’s health worsens every day and I am extremely concerned.” Fethi Balaman, a colleague of Ataman having worked with him in Van for close to 7 months, indicated that Ataman’s interest in the profession of journalism was very strong. Balaman noted: “Working with Ziya is very valuable to me. Ziya was a journalist who never avoided the work he was given despite how laborious it was. He would always try to fulfill the task he was given in the best way possible. He was deeply attached to his profession. He said that the reason why he had begun a career in journalism was that he couldn’t endure the lies of partisan media. He has a clear stance against media uniformity. He strived to bring the truth out into the open and for news to reach the people. Everyone liked him very much. His relations with both his colleagues and his news sources were very good.”
Balaman highlighted that his colleague had been detained for a long time and that this pressure exerted on journalists had to stop. He said, “Ziya is detained for having done what journalism requires. Free press is being placed under a great amount of pressure and shown as a target. They want journalists reporting the news in the way the government wants. Yet this is not how dissident media works. We are struggling through the press to make the truth accessible to all aspects of the society, and we believe in the necessity of this struggle. Ziya never backed down from this struggle. Wherever he went with an intent to report the news, he was often a victim of threats and pressure but he never backed down. The greatest reason for journalists being targeted is this refusal to take any steps back. Our friend has health problems and needs to be released as soon as possible.”  Öztürk Türkdoğan, chairman of the Human Rights Association (İHD), stated that the court by which Ziya was tried was listed as a court with special authority. Türkdoğan explained that these courts were the continuation of state security courts, and said, “The present government presents these courts as specialized courts. However, in reality, these courts only try offences listed within the scope of the Anti-Terror Law (TMK) . The fact that the diverse articles of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CMK) are only applied by these courts shows that they continue to carry to status of special authority courts. In this way, we are face to face with a court in which legal certainty is not protected. The right to legal certainty is violated in a very serious manner by this situation. If our journalist friend had been tried before an ordinary High Criminal Court, he would definitely have been found innocent at the first hearing and would have been tried without detention until the end of this lengthy legal procedure.”
Türkdoğan indicated that measures of detention during trial were exceptional and further noted, “Normally individuals need to be tried without detention. If the person in question is a journalist and has allowed people to enjoy their right to information, then this measure must definitely not be requested. Because this is a requirement of the journalism profession. Ataman being tried for carrying out his profession is a legal oddity in itself. In addition, we know about and keep up to date with Ataman’s illnesses. The medical reports should have led to his release from detention a long time ago. Because the right to health is a category of rights linked to the right to life. The right to health definitely requires that this person be released. Because he has not been convicted. If he had been convicted he would have had to be released after the issuing of a forensic report. But if he is not released that the qualification of special authority court steps in and this very clearly needs to be criticized.” Türkdoğan, emphasizing that Türkey had to put an end to its hostility against journalists, claimed:  “Turkey is at the top of the list of countries with the greatest number of jailed journalists. In the 2019 freedom of the press index Turkey was ranked 157th among 180 countries. Therefore Turkey’s report card is very bad in regards to journalists. Our friend Ziya is only one among the many affected by these bad practices. It is time for Turkey to solve the issue of the freedom of journalists, who are an indispensable aspect of the right to freedom of expression. Maybe these issues would have partially been solved if the Ministry of Justice’s justice reform proposal had come before Parliament. But the parliament has begun its recess without even putting this into the agenda and the reform proposal was postponed until fall. For this reason, we continue to talk about the subject of imprisoned journalists. It is time for Turkey to remove itself from the list of worst countries in terms of freedom of the press.” Zelal Doğan, who is a lawyer with the Media and Law Studies Association (MLSA), stated that the association has been representing journalist Ziya Ataman in court for a while now. Noting that her client has been threatened and targeted many times in the past, Doğan explained: “We believe that Ziya Ataman is once again being targeted and used as a scapegoat with this trial. Ataman has been detained for over three years now. Not only is the prosecution not proceeding within a reasonable timeframe, it is also based entirely on evidence collected in an illegal manner. The witness who testified against the defendants has stated very clearly that he had provided his testimony under torture; however, the witness statement in question is still used as a reason to keep Ataman in prison by the court.” 
Doğan addressed Ataman’s health condition and explained that prison conditions have an adverse effect on prisoners’ health. “Subpar food, lack of hygiene, not allowing prisoners to go out to exercise...In addition to that, their access to health care is not great. This has affected Ziya Ataman in the past. He experienced problems with his intestines and eyes. Although he is doing a bit better now, these adverse prison conditions often cause long-term effects that permanently affect the physical integrity of inmates.” In reference to the public prosecutor’s request for an aggravated life sentence for Ataman during the latest court hearing, Doğan noted: “However, it is clear that there is not a single piece of evidence that links Ataman to the event justifying this grave accusation. Ruling to keep Ataman in detention while he is tried despite any lack of evidence is clearly unlawful. If we look at recent judgements of the Constitutional Court and the European Commission’s latest report, we can see how much pressure the press is under in Turkey. As the Media and Law Studies Association, we believe that Ziya Ataman is the victim of this wide scale media crackdown and that his detention violates many of his fundamental rights. We will take Ataman’s case to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) to resolve all these illegal elements.”
Barış Oflas, another lawyer of Ataman, noted that his client has been detained for over three years without any concrete evidence against him and said, “Ataman faced incredible pressure in the county to which he came with dreams of becoming a journalist and in which he was imprisoned because of an event that he has nothing to do with. His only dream was to become a journalist. However, he was repeatedly threatened by law enforcement when distributing newspapers in the county. He was ordered not to distribute these newspapers anymore. Ziya had to leave the county because the threats were endless. When he was arrested, the Prosecutor’s Office could not present any concrete evidence against him. Moreover, his relative K.A. was forced to testify against him as a witness under torture.” Noting that Ataman suffers from several health conditions, Oflas continued: “He had health problems even before entering prison. However, he did have access to health care while he was outside. His access to health care is extremely limited in prison; the facility’s resources are simply not sufficient. He is not given any written information about his condition. Doctors have told him that he has experienced intestinal failure but have not examined him any further or provided additional information about the course of this condition. Ziya is experiencing a lot of stress due to the injustice inflicted on him via judicial organs; this stress is causing his health to further deteriorate. At this stage of his trial, he is upset that his voice is not being heard loudly enough.”

Medya ve Hukuk Çalışmaları Derneği (MLSA) haber alma hakkı, ifade özgürlüğü ve basın özgürlüğü alanlarında faaliyet yürüten bir sivil toplum kuruluşudur. Derneğimiz başta gazeteciler olmak üzere mesleki faaliyetleri sebebiyle yargılanan kişilere hukuki destek vermektedir.