Absurd reasons used to deny political prisoners parole

Didar Bozan, Merve Nur Isleyici and Ceylan Bozkurt were imprisoned for “terrorism” offences for attending press conferences and posting on the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) social media group while they were university students. 

The three Kurdish women were convicted of “disseminating propaganda for an outlawed organisation” in 2016 as part of the politically motivated crackdown against dissidents in Turkey.

They all became eligible for parole in January 2021 in accordance with the government’s parole law permitting prisoners who have served at least half of their sentence to be released early. According to Ayca Soylemez’s report from Bianet they were denied parole because the prison administration is of the opinion that the students are not feeling “regretful for their crimes” and can not integrate with society.

“Parole has been virtually ruled out for political prisoners via new regulation which came into effect as of 1 January” said Imdat Atas, the representative speaking on behalf of the students.

According to Penal Execution Institution’s report – dated 7 January 2021 – regarding Didar Bozan’s psychological-social assessment, she cannot integrate with the society since she reads too much. (The Institution refers to the 57 books that Bozan could obtain from her family during her jail time.)

More notably, her eviction is not deemed appropriate in the report also on the grounds of rejecting “spiritual guidance” sessions with an Islamic religious official- which is provided by the Directorate of Religious Affairs.

This case shows how the AKP regime is suppressing the freedom of thought by abusing its powers over the judiciary and prisons to continue the oppression of political prisoners and deny justice.

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Erdogan Insulted by Opposition Leader’s “So-called President” Remark

Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the leader of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) criticised Erdogan on the occasion of January 10 Working Journalists Day in Turkey for targeting an opposition daily newspaper. “If, in 2020, a country’s so-called president is directly targeting a newspaper and telling people, ‘I am not reading that newspaper, you should also not buy and read it,’ then think about the tutelage and oppression on the media there” said Kilicdaroglu.

Erdogan has strongly reacted to the “so-called president” description and filed a court complaint against Kilicdaroglu over his remarks.

As a matter of fact Erdogan himself is fond of the “so called” expression and never hesitates to use it. For example he spoke of the peace academics in the country as “so-called intellectuals” or has used the phrase “the so-called advocates of justice” when referring to the five permanent members of the UN Security Council. Recently he even said that the rights of the jailed Kurdish opposition leader are “so called”: “We are not going to protect the so-called rights of a terrorist like Demirtas.”

Erdogan’s list of his usage of the term “so called” goes on and on and with his latest reaction – when it was applied to himself – shows that he deems the phrase an insult.

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Worker Death Toll in Turkey at least 2,427 in 2020

Health and Safety Labour Watch (ISIG) published its “Year 2020 Report of Workplace Manslaughters”. According to the report, last year, at least 2,427 workers lost their lives in workplace manslaughters.

The report is compiled using information from the national press (66%) and workplace safety specialists, workplace doctors, trade unions and local press (34%). The number of unannounced worker deaths is unknown.

In the report, the monthly distribution of workplace manslaughters was provided as follows:

January – 114 workers

February- 132 workers

March – 113 workers

April – 223 workers

May – 166 workers

June – 190 workers

July – 164 workers

August – 218 workers 

September – 211 workers

October – 232 workers

November – 308 workers 

December – 356 workers

In the gender distribution of workplace manslaughters in 2020, it was stressed that 148 women, 2,279 men workers lost their lives.

In the age distribution of workplace manslaughters, there were 22 child workers under the age of 14, and 46 workers aged between 15 and 17. It was noted that “between the ages 18 and 27, 258 workers; between the age of 28 and 50, 1,079 workers; between the age of 61 and 64, 708 workers; over the age of 65, 159 workers; and 155 workers at unknown age, lost their lives.”

SPOT is concerned by the large number of workers losing their lives everyday in Turkey, and supports trade unions, strikes and wider campaigns aimed at securing workers’ rights, particularly with respect to health and safety. 

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Turkey’s media penalised for publishing news on government corruption

In 2018 it was revealed that Erdogan’s AKP, which governed Istanbul for 25 years, was responsible for embezzling 15 million Turkish Lira. In March 2019, the CHP, the opposition party which won the local elections in Istanbul began legal proceedings against the AKP.

Following this development the Minister for Transport and Infrastructure, Adil Karaismailoglu, banned the news stories relating to this corruption scandal. As if this wasn’t enough, he also banned news stories reporting on the ban itself. Media and news organisations which have defied the ban have been penalised. Most recently, Evrensel newspaper was issued a penalty (banning any advertisements in the paper for three days) for publishing a news story about the Cumhuriyet newspaper’s publishing of the Minister for Communications, Fahrettin Altun’s illegal housing development as a result of which Cumhuriyet itself was taken to court. These latest developments show that Turkey is progressing towards fascism, and yet Europe and the UK continue to support this regime. 

The oppressive regime in Turkey must be opposed and SPOT calls for solidarity against these increasing attacks on fundamental rights and freedoms in Turkey.

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Erdogan’s mocking freedom of press speech

President Erdogan has claimed that under his rule media has become “more vocal and more free” in Turkey. The reality is that Turkey remains the worst jailer of journalists globally and is 154th inin the 2020 World Press Freedom Index. 

Speaking on the occasion of January 10 Working Journalists’ Day, Erdogan said “As Turkey, we will never give up on freedom of the press”.  These lies by Erdogan cannot mask the reality that journalists across Turkey that dare to write, speak, publish or broadcast anything  critical of Erdogan and the AKP face criminalisation and harassment.  The severity of the repression of the media can be see in the increasing number of systematic investigations, prosecution, intimidations and harassment towards journalists and is a constant reminder of Erdogan’s  total lack of respect for freedom of press and the freedom of expression in Turkey.

