Freedom for Murat Çelikkan

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Murat Çelikkan, Co-Director of Hafıza Merkezi

We are extremely happy to give you the good news that, after 68 days of imprisonment, our beloved co-director, rights defender and journalist Murat Çelikkan has been released from prison and is back with us!

Murat was sentenced to 18 months in prison for taking part in the Editors in Chief on Watch campaign for the now-closed newspaper Özgür Gündem. He subsequently turned himself to Kırklareli Prison on August 14, and was transferred to open prison on October 14.

Following his transfer, his attorneys submitted a motion requesting that he be released on probation. On October 21, Murat was released with travel ban and obliged to give signature at police station four days of week.

Murat Çelikkan was sentenced to 18 months of prison sentence under the Anti-Terror Law to an alleged involvement in terrorist propaganda for his participation to the Özgür Gündem Editor-in-Chief on Watch CampaignThe charges were based on the content of news that were published during his one day symbolic acting as chief-editor. On June 6, 2017, the verdict was made a plea to the Istanbul Regional Court, which was rejected on June 20.

Murat’s two months absence from his family and his work felt like forever. Yet, the happiness we feel for his return is beyond words.

On the occasion of Murat’s return, we once again condemn the repression and the policy of silencing political dissidents, and demand the immediate release of all wrongfully prisoned human rights dissidents.

Human rights cannot be imprisoned. Human rights defenders cannot be imprisoned.

[tabby title=”Who is Murat Çelikkan?”]

A journalist by profession, Murat Çelikkan is a veteran human rights activist from Turkey who took part in the establishment of main human rights organizations (Human Rights Association, Amnesty International Turkey, Citizens Assembly). He worked on the prevention of widespread and systematic torture, freedom of expression and press and assembly, refugee rights and on democracy and freedoms both as a journalist and an activist.He is currently the Co-Director of Hafıza Merkezi (Truth Justice Memory Center).

He is currently the Co-Director of Hafıza Merkezi (Truth Justice Memory Center). For the last 7 years he is working on enforced disappearances and the impunity of state actors for gross human rights violations. He is one of the founding members of the organization which created a database about verified cases of enforced disappearances and their alleged perpetrators. He is also known for his work on peace in general but especially about the Kurdish conflict in Turkey. He wrote several articles and made presentations about the officially denied Armenian Genocide in the context of facing the past and historical dialogue. He had graduated from Middle East Technical University and also is a fellow of the Columbia University Institute for the Study of Human Rights Alliance for Historical Dialogue and Accountability Program (AHDA).

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Photo by Yann Renoult, during a demonstration of support for Özgür Gündem in Istanbul, on August 17, 2016.

Editor-in-Chief on Watch Campaign

In the new period of clashes that began on 24 July 2015 following the interruption of the solution process, Özgür Gündem faced countless investigations, trials and acts of censorship.

Against this policy of oppression, the “Editor-in-Chief on Watch” campaign was initiated on World Press Freedom Day, 3 May 2016. At the press meeting held at the beginning of the campaign, the newspaper’s Editorial Coordinator Ahmet Birsin stated that 80 lawsuits had been filed against Özgür Gündem since July 2015. According to information Birsin provided, 51 of the 99 investigations opened within the scope of the Anti-Terror Law, and 29 of the 47 investigations opened by the press prosecutor on grounds of Article 301 had become lawsuits.

On 20 June 2016, three Editors-in-Chief on Watch, Erol Önderoğlu, Ahmet Nesin and Şebnem Korur Fincancı were arrested, and they remained under arrest for 10 days.

Investigations were initiated against 50 of the 100 people who took part in this solidarity campaign that ended on 7 August 2016. 11 of these investigations were quashed due to lack of grounds, 38 files became lawsuits. The judicial proceedings of 38 editors-in-chief on watch were based on the violation of Article 7/2 (propaganda of a terrorist organization) and Article 6 (print or broadcast announcements or statements of terrorist organizations) of the Anti-Terror Law no.3713. [1]

The lawsuits of former Özgür Gündem Editor-in-Chief Hüseyin Aykol and newspaper writers Mehmet Ali Çelebi and Hüseyin Bektaş were joined with the lawsuits of Ayşe Düzkan and Ragıp Duran.

