Journalists in Prison

Journalist Nedim Türfent has been behind bars for 4 years!

Journalist Nedim Türfent published a video report on a group of special operations forces, who had handcuffed a group of workers behind their back and lined them face-down on the ground at a construction site in Yüksekova district of easternmost Hakkari province of Turkey. Meanwhile one of them was shouting down at them, “You will see the power of the Republic of Turkey… I know you all… Whoever betrays will pay the price… What did this state do to you? You will see the power of Turks.” 

This news video brought him both death threats and the Musa Anter Journalism Award.

Four years ago, today, on 12 May 2016, Türfent was taken into police custody. The journalist was charged with “being a member of an armed terrorist organization.” He then was arrested on 13 May 2016 and sent to prison, pending trial.

The indictment against Türfent was completed on 7 March 2017, when he had already been behind bars for 300 days.

He faced charges of “membership in an armed terrorist organization” and “propaganda of terrorist organisations” and committing this crime in “successive intervals.” The accusations were based on the statements of 20 witnesses. He was put on trial facing from at least 8 years 9 months up to 23 years 9 months in prison.

Türfent’s first hearing was held on 14 June 2017, when he had been behind bars for 399 days.

Witnesses, whose statements had been used to charge him, renounced their earlier testimonies and told the court that they “have not seen or heard about Nedim Türfent prior to that court hearing and that their witness testimonies were drawn under means of torture.”

His trial at the court of first instance was proceeded in 5 hearings over the course of 6 months. Türfent had never been brought before a court personally. Instead, he was made to attend all court hearings in a Hakkari local courthouse through a live video feed system named Audio and Video Information System, or SEGBIS in short, from the prison he was held in eastern Van province – about three hours’ drive from each other.

The first instance court verdict came on 15 December 2017. The court deemed valid the official testimonies of those 20 witnesses, which they renounced at the court room “as having been forcibly taken under means of torture.”  Hence the court found Türfent guilty of “membership in an armed terrorist organisation.” The journalist then was sentenced to 8 years 9 months in prison.

Nedim Türfent had already been behind bars for 583 days by then. 

When his sentence was upheld by the Supreme Court of Cassations on 21 May 2019, he had been behind bars for 1105 days. 

Today, Nedim Türfent has been behind bars for 4 years!

When he was in jail, a coup attempt took place, followed by a two-year State of Emergency. Over the course of these four years, Turkey held a referendum, a Presidential election, a general parliamentary election, a local election, and had to repeat İstanbul’s mayoral election. Turkey’s government transformed into a presidential one. However, the government’s outlook on press and freedom did not change at all. Strong persistence that “journalism is a crime” never declined!

The President announced the ‘Judicial Reform Strategy’ and the parliament approved the ‘Judicial Reform.’ One of the articles which was used to accuse Türfent was amended with an addition stating that “news and criticism don’t constitute a crime.” Yet, Türfent still remained behind bars. 

The law on the execution of sentences have been amended with a new bill. Many prisoners and convicts have been released from prisons. Yet, Türfent and all journalists remained behind bars.

Even a deadly global pandemic such as COVID-19 could not change accusations and punishment practices against “journalism.” Petitions demanding Türfent’s “immediate release” remained unanswered by judges. 

Nedim Türfent has been behind bars for 4 years. He never regretted his news reports!

Freedom of press and expression has not been breathing for the past 4 years and ‘journalism is still a crime’ in Turkey.