The sentencing of seven Sözcü daily staff and journalists to heavy prison terms for news reports is another blatant violation of the right to freedom of expression in Turkey and must be overturned, PEN International and English PEN said today.
On 27 December 2019, the 37th High Criminal Court of Istanbul found Sözcü reporter Gökmen Ulu, columnists Emin Çölaşan and Necati Doğru, editor-in-chief Metin Yılmaz, news coordinator Yücel Arı, online editor-in-chief Mustafa Çetin and accounting officer Yonca Yüceli guilty of ‘knowingly and willingly aiding a terrorist organisation while not participating in the hierarchical structure’. It handed down prison sentences ranging from two years and one month to three years, six months and 15 days. The defendants, who deny any wrongdoing, remain free pending the outcome of their appeal.
‘The PEN Community strongly condemns the decision to sentence Sözcü daily staff and journalists to prison simply for their journalistic work. The verdict is yet another attempt to stifle independent voices in Turkey and must urgently be overturned. It is about time the Turkish authorities abide by their obligations to uphold free expression. Journalism is not a crime’, said Salil Tripathi, Chair of PEN International’s Writers in Prison Committee.
Sözcü daily staff and journalists were convicted on the basis of their reporting. The Court notably found them guilty of revealing President Erdoğan’s location to coup plotters after the opposition daily published a news story on 15 July 2016 – the day of a failed coup attempt – about the resort where Erdoğan was spending his holiday. The coup attempt sparked an unprecedented crackdown against perceived critics and opponents of the Turkish government; scores of journalists were subsequently detained and sentenced to jail on trumped-up terrorism charges.
‘The past three years have seen Turkey earning the dubious accolade of the world’s biggest jailer of journalists. Baseless terrorism-related charges continue to be used to detain and prosecute journalists, academics, human rights defenders and countless others. We call once again on the Turkish authorities to align Turkey’s counter-terrorism laws with international standards and to no longer target those exercising their legitimate right to freedom of expression’, said Daniel Gorman, Director of English PEN.
Sözcü is the largest opposition daily in circulation in Turkey and one of the last critical outlets still in print. In total, nine Sözcü daily staff and journalists stood accused of terrorism-related charges. The Court ruled to acquit former website manager Mediha Olgun and to try the paper’s owner Burak Akbay – who remains abroad – separately. It handed down prison sentences as follows:
- Columnist Emin Çölaşan: three years, six months and 15 days
- Columnist Necati Doğru: three years, six months and 15 days
- Editor-in-chief Metin Yılmaz: three years and four months
- Online editor-in-chief Mustafa Çetin: three years and four months
- News coordinator Yücel Arı: two years and one month
- Reporter Gökmen Ulu: two years and one month
- Accounting officer Yonca Yücekaleli: two years and one month
For more information about the Sözcü case and PEN’s position, please click here.
For more information about the state of freedom of expression in Turkey, and how the Turkish authorities are using counter-terrorism laws to target dissenting views, please click here.
For further details contact Aurélia Dondo at PEN International, Koops Mill, 162-164 Abbey Street, London, SE1 2AN, UK Tel: +44 (0) 20 7405 0338 Fax +44 (0) 20 7405 0339 e-mail: Aurelia.firstname.lastname@example.org