Case MonitoringJournalist DefensePress Freedom

Photojournalist Çağdaş Erdoğan given a deferred 20-month prison sentence

Istanbul – A Turkish court on 5 September handed down a one year eight-month prison sentence to renowned photojournalist Çağdaş Erdoğan on charges of “repeated terrorism propaganda.”

The sentence  was deferred meaning that Erdoğan will not go to prison unless he commits an offense within the next five years.

Media and Legal Studies Association (MLSA) lawyers defend Edoğan, who was charged with “membership in a terrorist organization” and “propaganda for a terrorist organization”. In the 5 September hearing, he was acquitted from “membership” charges, but not from “repeated terrorism propaganda charges.”

The 33. High Criminal Court heard the case; many journalists were in attendance including MLSA’s own observers.

The hearing started with the prosecutor submitting his final opinion, where he asked the “terror organization membership” charges to be dropped, but that the “propaganda” charges be upheld.

Lawyer Veysel Ok, in his final defense statement, said that the indictment was an exact  replica of the police investigation file.

“Sharing NYT reports, exhibition pictures do not amount to propaganda”

Ok said he doubted that the prosecution even examined Erdoğan’s social media posts on which the accusation was based. “Sharing photographs from protests about the Kurdish question, pictures on display at the art gallery SALT, or retweeting a news report by the world’s most-read newspaper New York Times do not constitute propaganda for a terrorist organization.”

Regarding Erdoğan’s social media posts about photographs of Kobane, a Kurdish town in northern Syria, Ok recalled that when the city was attacked by the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, Turkey lended support to the city by allowing Iraqi peshmerga troops to walk through its territory. “Everyone from the president to the ordinary soldier at the border wanted Kobane to be liberated,” Ok said.

Erdoğan was first detained while taking a picture in Istanbul’s Kadıköy district, and he was later falsely accused of photographing a building that was formerly used as a social facility for the National Intelligence Agency (MİT). “This investigation started with a journalist trying to take a picture of the harmony between a fence and the sky, on the claims that a MİT building, which we later found that is no longer in use. And it reached this point both through the police investigation report and an inquiry into my client’s social media posts that took place before his initial detention.”

Ok also argued that even if Erdoğan had committed the offense, he should not be punished under the Turkish Penal Code article that says that “nobody can be punished for exercising their rights”. “If reporting the news is a right for a journalist, then they can’t be punished for using this right. Çağdaş Erdoğan is one of the best photographers in the world. He used his right to report the news, this cannot be treated as a crime.”

An amicus brief by the London-based media freedoms organization Media Legal Defense Initiative (MLDI) was submitted to court during the hearing.

“Turkey is one of the countries with the highest number of violations of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). The Constitutional Court is making an effort to end unlawful decisions by local courts, as we have seen in earlier rulings in the cases of Peace Academics and Deniz Yücel. This case law makes a clear definition of what terror propaganda is. If you treat opinions of individuals that think differently as propganda, you will have violated the law,” Ok said, demanding Erdoğan’s acquittal on propaganda charges.

The Court nevertheless handed down a deferred one-year-eight-month prison sentence to Erdoğan on propaganda charges, while acquitting him on membership charges.