During this period, lawsuits were filed also against Ömer Ağın, for a report published while Celal Başlangıç was Editor-in-Chief, against İmam Canpolat, for a report published while Cengiz Baysoy was Editor-in-Chief, and against İlham Bakır, for an article published while Jülide Kural was Editor-in-Chief.

So far, in continuing lawsuits regarding editors-in-chief on watch, 18 individuals have been given pecuniary fines totalling 62 thousand liras, and prison sentences totalling 220 months and 15 days. An 18-month prison sentence given to Murat Çelikkan, an editor-in-chief on watch, and a 15-month prison sentence given to İmam Canpolat, tried for a published article, were not reprieved. In other sentences, reprieves were ruled by deferment of the announcement of the verdict.

Background of the Campaign

In recent years, the press in Turkey has been under an increasing, systematic and comprehensive attack. Ownership of numerous media organizations has changed hands under government pressure, fines unprecedented in the history of the Republic have been imposed on media, media bosses have been forced to fire, or remove from screens journalists and program producers targeted by the government; censorship and self-censorship have become the norm.

Journalists have faced charges of “being a member of a terrorist organization” or “carrying out terrorist propaganda” because of their regular reporting activities. Many opposition newspaper managers, and journalists have been arrested. There are 164 journalists in jail in Turkey today [2]. While relatives of individuals close to the government – who were detained within the scope of the “struggle against terrorism” operations – have been legally released on grounds that their address and location is known, for journalists, arrests/detentions have turned into de facto sentences. As for foreign journalists, they are held hostage, on no legal grounds whatsoever, in return of individuals the government has associated with “terror” in their home countries.

Methods used in Turkey to destroy media freedom according to the Committee to Protect Journalists’ (CPJ) report titled “Journalism Under Siege” are listed below:

  • Changing media ownership in order to create media supporting the government
  • Imposing tax fines on media groups that criticize the government
  • Advertisement support to media that sides with the government
  • To secure a majority in the Radio and Television Supreme Council
  • Refusal to accredit opposition journalists
  • Dismissal of journalists who criticize the government
  • Apply pressure, organize attacks on media organizations and journalists opposed to the government
  • Legislative regulations criminalizing investigative journalism, the prevention of journalistic activities by anti-terror laws, internet censorship
  • Detention, arrest and imprisonment of journalists
  • Filing charges, detaining, arresting and sentencing journalists who report on clashes with the PKK
  • The purchase of opposition media organizations

In addition to all this, 158 media organizations have been closed with legislative decrees (KHK) issued since the July 15 coup attempt.

In the phase that followed the 7 June 2015 elections, the invalidation of the meetings held for the peaceful solution of the Kurdish Issue that had begun on 21 March 2013 with the reading of Abdullah Öcalan’s message at the Newroz celebration in Diyarbakır, came to an end, and a period of clashes restarted. Significant developments in government/state policies after this date include, the commencement of a blockade period in Kurdish cities that would go on for more than a year the imprisonment, and the annulment of the parliamentary status of some HDP members of parliament, who faced rapidly drawn up verdicts of conviction following the lifting of parliamentary immunity, and the pressure targeting the 1128 academics who signed the peace petition titled “We will not be a party to this crime” (the number rose to more than 3000 with 2nd phase signees and supporters) and the arrest of 4 academics who held a press statement related to this petition. In this new phase, Kurdish non-governmental organizations were closed, rights’ organizations that prepared reports on the gross human rights violations perpetrated during the blockade period faced operations, in brief, the Kurdish issue was perceived as a security issue, and everyone who opposed the policies of violence became a target of the government.

Özgür Gündem, which could be described as the voice of the Kurdish opposition, is a newspaper that has received its share of these attacks.

Closure and Other Trials

Özgür Gündem newspaper was temporarily closed on 16 August 2016, on charges of “carrying out propaganda of a terrorist organization” with a verdict issued by the Istanbul 8th Criminal Court of Peace. Special operation police forces raided the newspaper building following the verdict of closure and detained 24 journalists, including İMC TV and DİHA reporters who were following up reports at the time.

