The New Turkey

Bill with sentence reductions due in parliament

A bill that would reduce the sentences of thousands of Turkish inmates is hitting parliament this week, said Turkey’s justice minister on Tuesday. "It will be soon brought to the agenda of parliament and we expect the proposal to be passed,” said Abdulhamit Gul of the ruling Justice and Development (AK) Party proposal, which reached the Parliament Speaker’s Office this afternoon.

The scope of the bill for releasing some inmates will be clear when the proposal is submitted and passed by parliament, Gul said in televised remarks. There are about 300,000 inmates in Turkey, he said, adding: "Convicts and detainees are entrusted to the state." Sentences for crimes repugnant to society are not expected to be included in the reductions, including homicide, sex crimes, murders of women, violence against women and spouses, and terrorism, he said.

Along with the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), the AK Party is working on the measure with this in mind, he stressed. He also said most courtroom procedures in Turkey have been postponed to help stem the coronavirus spread, but 385 suspects charged with spreading manipulative news about the virus are moving through the system.


Death toll from coronavirus rises to 214

Health Ministry data shows 2,704 new cases recorded in past 24 hours, bringing total to 13,531

The death toll in Turkey from the new coronavirus rose to 214 after 46 more people died of the disease in the past 24 hours, the Health Ministry announced on Tuesday. The total number of confirmed cases surged to 13,531, as another 2,704 people tested positive for the virus, according to the ministry data.

A total of 243 patients have recovered and been discharged from hospitals since the beginning of the outbreak, according to the data, which said 847 patients are being treated under intensive care. Also, 15,422 tests were conducted in the past 24 hours and the total number of tests carried out so far rose to 92,403.

After first appearing in Wuhan, China, last December, the virus has spread to at least 179 countries and regions, according to the U.S-based Johns Hopkins University database. The data shows the confirmed number of cases worldwide has surpassed 823,000, with the death toll over 40,600 and more than 174,000 recoveries.


Turkish gov’t does not have financial resources to battle pandemic - economists

The Turkish government does not have the funds it requires to hold back the tide of the coronavirus pandemic and is asking for public donations to stem the issue, DW Türkçe reported.

While Turkey is expected to take additional measures set by the government to stimulate the economy, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has sparked controversy with the aid campaign he announced on Monday, DW Türkçe said. The government, which used Treasury resources in 2019, no longer has resources, DW Türkçe said, citing economist and author Mustafa Sönmez.

Sönmez said Turkey’s finances should be transparent to explain the economic package, like other countries do. "Why doesn't the (ruling Justice and Development Party) do this when the whole world is willing to do it? Because the AKP ran out of gunpowder in 2018-19. Treasury resources have been depleted so that the crisis in 2018 does not get deeper," he said, adding that the only move the government can take now is to rein in the budget deficit. Read the full article


Erdoğan under growing pressure to impose full lockdown

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is facing growing calls to urgently impose a full nationwide lockdown as Turkey struggles with one of the world’s fasting growing outbreaks of the coronavirus, said the Financial Times on Tuesday. 

“I don’t even want to think, God help us, about the way that this pandemic might spread because of those people who are still outside,” Ekrem İmamoğlu, the opposition mayor of Istanbul, told Turkey’s Fox News channel on Monday as he urged the government to impose sweeping restrictions in addition to existing measures. 

The mayor of Izmir, Turkey’s third-largest city, echoed İmamoğlu’s calls, and the Turkish Medical Association has also persistently urged the government to order people to stay at home. However, in a speech on Monday night, Erdoğan insisted the economy must continue to function. “Turkey is a country where production must continue and the cogs must keep turning under every circumstance and every condition,” he said. Read the full article


Turkey’s dissidents launch online campaign against gov’t donation drive

Social media users in Turkey launched an online campaign against a state donation fund kicked off on Monday, aiming to provide financial support to the country’s low-income households during the coronavirus pandemic.

Critics of the national campaign used the Twitter hashtag #ZırnıkYok (“Not a single penny” in English) after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan launched the “national solidarity campaign”, for which the leader said he would donate seven months of his own salary.

Opponents bashed Erdoğan, often criticised for his extravagant lifestyle, for not donating more from his own income for the campaign that relies on public donations.

