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Intimidation in Turkey

Kürsat Akyol, Istanbul
November 12, 2015

Canan Coskun wrote a story saying officials bought homes from a state-owned firm at discount prices. Now, she's on trial - not for false claims, but for insulting the officials. Kürsat Akyol reports from Istanbul.

ARCHIV Proteste gegen Einschüchterung der Presse in der Türkei
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/S. Suna

"I'm not afraid, and because I am not afraid I will continue to write and report."

These words belong to Canan Coskun, a young reporter from the Cumhuriyet newspaper, who starting today is on trial for insulting a public official. Based on these charges, prosecutors are seeking more than 23 years in prison.

Coskun is on trial for a news report she wrote claiming that various judges and prosecutors purchased luxury homes from a subsidiary of the state-run Housing Development Administration of Turkey (TOKI) at discounted rates.

Coskun is not on trial because her report was inaccurate, but rather because she allegedly tarnished the reputation of the prosecutors and judges mentioned in her story. In the prosecutor’s indictment it states that Coskun attempted to belittle the judges and prosecutors in question through her report.

Defending herself in court on Tuesday, Coskun said that nothing in her report criticized the actual duties of the judges and prosecutors.

"If I saw one of the prosecutors or judges toss litter on the ground in a place where littering is forbidden and I write a report about it, am I insulting a public official on the basis of their duties," she asked.

Screenshot Twitter Account Canan Coskun Türkei Journalistin
Screenshot of Canan Coskun's Twitter accountImage: Twitter/Canan Coskun

According to the prosecutor's indictment, two prosecutors filed complaints against Coskun. A total of 8 judges and prosecutors are listed as victims. Each victim is pursuing separate punishments for Coskun, totaling up to 23 years and four months in prison.

Coskun, in her defense, continued by saying that one of the prosecutors publicly stated that he purchased a home from the TOKI subsidiary for 491,000 Turkish lira (159,110 euros), though the firm listed the normal price for the home at TL 557,000, a discount of nearly 20,000 euros.

Coskun's lawyers cited a ruling by the European Court of Human rights as an example and called for her acquittal.

A lawyer for Emlak Konut, the subsidiary in question, also appeared in court, saying that any sort of discount was out of the question.

Case quickly adjourned

The court opted to look into whether or not Emlak Konut had sold discounted homes and adjourned the trial until March 15 of next year.

Deputies from the opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) members of the Turkish Journalists' Union (TGS) and Journalists Without Borders attended the hearing.

Speaking to DW, Coskun said that the hearing was full of surprises. "Despite being in the same building, one of the plaintiffs, Orhan Kapici, did not show up. Furthermore, Emlak Konut, who up until this point did not figure in the investigation, came with a lawyer and said "we want to take part in this."

The 28-year old Coskun has worked as a journalist for three years. She reports from the same İstanbul Courthouse in which she appeared as a defendant on Thursdsay. This wasn't her first time in those shoes. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's son Bilal had previously taken her to court with the claim that she insulted him, but she was acquitted of the charge in April.

"That trial was because of the voice recordings that came out pertaining to the December 25 corruption investigation. Because I wrote about those recordings, a case was open against me alleging that I insulted him,"Coskun said.

Other cases opened by President Erdogan and his family have been tossed out on legal grounds. However one continues:

Magazin Cover Zeitschrift Türkei Nokta Erdogan Journalismus Pressefreiheit
President Erdogan has tightened the reins on the Turkish mediaImage: Nokta

"The Foundation of Youth and Education (TÜRGEV) [of which Bilal Erdogan is an executive board member] was given a piece of land in [the İstanbul district of] Basaksehir. TÜRGEV is building a university there at the moment, and they were given a massive discount on this land. We wrote about this and again they filed complaints. This is in spite of all my reports citing the proper documents and information,"Coskun said.

She emphasizes, however, that she is not afraid of such trials and investigations.

"I won't stop writing just because of this. I will continue to write and to do my job," Coskun said.

Timeline Türkei Press crackdown ENG

According to information provided by the Turkish Journalists Union (TGS) Istanbul branch president, Gökhan Durmus, 20 journalists are imprisoned in Turkey, while nearly 300 others are being tried for insulting President Erdogan and other public officials. On Wednesday, four separate cases were opened against well-known journalists Cengiz Candar and Ahmet Altan on the basis that they insulted Erdogan.

"As one can see in the case of Canan Coskun, we have a ridiculous situation. Every news report can be conceived of as a threat. All day long in this courthouse journalists have stood before the judge, charged with insulting someone," Durmus said.

CHP Deputy and former journalist Baris Yarkadss also drew attention to this phenomenon. "All of the plaintiffs were Erdogan, his friends or his family. Incredulously, even Cumhuriyet writer Cüneyt Arcayürek who passed away in June was called to court," Yarkadas said.

Freedom of the press and freedom of expressions are areas on which Turkey is criticized the most. A few years ago, it was the country that had the most journalists in jail of anywhere in the world. The European Union's progress report that was released this week was critical of the state of press freedom and freedom of expression in Turkey.

Coskun, TGS representative Durmus and Deputy Yarkadas were all of the same opinion: The days ahead will see many more journalists taken to court.

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