VEYSEL OK / LAWYER
During the period when journalist Deniz Yücel was in detention, my numerous objections to detention were rejected with the same phrases without any justifi cation. With the approval of my client, I removed the legal objections in my petition for the arrest appeal and put a football article from a newspaper. The judge did not read the content of the petition I submitted, so he decided to continue the arrest on the same grounds without reading the football article.
As a legal activist, do you know the numbers and statistics about journalists who have been subjected to rights violations in Turkey?
We, as MLSA (Media and Law Studies Association), have been following the cases of journalists who have been imprisoned and subjected to judicial harassment for years. We try to monitor freedom of expression cases and publish reports through our case-tracking work. Currently, there are still at least 60 imprisoned journalists in Turkish prisons. Although this number seems to have decreased, more than 600 journalists have been arrested and released since the July 15 coup attempt. It is impossible to give precise information about the number of journalists who are not detained but who are prosecuted, but we estimate that this number is in the thousands.
How do journalists who are detained, arrested and sent to prison in Turkey face violations of their rights?
In fact, journalists in Turkey are subject to violations of their rights before a judicial action is taken against them. Journalists who violate the red lines of power and make news are primarily targeted by the so-called pro-media. Journalists are also detained and usually arrested after unfavorable media reports. If the detained and arrested journalists are detained on terrorism charges, it is impossible for them to receive legal support from lawyers in the fi rst 24 hours of their detention. For this reason, journalists may be exposed to psychological and physical pressure from the police for the fi rst 24 hours. Problems arise for Journalists taken into custody on issues such as health and nutrition.
The situation of the detainees is even worse. First of all, many journalists are being held in a prison outside the city where they live. This situation makes it diffi cult to get legal services from their lawyers and makes family visits impossible. Journalists are not physically brought to the hearings as they are held in different cities, and participation is ensured through the video conference system. This situation means a violation of the right to a fair trial.
Journalists are kept in unhealthy conditions in prisons.
Especially during the pandemy,, the right to access to health has been signifi cantly hindered. Again, many rights such as doing sports and using the library in prisons have been blocked on the grounds of the pandemy. Journalists are still prohibited from reading non-government newspapers or watching television channels.
EVEN A FOOTBALL ARTICLE HAS BEEN ARRESTED
Can journalists object to violations of their rights and get results? Are offi cials punished, compensation paid? What problems do you encounter based on your own experiences?
Unfortunately, the policy of impunity in Turkey continues to strengthen. In crimes against journalists (police violence, murder, etc.), if the perpetrator is a public offi cial, all the mechanisms of the state, including the judiciary, are in an attitude to protect the perpetrator. In detention cases, however, no objections are examined and the detention of journalists is decided with copy paste, unjustifi ed decisions. I want to give you an example; During the period when the journalist Deniz Yücel was in detention, my numerous objections to detention were rejected with the same formulaic sentences without any kind of justifi cation. With the approval of my client, I removed the legal objections in my petition for arrest appeal and put a football article
from a newspaper. The judge did not read the content of the petition I submitted, so he decided to continue the arrest on the same grounds without reading the football article. In fact, this example alone is giving a big picture of the Turkish judiciary.
THE ECHR GIVES BENEFITS TO THE TURKISH JUDICIARY
Are there any journalists whose cases you brought to the ECHR, who could not get results from their rights violation cases in Turkey,? Can you tell us about this process and the problems you experienced?
In Turkey, we make applications to the European Court of Human Rights, especially when we cannot get a result in the cases of imprisoned journalists and after exhausting domestic remedies. We have dozens of applications, especially Ahmet-Mehmet Altan, Deniz Yücel, Şahin Alpay, Nedim Türfent, Idris Sayılgan, to name a few.. In order for these applications to be made, domestic legal remedies must be exhausted first. Because-unfortunately-the ECtHR still defines the legal system in Turkey as an ‘effective and functioning’ legal system. This is the reason, why we the applications can be made only after a long time and why the unjust treatment of the journalist held in prison last for a long time. Everyone is aware that the judiciary is under the control of the political power in Turkey, but the ECHR still lends credit to to the Turkish judiciary.
Again, for the applications we make, it takes years for the decisions to come out. The ECtHR, unfortunately, does not show a quick reflex for detained cases. For example, the decision on Ahmet Altan’s application was announced almost 4 years later, and in this case, the detention period of journalists now turns into torture. In many of our applications, years have passed and still no decision has been made. This slowness of the ECtHR causes the violations of rights in the country to continue for a long time. However, despite all its shortcomings, the ECtHR has an extremely critical and important role for us.
THE JOURNALISTS SHOULD CONTINUE THEIR WORK DESPITE THE OBSTACLES
What do you suggest against the violations of rights that journalists face while performing their duties in Turkey?
First of all, despite all kinds of judicial harassment in Turkey, there are countless journalists who do their job without fear. You have to give them the credit for this work. My most important advice to journalists doing their job is to continue doing their job despite all obstacles and to use their legal objections against any obstruction. Because one day, of course, the law will return back to this country, and those who have committed unlawfulness will be prosecuted. Therefore, long-term results can be obtained with legal objections and annotations, even if it is not giving results in the short term.
My second important recommendation is my call for journalists to be organized and unionized. An organized professional group is stronger against anti-democratic obstacles.
WHO IS VEYSEL OK?
Press Law expert, 36-year-old lawyer Veysel Ok acted as the lawyer of institutions such as Taraf Newspaper, Alkım Publications, P24 Independent Journalists Association, and journalists such as Deniz Yücel, Ahmet Altan, Şahin Alpay, Nedim Türfent. He has been the Co-Director of the Media and Legal Studies Association (MLSA) for the last 2 years and provides legal support to journalists under the umbrella of the association. He carries out studies on the solution of rights violations in Turkey. He was awarded the Thomas Dehler Award in Germany and the Index on Censorship award in the UK for his “efforts on freedom of expression and the rule of law”