Journalists in PrisonNews

Muş court rules to keep Kurdish reporter Idris Sayılğan in prison


MLSA lawyers defend journalist Sayılğan, who is accused of terror-charges because of his news reports on security operations in the southeast of Turkey

A Muş court on 23 May ruled to keep the arrest warrant in place for İdris Sayılğan, a journalist with the shuttered pro-Kurdish news agency DİHA whose news reports on security operations by Turkish forces had alarmed the authorities. 

The journalist has been in prison for 19 months. The Media and Law Studies Association (MLSA) is providing pro-bono legal support for the journalist. MLSA co-founder Veysel Ok and member Barış Oflas represented him in the hearing. 

Sayılğan is accused of “membership in a terrorist organization” on the base of his news reports and transcripts of phone conversations he had had with news sources — the only evidence of his alleged membership in the indictment. 

Defendant not in courtroom

23 May’s hearing was the third session in the trial where there are a total of five defendants. The Muş 2. High Criminal Court heard the session. 

The other defendants are Party of Democratic Regions Mus Province Co-Chair Hatice Şeker, former co-chair of the People’s Democratic Party (HDP) Muş branch Ayşe Söylemez, Muş city council member Çiçek Tutuş and Medeni Işık, head of the Solidarity with the Relatives of the Disappeared Association (MEYA-. DER) Medeni Işık. 

Sayılğan, who is imprisoned at Trabzon Prison, couldn’t connect to the courtroom via video-conferencing due to a technical error. 

Sayılğan’s lawyer Veysel Ok in his defence statement emphasized that Sayılğan is a journalist and stated that the allegations against him constitute a violation of freedom of the press and the public’s right to information and receiving news. Ok, who provided a large number of precedents from the decisions of the European Court of Human Rights said: “As judges and prosecutors, you might not like the news reported by Idris Sayılğan or not like the terminology he uses.These might disturb or even shock you. But the most you can do is not read these reports, you can’t arrest him according to ECtHR case-law.”

Protection of sources

Ok underlined that the indictment mostly includes transcriptions of phone conversations Sayılğan had with his news source. Recalling that Article 12 of the Press Law guarantees the Protection of Sources, Ok said: “Idris is in prison for speaking the truth and reporting the news,” he said. 

He also demanded that as they are in violation of the principle of protecting sources, the transcripts should be removed from the case files. He said their inclusion was also in violation of international conventions.

In his defense statement, Lawyer Oflas criticized the court for failing to establish a video-conferencing connection. Oflas said this constituted a violation of his client’s right to a fair trial. “I came from Van, our other lawyer came from Istanbul. The court is in Muş, and İdris is not here today because he is in Trabzon.”

He also said he couldn’t understand the court’s decision not to release İdris. “When he gets out, he will continue doing critical journalism, which is what he has been jailed for. How can someone reporting the news even think of fleeing? It is impossible to understand why this court treats İdris as a flight risk,” he said.

Oflas also said that court rulings against journalists in the recent times in Turkey have a major impact on the deterioration of press freedoms in the country. “My client has been detained for 19 months. He is being tried for reporting on rights violations in the region,” he said. 

In its interim ruling, the court ruled to continue the detention of all the defendants with the exception of Medeni Işık. The trial was adjourned to 5 October. 

İdris Sayılğan interviews locals for a story on security operations conducted by the Turkish military during curfews in the southeast.