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Trial monitoring report: Journalists, activists and politicians are increasingly charged with terror-crimes

With the support of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation (FNF), the Media and Law Studies Association has monitored 147 hearings of 98 trials in 11 cities, with 15 court monitors between January 1 and July 15, 2021.

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The report found that the previously identified trend of trial without pre-trial detention continued during this monitoring period and that the charges against the defendants remained unchanged. The share of pre-trial detention was 6% during the last reporting period, whereas this share has now fallen to 3%. 46% of the charges brought against the defendants consisted of terror-related crimes during the last monitoring period whereas this share has now hit 58%. Following terror-related charges, the most frequent charge brought against the defendants during this period was “insulting the President” with 6%.

A significant decrease was observed in convictions in charges regulated in the Anti-Terror Law (TMK); the share of convictions as per the TMK was 78% during the last monitoring period, whereas this share has now fallen to 30%. However it was observed that journalists were more frequently convicted of other crimes. For instance, the share of  convictions as per “insulting the President,” Turkish Penal Code’s (TCK) Article 299, rose from 10% to 25%, and the share of convictions as per “insulting a public official,” TCK Article 125/3, rose from 5% to 17%.

The number of imprisoned journalists and media workers dropped from 66 to 60 during this monitoring period, as of today this number is 57.

Concerns regarding the right to a fair trial

In 30 of the 147 hearings monitored, the monitors stated they had doubts with regards to respecting the defendants’ right to a fair trial. The most frequent concerns, noted in 11 hearings, were related to the independence of courts; whereas in 10 hearings the open court principle was violated. Moreover, in 3 of the hearings, the monitors noted that the defense suspected the real existence of the secret witnesses in the case files. 

Defendants

A total of 562 defendants stood trial, of whom 42% were journalists, 23% were activists and 11% were politicians. Lawyers made up 2%, writers 2% and students 2%, whereas media employees, artists and academics each made up 1% of the defendants.

Accusations

A total of 149 charges were imputed in 98 trials monitored. The largest share consisted of terrorism-related crimes: in 37 instances “terrorist propaganda” (Art. 7/2 of TMK), in 31 “membership of a terrorist organization” (Art. 314 of TCK, Art. 7/1 of TMK), in 9 “disclosing the identity of those involved in anti-terrorism operations” (Art. 6 of TMK), in 6 “committing a crime on behalf of a terrorist organization without being a member/aiding and abetting a terrorist organization” (Art. 220/6-7 of TCK), in 3 “founding a criminal organization” Art. 220 of TCK) and in 1 “violating Law No. 6415 on Prevention of Financing of Terrorism” charges were imputed.

64% of the evidence cited in these trials were related to the defendants’ journalistic activities. In 20 cases, statements of defendants, witnesses or plaintiffs, whereas in 6 cases associational activities were presented as evidence for crime.