On 7 September, Turkish police arrested Oktay Candemir at his home in the eastern city of Van and confiscated his computer and personal archive. Candemir is a freelance journalist who writes columns for the pro-Kurdish news website Nupel. According to the Media and Legal Studies Association (MLSA), a local free expression group, Candemir was released the following day, having been charged with ‘insulting the memory of a dead person’ under Article 130 of the Turkish Penal Code. He has also been banned from travelling overseas and is required to sign in regularly at a police station while his case is pending. If convicted, Candemir faces up to two years in prison. At the time of writing, no trial date has been set.
The insult charge stems from a satirical tweet that Candemir posted on his Twitter account on 3 September, in which he mocked a historical drama series produced by state broadcaster TRT. The authorities allege that the tweet insulted Sultan Ertuğrul Ghazi, father of Osman I, founder of the Ottoman dynasty, who died around 1280. Candemir has almost eight thousand followers and frequently posts links to his reports and commentary on social media.
According to MLSA, Candemir told the court that he did not intend to insult a historical figure but was just making fun of the series. Candemir’s lawyer, Deniz Yıldız, claims that the insult offence is only actionable if a relative of the deceased person files a complaint and that no one has done so. As he left the court, Candemir said that he believed the charge was an attempt to ‘make journalists feel under pressure and take a step back’. In his eighteen years of reporting, Candemir has been repeatedly targeted by the Turkish security authorities. While he has been acquitted in several lawsuits, other cases against him continue.
‘The last thing that Turkey – long one of the world’s leading jailers of the press – needs is new ways to bully and jail journalists,’ Carlos Martinez de la Serna, programme director of the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), commented. He has urged the Turkish authorities to return Candemir’s computer and archive and to drop the ‘absurd charge against him’. CPJ claims that journalists in Turkey often struggle to get confiscated property returned by the police, and sometimes don’t get it back at all.
Meanwhile, Ahmet Altan (LR, April 2018), a prominent novelist and journalist and formerly editor-in-chief of Taraf, a liberal daily newspaper, remains behind bars. He was arrested together with his brother Mehmet, a professor of economics at Istanbul University, and veteran journalist and commentator Nazlı Ilıcak in 2016. They were accused of giving subliminal messages on a television panel show broadcast the night before the attempted coup of 15 July 2016 with the intention of rallying coup supporters. The court eventually acquitted Mehmet Altan due to lack of credible evidence and released Ilıcak in November 2019 after she had served more than three years in prison. Ahmet Altan, however, was sentenced to ten and half years in prison. Like Ilıcak, he was released on parole after serving more than three years of his sentence. However, the prosecutor immediately appealed the decision and he was rearrested a week later. The court rejected Altan’s request to be released again on the grounds that other charges against him remain. Furthermore, the court ruled that he was aware of the coup’s planning and had supported the Gülen movement.
On 24 May 2020, Altan published an article in the Washington Post outlining his perspective on the coronavirus pandemic from within a Turkish prison. He believes the pandemic will disrupt the current world order:
Nations, borders and flags work against the good of humanity during common disasters, as we’ve experienced during this crisis … In the midst of this great trauma, I am optimistic about the future … I’m writing this as I await in a prison cell the fierce attack of a virus that kills people my age. I am not optimistic for myself, but for the humanity of which I am a part.
In June, the hearing of a case relating to an article Altan published in Taraf in 2010 began in an Istanbul court. The presiding judge ordered a stay of proceedings because the verdict against Altan in another trial had not been delivered.
In November, Literary Review readers might like to look out for Altan’s Love in the Days of the Rebellion, translated by Brendan Freely and Yelda Türedi, the second instalment of his multilayered Ottoman Quartet, published by Europa Editions. Altan is writing the fourth volume in his prison cell.
Please send appeals urging the Turkish authorities to drop the charges against Oktay Candemir for ‘insulting the memory of a dead person’ and to return his confiscated property in full; expressing concern at the continued detention of Ahmet Altan on spurious charges; and calling for the release of Altan and all those detained for peacefully exercising their right to freedom of opinion and expression.
Appeals to be addressed to:
Ministry of Justice,
Fax: +90 312 417 71 13
Email: email@example.com | @abdulhamitgul
His Excellency Umit Yalçın
43 Belgrave Square,
London SW1X 8PA
Fax: 020 7393 0066 | 020 7393 9213
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org | @TurkEmbLondon