Visiting websites of critical newspapers in Turkey viewed as evidence of terrorism

 

Abdullah Bozkurt

 

A browser history that showed visits to the websites of newspapers critical of the government was used as criminal evidence in a counterterrorism case against a Turkish citizen, documents show.

A hard drive seized by the police from the computer of Maj. Yusuf Akdemir, an officer who was caught up in a massive purge in the Turkish military, showed that he visited the websites of the Taraf and Bugün dailies after a forensic examination of the drive by the police. The logs, cited by the government as evidence, go back to 2010, when Akdemir allegedly accessed the websites.

Akdemir, who was assigned to a department of the General Staff that advises the government on legislative changes with respect to the military, had nothing to do with a coup attempt that took place on July 15, 2016. Yet he was arrested along with thousands of officers as part of a government bid to purge pro-NATO officers from the ranks.

According to a report drafted by the D-section of the counterterrorism unit of the Ankara Police Department on November 28, 2017, several hard drives that were owned by Akdemir were examined. Their analysis showed that Akdemir visited the Bugün newspaper’s Internet site in 2012 and several times in 2015. He also accessed the website of Taraf, another critical daily, in 2010 and in 2012, and that of RotaHaber in 2012.

 

The logs were submitted to the Istanbul 17th High Criminal Court in case file No. 2017/109. There is no law in the Turkish Penal Code that actually criminalizes accessing the websites of the critical media outlets, yet Turkish prosecutors continue to treat the act as evidence of a crime, and the courts accept their entry into the case file. The practice is yet another indicator of how the rule of law has been suspended by the Recep Tayyip Erdoğan government, which has purged and/or jailed more than 4,000 judges and prosecutors since 2015.

 

 

The popular Bugün newspaper was unlawfully seized in 2015 when the government of President Erdoğan orchestrated the takeover of Turkey’s third major media outlet, the Koza Ipek Group, which owned Bugün, another daily, two broadcasting networks and one radio station. The move came right before elections, and the media outlet was turned into a government mouthpiece overnight.

 

 

Taraf, a liberal newspaper, had been targeted by the government because of major investigative stories that exposed wrongdoings in the Erdogan government. RotaHaber was a popular news website that pursued an editorial line critical of the government. Both newspapers were shut down by the authorities in 2016, and the journalists and publishers of these newspaper and websites were either jailed or forced into exile by the government.

 

 

Ahmet Altan, the former editor-in-chief of Taraf, as well as Ünal Tanık, the chief editor and publisher of RotaHaber, has been jailed in Turkey for three years on fabricated terrorism charges. Akın İpek, the owner of the Koza Ipek Media Group, had to flee to the UK to avoid wrongful detention. Tarık Toros, the chief editor of the Bugün broadcasting network, and Erhan Başyurt, editor-in-chief of the Bugün newspaper, had to flee abroad to escape the unprecedented crackdown on freedom of the press in Turkey. Mehmet Baransu, a top-notch investigative journalist who wrote for Taraf, has been behind bars for four years for exposing the government’s dirty laundry.

 

 

The most recent figures documented by the Stockholm Center For Freedom show that 188 journalists and media workers were in jail as of May 3, 2019. Of those in prison, 95 are under arrest pending trial and 96 have been convicted and are serving their time. Detention warrants are outstanding for 167 journalists who are living in exile or remain at large in Turkey.

The Erdoğan government imprisons more journalists than the rest of the world’s governments combined. The crackdown was also extended to subscribers of the critical newspapers and magazines.

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