“Sell your palace and live in honour,” one Twitter user said, referring to Erdoğan’s lavish 1150-room Presidential Palace, which cost $615 million to build. Read the full article


Turkish health minister denies claims of contradictory COVID-19 data

Turkish Health Minister Fahrettin Koca on Monday denied claims on social media that his government has been announcing inaccurate figures on novel coronavirus infections. “Claims on social media that we have been announcing inconsistent data are completely baseless. The numbers are based on COVID-19 diagnoses,” Koca tweeted. “The numbers are real and instantaneous. Manipulating facts will not benefit anyone.”

The controversy was caused by a discrepancy between the death tolls announced by the government and an online inquiry system run by the İstanbul Municipality, the Ahval news website reported. While the ministry reported 16 deaths nationwide, the municipal website reported 20 COVID-19 deaths in the city of İstanbul alone. Access to the municipal system was blocked after opposition deputy Veli Ağbaba raised the issue, according to Ahval.

Ağbaba later tweeted that he was informed by Minister Koca that the apparent discrepancy might have been caused by the deaths recorded after the official announcement.

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Turkey extends quarantine of thousands returning from Mecca after some test positive for COVID-19


Turkish Red Crescent calls for ‘national mobilization’ against possible shortage of medical equipment

Amnesty, 26 NGOs call on Turkish gov’t to release political prisoners amid coronavirus crisis

Amnesty International and 26 other rights groups and civil society organizations from Turkey and around the world on Monday released a joint statement calling for the release of Turkey’s political prisoners, particularly those with a high risk of complications due to COVID-19, caused by the novel coronavirus.

“Overcrowding and unsanitary facilities already pose a serious health threat to Turkey’s prison population of nearly 300,000 prisoners and about tens of thousands of prison staff,” the statement read. “That will only be exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic.”

The Global State of Democracy 2019. Turkey

“However, we remain concerned that journalists, human rights defenders and others imprisoned for simply exercising their rights, and other who should be released, will remain behind bars in the package of measures as currently conceived by the government.” Read the full article


Turkey's Coronavirus Death Toll Rises by 37 to 168, Total Cases Top 10 Thousand

Turkey's death toll from the coronavirus pandemic has risen to 168 as 37 people died in the last 24 hours, the Health Ministy has announced. Out of 11,535 people tested for the virus since yesterday, 1,610 have been found to be infected, bringing the total cases to 10,827, the ministry said in a statement on its website. The total number of tests stood at 76,981.

According to the ministry's statement, 725 people are currently in intensive care with 523 of them being intubated. A total of 162 people have recovered from the disease so far.

Health Minister Fahrettin Koca has criticized also social media over allegations that official data on the novel coronavirus is inaccurate. "Claims on social media that there is an incoherency in the data we announced are completely unfounded," Fahrettin Koca said on Twitter. "The numerical data announced is based directly on COVID-19 diagnosis data. It is instant and real-time data."


Journalist Nurcan Baysal under investigation over articles, posts on pandemic

Turkish authorities have launched an investigation into Kurdish journalist Nurcan Baysal for her coverage of Turkey’s measures against the coronavirus in the country’s Kurdish-majority southeast.

Baysal is facing charges of inciting hatred and enmity in the public over tweets and articles on the pandemic, including an article titled “Routine life goes on in Diyarbakır despite coronavirus” penned for Ahval.  Ten tweets calling for the release of imprisoned politicians and human rights defenders are also part of the investigation.

“I was told that I would normally be detained, but I wasn’t, because of the virus,” Baysal told Ahval. Instead, the journalist will face a prosecutor directly on Tuesday. “As a human rights defender, journalist and citizen of the Turkish Republic, I exercised my right to inform the people and the institutions about precautions against coronavirus in my city. This is a Constitutional right and right protected by UN Charter,” Baysal said in a tweet.


Quarantined Turkish doctors get salaries cut

Family doctors quarantined after exhibiting symptoms of the coronavirus have had their salaries cut, even after they were issued with medical notes, Sözcü newspaper said on Monday.

The head of the Federation of Family Physicians, Özlem Sezen, said the salaries of family physicians infected with COVID-19, or quarantined for 14 days due to suspicions they had been injected, had been cut in proportion to days they could not work.

"As physicians who put their lives on the line while on duty, we think that cutting our money as if we had been punished for getting infected with the virus is insulting," Sözcü quoted Sezen as saying. Twenty-four family doctors and nurses in Istanbul have tested positive for the coronavirus. the Turkish Medical Association has criticised the lack of protective equipment for health workers.

