By Darren Smith, Weekend Contributor
In another example of the diminishing freedom of the press in Turkey, Yurt newspaper reporter Meriç Şenyüz and Ulusal Kanal reporter Özer Sürmeli received sentences of six and five months respectively for their reporting of a December seventeenth corruption probe involving, among others, then Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s son Bilal Erdoğan.
Turkey has an unfortunate history of repression of media critical of government, though in the last year an estimated forty imprisoned journalists have been released. According to BIA Media Monitoring Reports, the number of jailed journalists in Turkey fell from 104 in 2010 to 59 last year and to 19 by November 2014. However the underlying trend of jailing journalists in Turkey and many other nations of the world continues.
On January seventeenth, Şenyüz’ article included the following statement, (roughly translated) “In order for Bilal to erect a mall in Etiler District, land belonging to a police school was seized. Title was then transferred to the municipality from police authorities. Then, the land was declared as a ‘Hazard Zone’. Afterward, the mall project began.”
Şenyüz later announced he was appealing the ruling. He wrote the following to his twitter account, “This is understandable but those who stole millions…have not even made a statement. I am frustrated by this.”
In a January ninth article authored by Sürmeli in Ulusal Kanal titled “Bribery delivery in the toilet [stall],” the reporter exposed various bribery allegations stemming from the December seventeenth corruption probe. The news account revealed that graft was exchanged between various actors.
The article claimed that individuals representing various corporations and institutions exchanged money in, of all places, a disabled person’s bathroom stall in the city of Izir.
The court ruled that in its verdict that Sürmeli “caused the persons involved in the matter to be perceived as criminals.” It is not as if that did not appear obvious to anyone but it is allegedly a criminal offense to publish such facts.
Both men however remain free pending further court proceedings.
Several other journalists also were jailed for investigative reporting of the corruption probe. Charges in this group ranged from Insults (Turkish Penal Code Article 125) to Violating the Confidentially of an Investigation, (Turkish Penal Code Article 285).
The laws themselves are far reaching and nearly every aspect of investigative reporting, as is customary in the West, carries substantial risk of criminal charges levied against reporters.
Here are both articles of the Penal Code:
ARTICLE 125- (1) Anyone who undermining the honor, dignity or respectability of another person or who attacks a person’s honor by attributing to them a concrete act or a fact, or by means of an insult shall be sentenced to imprisonment for a term of three months to two years, or punished with a judicial fine. In order to convict for an insult made in the absence of the victim, the act must have been witnessed by at least three persons.
(2) If the act is committed by means of a spoken, written or visual message addressing the victim, the perpetrator shall be sentenced to the penalties set out above.
(3) If the offence of insult is committed:
a) against a public official in connection with their duty;
b) in response to the expression of religious, political, social, philosophical beliefs, thoughts and opinions, in response to an individual’s changing or attempting to propagate their religious, political, social, philosophical beliefs, thoughts and opinions, or in response to an individual’s compliance with the requirements and prohibitions of their religion;
c) by reference to the holy values of a person’s religion, the penalty shall be not less than one year.
(4) (Amended by Law 5377 of 29 June 2005 /Article 15) Where the offence of insult was committed in public, the penalty shall be increased by one sixth.
(5) (Amended by law 5377 of 29 June 2005 /Article 15) In the case of insults to public officials in connection with their efforts working as a committee, the offence shall be deemed to have been committed against all committee members. In such a case, the provisions related to concatenated offences shall be applied.
Violation of Confidentiality
Article 285 – (1) Anyone who publicly breaches the confidentiality of an investigation shall be sentenced to imprisonment of from one to three years. In the case of breaches of confidentiality with respect to decisions taken during investigation that are confidential by law, and for procedures carried out in accordance with such decisions, the offence shall be deemed to have occurred even where it was not committed publicly.
(2) Anyone who publicly breaches the confidentiality of declarations or images produced in hearings that according to the law had to be held or had been decided to be held in closed session shall be sentenced according to the provision in paragraph 1. Where the protection of a witness is an issue, the offence shall be deemed to have occurred even where it was not committed publicly.
(3) The sentence shall be increased by one half if the offences are committed by means of the press or publication.
(4) If, during the investigation and prosecution stages, images are published that label persons as guilty, a sentence of imprisonment of from six months to two years shall be imposed.
Article 285 can have the legal effect of burying acts of corruption in that under this statute, unless modified elsewhere within the penal code, the authorities can expand an investigation over years of delay and subject a reporter to criminal prosecution if at any point during such investigation the media divulges details of such. Such conditions are ripe for the furtherance of corruption and malfeasance of office.
BIA News worries that the Turkish Government’s approach in portraying certain news reports as being conspiracies and unlawfully influencing the court system are causing journalists to believe that a new wave of arrests could greatly impact critical journalism.
By Darren Smith
The views expressed in this posting are the author’s alone and not those of the blog, the host, or other weekend bloggers. As an open forum, weekend bloggers post independently without pre-approval or review. Content and any displays or art are solely their decision and responsibility.