The homes of former Özgür Gündem executive editor Eren Keskin, column writer Filiz Koçali and journalist Ragıp Zarakolu were raided by the police. On 22 August 2016, current executive editor İnan Kızılkaya and editor-in-chief Zana Bilir were arrested by the duty court they were dispatched to. (6 For the arrest verdict see:]

From the column writers and management staff, Aslı Erdoğan was arrested on August 19, and Necmiye Alpay was arrested on August 31. Advisory board members Erdoğan and Alpay, and former editor-in-chief Zana Kaya were released on 29 December 2016.

Within the scope of this lawsuit, referred to as the “Özgür Gündem Main Trial” and also involving Özgür Gündem Editorial Advisory Board Members, managers and writers Necmiye Alpay, Aslı Erdoğan, Ragıp Zarakolu, Filiz Koçali, Eren Keskin, Zana Kaya, Kemal Sancılı, İnan Kızılkaya and Bilge Oykut; former Executive Editor İnan Kızılkaya remains under arrest, and Publisher Kemal Sancılı has also been under arrest since 3 January 2017. Kızılkaya is also a defendant in the 38 lawsuits trying the editors-in-chief on watch.

Other than these, in addition to the 95 continuing lawsuits involving the former Executive Editor Eren Keskin and former Managing Editor Reyhan Çapan, there are 29 lawsuits filed against various Özgür Gündem writers.

Özgür Gündem was permanently closed on 29 October 2016 with legislative decree no.675.

The Story of Özgür Gündem in the 90’s

Özgür Gündem first began to be published on 30 May 1992, and during its first period of publication, newspaper reporters Hafız Akdemir (8 June 1992, Diyarbakır), Yahya Orhan (31 July 1992, Batman), Hüseyin Deniz (9 August 1992, Urfa) and writer Musa Anter (20 September 1992, Diyarbakır), and Kemal Kılıç (18 February 1993, Urfa) were murdered in armed attacks; Burhan Karadeniz (5 August 1992, Diyarbakır) survived an armed attack but remained paralysed. The newspaper’s Bitlis reporter Ferhat Tepe (28 July 1993) and its Urfa reporter Nazım Babaoğlu (12 March 1994) were forcibly disappeared.

On 10 December 1993, the newspaper’s central office in Istanbul was raided, its employees were detained, and the newspaper was closed by court ruling on 14 May 1994. During its publishing life of 683 days, the newspaper was closed for a total of 335 days, lawsuits were filed against 486 of its 580 issues, and many of its employees were imprisoned. Prison sentences of a total of 147 years, and pecuniary fines of a total of 20 billion 45 million lira were given to its managing editors.

The newspaper continued to be published under changing names such as Özgür Ülke, Yeni Politika, Demokrasi, Ülkede Gündem, Özgür Bakış, Yeni Gündem, Yedinci Gündem, Ülkede Özgür Gündem, Yeniden Özgür Gündem, Toplumsal Demokrasi, Gündem, Güncel, Yedinci Gün and Alternatif, and these successors also faced constant sanctions including closure, recalls, and obstructions to distribution.

2011: Özgür Gündem Once Again

After a 17-year-hiatus, on 4 April 2011, the newspaper began to be published once again with the name “Özgür Gündem”.

A recall verdict was issued for the newspaper’s 24 March 2012 issue by the Istanbul 14th High Criminal Court on charges of propaganda of a terrorist organization and the newspaper was sentenced to a month of cessation of activity. When the newspaper’s objection to the verdict was accepted, the newspaper continued its publication on 30 March 2012.

The KCK Press Trial

On 20 December 2011, within the scope of the operation held under the name “KCK Press Committee”, police raids were carried out against Özgür Gündem, Dicle News Agency, Demokratik Modernite Magazine, Azadiya Welat Newspaper and Fırat Distribution (Company) and 49 members of the press were detained. 32 of these journalists who met the prosecutor on 24 December were arrested. 10 of the arrested journalists worked for Özgür Gündem.

Hearings of the KCK Press Trial began on 10 September 2012 and 17 of the arrestees were released during the judgement process. The release of other arrestees took place only after Specially Authorized Courts (ÖYM) were abolished. A statement made by Özgür Gündem after the hearings began explained that the operation targeting the Kurdish press was a part of the “KCK” operations centred in Diyarbakır and that began after the 2009 local elections, and that preparations for this operation dated back three years. The KCK Press Trial is referred to as the “largest journalism trial in the history of Turkey”, and before the hearing held on 13 January 2014, journalists and writers initiated a petition for the release of their colleagues under arrest.

