Press freedom in Turkey confined to court corridors: Hürriyet editor-in-chief

Press freedom in Turkey confined to court corridors: Hürriyet editor-in-chief

Burcu Purtul Uçar – ISTANBUL
Press freedom in Turkey confined to court corridors: Hürriyet editor-in-chief

DHA photo

Freedom of the press in Turkey has been confined to court corridors in 2016, said Sedat Ergin, the editor-in chief of daily Hürriyet, who appeared before an Istanbul court on March 25 on charges of “insulting” the president.

The Bakırköy Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office opened the case after investigating a tweet posted on Hürriyet’s Twitter account on Sept. 6, 2015.

The tweet had quoted President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s statement: “If 400 deputies had been gained, then this would not have happened,” and linked it to a recent terrorist attack on Turkish military forces in Dağlıca.

A case was subsequently opened against Ergin and former daily Zaman editor-in-chief Ekrem Dumanlı, accusing them both of “distorting the words of [the president],” “staging a perception operation,” and “insulting the president.” 

Ergin appeared at Istanbul’s Bakırköy district 54th Penal Court of First Instance for the hearing on March 25. In his defense, he stated that “the intention was not to be insulting.” 

“[Erdoğan] said if 400 deputies had been gained [by the government], then these events would not have taken place. Because of a terrorist attack that happened at Dağlıca that day, the Hürriyet website made a broad interpretation and because of the nature of rapidly processing of news story, adequate control was not possible. However, the headline was removed within a short time. Later we issued a statement saying we were sorry for this mistake,” he said. 

“Over the 41 years of my professional life, I have never supported a publishing policy [of] insults. It is not an acceptable situation for me to be tried as a defendant for the first time in such a case,” Ergin added.

Meanwhile, Dumanlı did not attend the trial, which was postponed after a decision was taken to bring him forcibly to court as a defendent.

Speaking to reporters after the trial, Ergin said he had been at courthouses to cover trials as a reporter but this was the first time in his life he had been in the dock as a defendent. 

“Considering the threats, problems, troubles and sufferings other colleagues of mine have to experience, me being tried [for] insulting [the president] does not look very significant,” he said.

“But this is important, because in the year 2016 courthouse corridors and the hearing rooms have become the habitats of journalists in Turkey. Freedom of the press in Turkey in 2016 is now confined to court corridors,” Ergin added, saluting all colleagues under pressure and threats.

The hearing took place on the same day as the first hearing in the notorious trial of daily Cumhuriyet editor-in-chief Can Dündar and Ankara bureau chief Erdem Gül, over reports on alleged weapons transfers by Turkey’s National Intelligence Agency (MİT) to Syrian rebels. 

Ergin said he was hoping for both Dündar and Gül to be acquitted soon.