Verdict expected in trial of German journalist in Turkey as press freedom wanes | World | Latest news and insights from around the world | DW
Mesale Tolu, who was arrested in Turkey in 2017 on terrorism-related charges and is facing trial, is confident justice will be served when the court delivers its verdict on Monday.
“I expect to be acquitted on both counts,” she told DW. “But if the result were different, I wouldn’t be surprised either,” added the journalist. According to her, the Turkish judicial system is unpredictable. Her chances of being acquitted are good because the prosecutor asked for this verdict in her plea and experts believe that the evidence against her is very fragile.
Detained in Istanbul in 2017
In April 2017, Mesale Tolu was arrested by heavily armed counter-terrorism units in Istanbul. “I was violently detained in front of my son”, she still remembers today. Tolu, who was born in Ulm, southern Germany, spent more than seven months behind bars, including five months with her two-year-old son. In 2018, she was allowed to leave for Germany.
Tolu was working as a translator for a leftist news agency when she was arrested. She and her co-defendants were charged with “belonging to a far-left terrorist organization and disseminating terrorist propaganda”.
Now, five years later, Tolu finally wants closure. She wants to look to the future and fully concentrate on her work as a journalist for the German newspaper Schwäbische Zeitung.
34 journalists behind bars
Tolu is not an isolated case. The Turkish Journalists Syndicate (TGS) says there are currently 34 journalists in Turkish prisons, most of whom are accused of belonging to a terrorist organization, insulting the president or disseminating terrorist propaganda.
Deniz Yücel, correspondent for a German newspaper Die Welt, and Adil Demirci, who, like Tolu, worked for the Etha news agency, spent months in Silivri high-security prison near Istanbul, facing similar charges.
German journalist Deniz Yücel was imprisoned for a year in Turkey for spreading “terrorist propaganda”
Erol Önderoglu of Reporters Without Borders has observed a different trend in recent years. Until three years ago, he considered Turkey the biggest prison for journalists in the world. But more recently, he says, the Turkish justice system allowed journalists to be free under certain conditions – leaving journalists restrained mentally rather than physically.
He told DW it shouldn’t just be looking at the number of journalists behind bars. Önderoglu says other instruments are frequently used to prevent journalists from doing their job, including the confiscation of their passports, mandatory regular visits to the police, suspended prison sentences and the denial of press cards and accreditation to attend events.
Worsening of the situation after the Gezi protests
The situation for journalists in Turkey has dramatically worsened since the Gezi protests in 2013. At the time, hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets to oppose the government’s plan to build the much-loved Gezi Park in the heart of Istanbul. in Taksim Square. Anyone who supported the protests risked punishment, including journalists. Hundreds lost their jobs afterwards. The second major attack on press freedom immediately followed the July 15, 2016 coup attempt. Since then, hundreds of online news platforms and dozens of newspapers and TV stations have been shut down and many journalists detained.
In 2013, Gezi Park in Istanbul saw massive protests that snowballed into nationwide anti-government protests
According to EngelliWeb, a project run by the Association for Free Speech that registers blocked websites, very little has changed. EngelliWeb told DW that more than 476,000 domains, 150,000 reports and 50,000 tweets have been blocked by relevant authorities.
Unemployment exceeds 35%
Journalist unemployment has also been rising steadily for years. Currently, it exceeds 35%, the Turkish Journalists Syndicate (TGS) said earlier this year.
On the occasion of the “Day of Journalists at Work”, which is held every year in Turkey on January 10, TGS has once again criticized the working conditions of journalists. The union said January 10 should be seen as a day of struggle until journalists receive fair wages, have to work in inhumane conditions, have their reporting censored or forced into self-censorship, and until 34 journalists are behind bars and are denied press cards.
Violence on the rise
Violence against journalists also continues to increase. Last year alone, 75 media representatives were attacked, according to the Association of Progressive Journalists (CGD). In addition, some 219 journalists appeared in court in 179 trials and were sentenced to a combined total of 48 years and 11 months in prison.
Journalist Can Dündar, who lives in exile in Berlin, also faces a prison sentence of 27 years and six months if he were to return home to Turkey. He was found guilty of alleged espionage and aiding and abetting terrorism in Istanbul.
Heavy fines are another tool used to silence the media. In 2021 alone, the Supreme Council of Turkish Radio and Television (RTÜK) imposed 74 fines on national broadcasters, who refused to pledge allegiance to the ruling AK party. The state board of supervisors forced broadcaster Halk TV to pay hefty fines 24 times; Tele 1 22 times, Fox TV 16 times, KRTV 8 times and Habertürk 4 times. The combined total was 22 million Turkish liras, or more than €1.5 million.
Activists read the Cumhurriyet newspaper in 2017 to protest against the imprisonment of its journalists
This is a huge sum for these broadcasters, paralyzed by endless lawsuits, and who barely manage to generate advertising revenue. Companies are concerned that they will have to pay if they buy advertising from these stations. The proceeds from the broadcast of public service announcements and ministerial announcements go, in any case, to the coffers of the media close to power. At the same time, the owners of these outlets are the recipients of important government contracts.
Journalists declared terrorists
Sezgin Tanrikulu, a human rights lawyer and MP for the largest opposition party, the CHP, says attacks on the media and freedom of expression have taken on a new dimension in recent years. He says anyone who does not bow down to the Turkish government and tries to make an independent report is declared a terrorist.
The Turkish government, meanwhile, insists that press freedom peaked under the AKP party. To mark the “Journalists at work day”, Fahrettin Altun, head of communications for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, wrote that the media had benefited over the past 20 years from development in various fields ranging from democracy to technology. .
However, the only Turkish media that have benefited from Turkey’s political and economic development are those that toe the government line – and up to 90% of them are owned by companies closely tied to the government.
According to Tolu, Erdogan’s goal has always been to create media loyal to the government. Fortunately, she says, there are still many independent journalists, but not in the mainstream media. These brave people, she says, are doing everything they can to keep reporting on what is happening in the country.
This article has been translated from German.