Since the continuation of judicial process in the “KCK Press Trial” would be unconstitutional after Specially Authorized Courts were abolished, the Istanbul 3rd High Criminal Court accepted the request for the case file to be examined by the Constitutional Court, and forwarded the file to the Court on 6 November 2014. THE Constitutional Courts decision was to proceed with he trial.

In November 2016, as a result of a written request for information by the Ministry Of Justice International Law and Foreign Relations General Directorate to the Istanbul 3rd High Criminal Court where the journalists were being tried, it emerged that the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) had asked the government whether the rights of the tried journalists laid out in Articles 1, 3, 5 and 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) had been violated The e government has asked for the extension of answering time for 3 times uptill now.

[1] Editors-in-chief on watch whose investigations became lawsuits: A. Kumru Başer, Ahmet Nesin, Ayşe Batumlu, Ayşe Düzkan, Beyza Üstün, Can Dündar, Celal Başlangıç, Celalettin Can, Cengiz Baysoy, Çilem Küçükkeleş, Derya Okatan, Dicle Anter, Erol Önderoğlu, Ertuğrul Mavioğlu, Faruk Balıkçı, Faruk Eren, Fehim Işık, Hüseyin Tahmaz, Hakkı Boltan, Hasan Cemal, Hasan Hayri Şanlı, İbrahim Bodur, İhsan Çaralan, Julide Kural, Murat Çelikkan, Murat Uyurkulak, Nadire Mater, Necmiye Alpay, Nevin Erdemir, Öncü Akgül, Ragıp Duran, Said Sefa, Şanar Yurdatapan, Şebnem Korur Fincancı, Tuğrul Eryılmaz, Veysi Altay and Yıldırım Türker.

[2] According to the data of Platform for Solidarity with Arrested Journalists (TGDP) by August 4, 2017: 

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  • August 14, 2017 Murat Çelikkan turned himself in to prison.
  • June 20, 2017 The plea made by Celikkan’s attorney against 13th Heavy Penal Court’s decision to incarcerate Murat Çelikkan has been declined by the Istanbul Regional Court. According to Article 272 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, Regional Court’s decision is final and there are no other mechanisms for appeal.
  • June 6, 2017 Murat Çelikkan’s attorney filed a plea before the Court of Appeal of Turkey against the decision to incarcerate the human rights defender for eighteen months issued by the Istanbul 13th Heavy Penal Court on 16 May 2017.
  • May 16, 2017 Istanbul 13th Heavy Penal Court sentenced Murat Çelikkan to eighteen months’ imprisonment on false charges of involvement in terrorist propaganda under the Anti-Terror Law Article 7/2. Prior to that, on 13 June 2016, Murat Çelikkan was questioned by the prosecutor for his participation in the Editor-in-Chief on Watch Campaign launched on 3 May 2016 in protest against crackdowns on the pro-Kurdish daily Özgür Gündem.
  • August 7, 2016 Editor-in-Chief on Watch Campaign ended. Investigations were initiated against 50 of the 100 people who took part in this solidarity campaign that ended on 7 August 2016. 11 of these investigations were quashed due to lack of grounds, 38 files became lawsuits. The judicial proceedings of 38 editors-in-chief on watch were based on the violation of Article 7/2 (propaganda of a terrorist organization) and Article 6 (print or broadcast announcements or statements of terrorist organizations) of the Anti-Terror Law no.3713.
  • June 20, 2016 Three Editors-in-Chief on Watch, Erol Önderoğlu, Ahmet Nesin and Şebnem Korur Fincancı were arrested, and they remained under arrest for 10 days.
  • June 13, 2016 Murat Celikkan was questioned by the prosecutor for his participation to the Editor-in-Chief on Watch Campaign for the pro- Kurdish daily Özgür Gündem.
  • May 24, 2016 Murat Celikkan acted as the editor-in-chief on watch for Ozgur Gundem.
  • May 3, 2016 Against the policy of oppression on Ozgur Gundem, the “Editor-in-Chief on Watch” campaign was initiated on World Press Freedom Day.
  • July 24, 2015 Solution process officially ended. In the new period of clashes following the interruption of the solution process, Özgür Gündem faced countless investigations, trials and acts of censorship. [tabbyending]