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Ergenekon trial: severe sentences for Turkish journalists

7 August 2013

Journalists' federations have expressed their outrage at the heavy sentences handed out to 22 journalists involved in the Ergenekon trials in Turkey. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) stating that the decision is a direct attack on press freedom in the country.

A number of journalists were given lengthy prison sentences at the special trial hearing in Istanbul, ranging from six years to life imprisonment.

Among them was daily newspaper Cumhuriyet journalist Mustafay Balbay, whose case has been ‘adopted' by EFJ affiliate the Finnish Union of Journalists (UJF).

Mustafay Balbay, who has been in prison since September 2008, was given a sentence of 34 years and eight months.

Journalist, politician and former Biz TV owner Tuncay Özkan, who helped organise a series of anti-government protests in 2007 and has been supported by EFJ affiliate the Norwegian Union of Journalists (NJ), was given the most severe sentence of life in solitary confinement, without the possibility of a pardon.

Nadezda Azhgikhina, EFJ vice president, said:

"Two weeks ago, the Turkish Platform for Freedom of Journalists gathered in Istanbul for the second Congress devoted to journalists' rights and freedom, calling for the release of 64 (now 63) jailed Turkish journalists and hoping the international campaign for the freedom of journalists in Turkey, initiated by the EFJ, would finally be heard,
"The news about the fresh convictions of Turkish media professionals yesterday was a huge disappointment. We are deeply alarmed and angry at the severe and unprecedented sentences handed out to many of our colleagues in Turkey, a decision which immeasurably undermines the right to freedom of media and free expression in the country."

The court has jailed the journalists because it says they were involved in the so-called Ergenekon plot, a conspiracy allegedly aimed at toppling the government led by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's justice and development party (AKP). Defendants faced charges ranging from membership of Ergenekon, an alleged underground terrorist network, to illegally possessing weapons and instigating an armed uprising against the AKP.

Dunja Mijatovic, Representative on Freedom of the Media, for the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), has stated that the severe sentences violate free expression in Turkey and "the country's commitments to develop and protect free media."

Journalist federations have called on EU institutions to criticise Turkish authorities for the rulings.

Jim Boumelha, IFJ president, said:

"Throughout the process we warned that this has become a politically motivated trial,
"There were so many violations of legal procedure and rights well documented by independent observers, that its credibility came into question. Such long jail terms for journalists who have already spent years in arbitrary preventive detention are unacceptable, and these heavy verdicts confirm the absence of the rule of law."

Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ general secretary, has written to the Turkish consulate in London:

The National Union of Journalists is adding its voice to the many organisations protesting against the ruling of the 13th chamber of the special court in Istanbul (Silivri Court) in the disputed Ergenekon case.
This is yet another instance of heavy sentences being handed out to journalists, in this case more than 20, among them journalist, politician and former Biz TV owner Tuncay Özkan and daily newspaper Cumhuriyet journalist Mustafay Balbay. The NUJ believes the court’s ruling appears to be politically motivated and a violation of the journalists’ human rights and freedom of speech.
The NUJ is calling for the release of the 60-plus journalists held in Turkish jails and is supporting the international campaign for the freedom of journalists in Turkey, initiated by the European Federation of Journalists.
We call for the release of these colleagues and the recognition of their right to pursue their jobs as journalists. We urge Turkish lawmakers to enact reforms to ensure that critical reporting on matters of public interest is not conflated with terrorism and that any new constitution safeguards press freedom and freedom of expression in accordance with international norms, including the European Convention on Human Rights.
Two weeks ago, the Turkish Platform for Freedom of Journalists gathered in Istanbul for the second Congress devoted to journalists' rights and freedom. The news about the fresh convictions of Turkish media professionals is huge disappointment.
The NUJ requests assurances from your office that action will be taken to address the violations of legal procedure and rights well documented by independent observers in the cases of journalists and seek redress for those who have spent years in detention.

You can read an account of the trial by Patrick Kamenka, an observer for the European Federation of Journalists on the IFJ website

Tags: , ifj, efj, Turkey, press freedom, european convention on human rights, journalists detained, istanbul, osce, prison