At least 808 journalists have been arrested during the AKP rule and 87 journalists were sent to prison in 2020 alone. For example Evrensel, a daily newspaper in Turkey, was fined for an advert featuring a girl holding a yellow, green and yellow scarf.

International solidarity is crucial to oppose the oppression by Erdogan’s government against freedom of press.

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Everyone can be branded a terrorist in Turkey

Bogazici University academics and students continued their fifth day of protests, which were sparked by the latest appointment of the rector Melih Bulu (a member of Erdogan’s Islamist AKP party).

Erdogan accuses protestors, who are defending academic autonomy, and those supporting them of being “terrorism-related.”

Meanwhile, students are rejecting the accusations and have posted a video on social media remarking that in Erdogan’s Turkey, everyone can be branded as a terrorist. One of the students said: “I was declared a terrorist because I am exercising my democratic right to protest”.

Erdogan specifically targeted Canan Kaftancioglu, Istanbul Chair of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), due to her public support for the students at Bogazici and accused her of being a militant of an outlawed organization which is known as the Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party-Front (DHKP-C).

Kaftancioglu is widely recognised as a key factor in her party’s success against Erdogan in the municipal elections in Istanbul. Previously Istanbul had been held by AKP and its Islamist predecessors for 25 years.

In 2019, Kaftancioglu was sentenced to nearly 10 years on a range of fabricated charges including “terrorist propaganda” and insulting President Erdogan. The charges were related mostly to tweets that she has posted. An appeals court upheld the mentioned prison sentence on June 2020, this decision was later appealed against. 

After two decades of AKP rule, society and its institutions have been transformed and Turkey is increasingly shaped by nationalist, Islamist and authoritarian forces. 

As SPOT we support both the fight for academic freedom at Bogazici University and across Turkey, and the ongoing fight for democratic freedom. 

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Evrensel newspaper fined for anniversary advert featuring Kurdish colours

Evrensel, a daily newspaper in Turkey, which has been under intense pressure since it first went to print in 1995, has been fined for an advert featuring a girl holding a yellow, green and yellow scarf. The advertisement commemorated the 25th anniversary of the newspaper.

The Ministry of Trade issued the fine alleging that featuring these colours meant that the advert contained  “elements that disrupt the public order, leading to acts of violence and illegal or condemned behaviour or encouraging or supporting such behaviours”.

TELE1, a television channel that is not aligned with the AKP, was also fined recently for airing the same advert.

Turkish authorities continue to punish dissident voices and suppress independent media sources. And this latest attack on Evrensel is part of the ongoing crackdown on independent media outlets that are not pro-Erdogan.

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Erdogan tightens grip on universities

President Erdogan tightens his grip on universities as he directly appoints Professor Melih Bulu as the rector of Bogazici University, which is one of the most respected universities in the country.

Bulu has extremely close connections to Erdogan’s ruling party and is not from the university’s own academic community. The appointment has sparked reaction and criticisms include reference to Bulu’s lack of academic credentials and poor academic record. 

Academics at Bogazici University have released a statement saying that this is the first time since the “1980s military tutelage” that an academic from the outside of the university’s own community has been appointed as rector, ”We do not accept it as it clearly violates academic freedom and scientific autonomy, as well as the democratic values of our university.”

As if the AKP’s dismissals, expulsions, arrests and detentions of the academics since July 2016 were not enough, directly appointing university rectors sets both a dangerous precedent and greatly reduces the institutional autonomy of the universities and academic freedom in Turkey.

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Police wait at hospital room to arrest woman following labour

Lawyers have criticised police in Turkey who have been waiting for Hacer Yildirim to be discharged from the hospital where she has just given birth. The decision to take into custody relates to the Bylock investigation (which concerns the use of a messaging app the government believes is linked to the Gulen movement). 

34 year old Yildirim’s baby is in intensive care due to water in the baby’s lungs. Yildirim’s lawyer Çiğdem Koç was outraged, saying “I am curious as to what her crime is…she cannot go anywhere in her state, there is no suspicion that she will run away. Detaining in custody is a precaution. What evidence do they expect her to tamper with? I don’t know how we can explain this? How can we explain the legal rights of women who have just give birth?”

Yıldırım is a sociology graduate from Erzurum Ataturk University. She was previously employed at Gaziantep District Governor Rehabilitation, Social Support and Solidarity Trust, and later Bolu Town Social Support and Solidarity Trust. In September 2016 Yildirim lost her job. Her husband, a teacher, was also dismissed from his work by decree and served 15 months in prison as part of the Government’s purge of public sector workers. Since that time Yildirim has been making ends meet selling hand made knitted bags, socks and dresses.

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Regular monitoring shows dire state of media freedom in Turkey

Baris Yarkadas, ex-opposition MP and journalist continues to release regular reports on attacks on journalists and the media.  The latest report paints a tragic yet unsurprising picture with respect to press and media freedom in Turkey, showing that in December 2020 alone:

  • 35 journalists were brought before the courts,
  • 4 journalists were sentenced to 42 years and 6 months in prison,
  • 1 newspaper was given a 3 day ban on adverts,
  • 1 journalist was given a 10,000 Turkish Lira penalty, and 
  • 1 TV channel closed leaving 180 journalists unemployed

The report also shows that in 2020: 

  • 491 journalists were brought before the courts,
  • 37 journalists received a total of 151 years in prison, and 
  • 33 channels were subject to financial penalties and temporary closure. 
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