Turkey: acquittal in OdaTV case welcome but scores of journalists still detained


12 April 2017 – PEN International welcomes today’s acquittal of all defendants in the OdaTV case and calls on the Turkish authorities to immediately release all those held in prison for exercising their rights to freedom of opinion and expression, and to end the prosecutions and detention of journalists simply on the basis of the content of their journalism or alleged affiliations.

The OdaTV case dates back to 2011 when 13 individuals, including ten prominent journalists, one academic, one former police officer and one intelligence service officer (who died in prison in 2011) were accused of being the media arm of a secret extreme nationalist terrorist organisation known as “Ergenekon”. Many of the defendants were held in pre-trial detention, some for more than a year, during the course of the investigation.

It outrageously took the Turkish authorities six years to reach a verdict. PEN International calls for a thorough review into the criminal investigation and subsequent trials to ensure that those responsible for this miscarriage of justice are held accountable. Urgent steps must be taken to guarantee the independence of the police and judiciary to prevent the same miscarriage of justice in other cases.

Award-winning investigative journalist Ahmet Şık, who was acquitted today, is in the unusual position of being tried in a separate and contradictory case for supporting the Fethullah Gülen Terrorist Organisation (FETÖ) and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). He was arrested on 29 December 2016 and remains in pre-trial detention. PEN International calls for his immediate and unconditional release.

Background

In February 2017, PEN International and other human rights groups monitored the hearings of several criminal cases against journalists and human rights defenders in Turkey, including the OdaTV case.  At the previous hearing on 14 December 2016, the prosecutor requested that all twelve defendants be acquitted, arguing that there was insufficient evidence of the existence of the “Ergenekon” organisation.

Since the failed coup attempt of 15 July 2016, the Turkish authorities have cracked down on freedom of expression, resulting in a near total silencing of critical voices. There are now at least 141 writers and journalists in prison, making Turkey the biggest jailer of journalists in the world.