Free SpeechHuman RightsPress Freedom

MLSA TV: Panel on Free Expression Trial Monitoring Report

Media and Law Studies Association (MLSA) Project Coordinator Ece Koçak moderated the panel where International Press Institute (IPI) Deputy Director Scott Griffen shared and discussed the Trial Monitoring March 2020 Final Report findings with court monitor and freelance journalist Elif Akgül.

Noting that the project period covered the monitoring of 319 hearings held in 15 different cities across Turkey, IPI Deputy Director Griffen said, “The most common types of charges that the defendants are facing in these cases are ‘membership in a terrorist organization’, ‘terrorist propaganda’ and ‘committing a crime on behalf of a terrorist organization’, for which journalistic work, and social media posts are presented as evidence.” On the decline of the usage of the video-conference link (SEGBİS) and changes in the panel of judges, Griffen stated: “A relative improvement in terms of some violations during this period was observed, but rather than saying there is a positive trend, we should look back and ask, ‘What was the impact of these severe violations on convictions that have already occurred?’ Because many of these trials have already come to an end.”

You can read the full report here.

Kurdish journalists are, without exception, tried for ‘membership’

Highlighting another significant finding of the report, Koçak said, “Our report reveals that Kurdish journalists are facing heavier pressure than others. Because it is observed that these journalists are, without exception, accused of ‘membership in a terrorist organization’ which is a heavier charge with respect to other charges.”

Court monitor and freelance journalist Akgül shared her personal experience in the courthouse and compared the current situation with when trial monitoring was first initiated in the summer of 2018. She said, “We actually see a change in how the judges address the press members and defendants, how they handle the deliberation processes, and their attitude in general. Our presence in the courtroom as monitors, makes a significant change.”

‘Criticism is classified as terrorism’

Griffen noted that in Turkey, anything that criticizes public officials is immediately classified as terrorism, “regardless of it being legitimate criticism according to the international legal standards.” In concluding, journalist Akgül underscored the importance and value of trial monitoring in Turkey and said, “When a famous journalist is on trial everyone is there to show their support, however especially in the case of Kurdish journalists whose cases generally don’t spark much attention, the defendants feel very isolated and alone. Therefore it is very important to show solidarity with them and their loved ones. Beyond the collection of data on free expression trials, these projects initiate the establishment of solidarist bonds among journalists.”