Read the mind, arrest the journalist

Read the mind, arrest the journalist

Everybody agrees that the initial headline written was grossly erroneous. The website manager of the paper noticed the problem in the headline written by a web editor and removed it in 55 seconds. 

However, even if it was corrected within 55 seconds, it resulted in the chief web editor of daily Cumhuriyet, Oğuz Güven, being arrested. 

The headline was about the traffic death of a prosecutor who prepared the first anti-Fethullahist indictment.

The first tweet and the website headline was “Truck slices Prosecutor Mustafa Alper.” 

Late prosecutor Mustafa Alper was the prosecutor who drafted the first indictment concerning the Fethullahist Terrorist Organization (FETÖ) after the July 15 coup attempt. He adopted a firm stance against the putschists from the first moment, took immediate action and went to the Denizli Airport to start legal proceedings against putschist soldiers who wanted to fly military planes to join the attempt in Ankara. 

When Oğuz Güven gave his statement five days after he was detained on May 10, he said: “This headline was wrongly written. I told the editor to tweet it as ‘his vehicle was sliced.’ But Editor Birkan Erol made a mistake and tweeted, ‘Prosecutor Mustafa Alper was sliced by a truck.’ This mistake occurred due to the aim of posting the news as soon as possible considering the competition and speed factor demanded by the internet. Moreover, this tweet was removed in 55 seconds and the title on the webpage was corrected. This is the proof that the first title was a mistake.” 

Güven repeated his sentence on May 15 in court, but his defense did not lead to any result; the judge arrested him. 

In the coming days, this arrest will be frequently referred to in debates about freedom of expression and freedom of the press. 

The judge ruled, “In the tweet about the deceased Denizli chief prosecutor, there are two aspects that are highlighted; the first is that it is stated that he is the prosecutor who drafted the first FETÖ indictment and the second is that the phrase ‘truck slices chief prosecutor.’ On the official website of the same paper, the phrase ‘lost his life’ was used for a person [Ulaş Bayraktaroğlu] who stepped on a mine in Syria with the YPG, but for the deceased chief prosecutor the phrase, ‘a truck sliced him’ was intentionally used. With the posted tweet, the fate of prosecutors who work on FETÖ investigation files has been demonstrated; there is a reference about what the end of these prosecutors will be. In a sense, [the text accentuated] what will happen to them with the phrase chosen in the tweet with ‘sliced’ by a truck.” 

The article the judge based the arrest in the Anti-Terror law is Article 7, Paragraph 2, in which the crime is defined as “Making propaganda for terrorist organizations which will legitimize methods including force, violence and threats or praising or inciting these methods…”

It is not possible to talk about any praise or incitement in the headline of the violent and threatening methods of the FETÖ network. 

However, the judge was not able to present a concrete criminal act; in addition to that, he makes the accusation based on an interpretation where he reads the thoughts and intentions of the journalist while he was writing this headline. While he is doing this interpretation, he does not refer to the fact that it was removed in 55 seconds. 

In other words, we are facing a pattern of accusation in which the judge’s reading of a suspect’s ostensible intentions becomes the accused person’s crime. If this pattern becomes a general trend, then any headline or any expression within a news story can perfectly be declared a crime through the reading of intentions. 

The arrest of Oğuz Güven, in this sense, constitutes a very serious development because it has opened the door to the severe shrinking of freedoms of expression and thought in Turkey.