The International Press Institute (IPI) today welcomed the release of another journalist from prison in Turkey and urged the country to free the rest of the nearly 100 journalists it currently holds behind bars, the vast majority of whom have been convicted of no crime.
A court in Istanbul late yesterday afternoon ordered the release of Muyesser Yildiz – who had been imprisoned for 16 months – following the resumption of proceedings in the “Oda TV trial” after a three-month pause.
The case is named for a news website that has been fiercely critical of the government. Prosecutors say the website was at the centre of a purported effort to use the media to advance the alleged “Ergenekon” plot to use terrorism to sow chaos that would lead elements of the military and security services to stage a coup against Turkey’s current Justice and Development Party (AKP)-led government.
The head of IPI’s Turkish National Committee, Milliyet columnist Kadri Gursel, said: “The release of Muyesser Ugur Yildiz yesterday following the latest hearing in the Oda TV case is a positive, but small, step. Positive, because she was kept most of the time during her 16 months in custody in conditions of isolation, despite her poor health. It’s a small step, however, because there are other journalists who still remain in custody in the same case. This case, where the accused have effectively been questioned and put on trial for their journalistic activities, has put a dark stain on the reputation of the Turkish justice system, which has criminalized journalism.”
Yildiz was released from the Silivri prison outside Istanbul last night and joins five co-defendants in the case who are currently free pending trial. IPI World Press Freedom Hero Nedim Sener, along with journalists Ahmet Sik, Sait Cakir and Coskun Musluk, was released in March, while Dogan Yurdakul was freed in late February for health reasons. Four other journalists and authors in the case – Soner Yalcin, Yalcin Kucuk, Baris Pehlivan and Baris Terkoglu – remained behind bars yesterday.
The defendants were all taken into custody in early March 2011. Although their trial began in November, it has been punctuated by numerous delays. Observers said yesterday that no end appeared in sight given that a government agency still has not given the court its report on a key piece of evidence – an assessment requested some five months ago.
The government contends that documents found on computers following a February 2011 raid of Oda TV’s offices provide evidence of the alleged plot, and they have centred their case on those documents, as well as on news reports and writings by the defendants and on snippets of wiretapped telephone conversations. The defendants allege that the documents were fabricated and placed on the computers by hackers. They have submitted experts’ conclusions supporting that argument, but the court asked the Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey (TUBITAK) to conduct an independent analysis. As of yesterday, the court still had not received that report.
Some of the defendants’ supporters, citing alleged weaknesses in the prosecution’s case, accused authorities of intentionally withholding the report in order to “punish” the defendants by delaying the trial’s conclusion. They claimed there was little, if any, evidence linking all of the defendants other than past criticism of the Fethullah Gulen religious movement.
The Gulen movement is named for its leader, a Turkish author, educator and Muslim scholar who fled the country in 1999 for Pennsylvania shortly before he was accused of attempting to overthrow the government. The group was at one time a base of support for current Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, but a rift has reportedly developed between the movement and the AKP.
Critics say the movement’s members occupy high positions in Turkey’s judiciary and some accuse it of being the “new deep state”, a reference to the traditional label identifying an alleged group of influential anti-democratic forces within the government purportedly made up of high-level elements within security and intelligence services, the military and the judiciary.
The South and East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO) supports this statement.