Freedom of Expression and the Press in Turkey
Journalists Sadiye Eser, Sadık Topaloğlu, musician Yılmaz Çelik released; journalists, lawmakers face investigation over Covid-19 reports, posts

Sadiye Eser and Sadık Topaloğlu released pending trial

Mezopotamya news agency reporters Sadiye Eser and Sadık Topaloğlu, who were jailed pending trial on 3 December 2019, appeared before the 22nd High Criminal Court of Istanbul on 26 March 2020 for the first hearing of their trial on the charge of “membership of a terrorist group.”

Issuing an interim ruling at the end of the hearing, the court released Eser and Topaloğlu under an international travel ban and set 15 October 2020 as the date for the second hearing.

A report about the hearing can be accessed here.

Musician Yılmaz Çelik released pending trial

The first hearing in the trial of musician Yılmaz Çelik on terrorism-related charges took place on 26 March 2020 at the 2nd High Criminal Court of Tunceli. In its interim ruling, the court released Çelik under an international travel ban and adjourned the trial until 14 May.

Çelik was arrested on 8 December 2019 following a concert appearance in Tunceli. He was jailed pending trial on the charges of “membership of a terrorist group” and “terrorism propaganda.” Çelik’s social media posts are held as evidence against him.

Newspapers excluded from running public ads may be banned in prisons

clause preventing newspapers that are banned from running public ads by the Press Advertising Agency (BİK), such as Evrensel daily, from being distributed in prisons was reportedly included in a bill that will enable early release for up to 100,000 prisoners. The bill, the third “package” in the government’s Judicial Reform Strategy, is expected to be passed by the Parliament next week.

Independent newspaper Evrensel has been subject to a public ad ban since September 2019 on the grounds of “bulk buying.”

HDP lawmaker Gergerlioğlu faces investigation

The Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office launched an investigation against Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) lawmaker Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu over a social media post he shared on 25 March 2020, in which he wrote about claims that an inmate in the Ankara Sincan L Type Prison had tested positive for Covid-19. The investigation alleges that Gergerlioğlu’s social media post “caused panic and fear among people.”

İz Gazete reporter called in for questioning over Covid-19 coverage

Tugay Can, a reporter for the Izmir-based newspaper İz Gazete, was called in to give his statement on 25 March 2020 at the Izmir Police Department’s Cyber Crimes Unit. Can was questioned on the allegation of “causing panic and fear among people” in relation to a news report about two medical professionals in Izmir who reportedly tested positive for Covid-19.

Jailed journalist Aziz Oruç’s wife questioned over social media posts

Jailed journalist Aziz Oruç’s wife Hülya Oruç is facing an investigation on the allegation of “causing panic and fear among people” over her social media posts about fears of Covid-19 spread in prisons. Oruç gave her statement on 24 March at the Diyarbakır Police Department as part of the investigation launched by the Diyarbakır Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office.

Local journalists detained over Covid-19 coverage

İsmet Çiğit, founder and columnist of Ses Kocaeli, a local newspaper based in Kocaeli, was taken into custody in the early hours of 19 March 2020 in his apartment in the northwestern province. Çiğit was arrested in connection with a news report the newspaper published in its online edition on 18 March, about two individuals in Kocaeli who reportedly died of Covid-19. Authorities released Çiğit when Güngör Arslan, another columnist and a co-founder of the newspaper, who came to the police station where Çiğit was being questioned, said he wrote the report, upon which he was taken into custody. Arslan was released after giving his statement to the public prosecutor the next day.

Trials postponed as part of measures against spread of Covid-19

Trials and other legal procedures at numerous courthouses across Turkey -- except for trials of persons in detention on remand -- were temporarily put on hold as of 16 March 2020 as part of measures against the spread of Covid-19 in Turkey. Courts will remain open for emergency procedures.

The trial of journalist Rojhat Doğru, scheduled for 24 March at the 8th High Criminal Court of Diyarbakır, was postponed to 18 June 2020.

Journalist Beritan Canözer’s trial, scheduled for 25 March at the 11th High Criminal Court of Diyarbakır, was postponed to 17 June 2020.

Journalist İdris Sayılğan’s trial, scheduled for 25 March at the 2nd High Criminal Court of Muş, was postponed to 13 May 2020.

The trial of journalists Sibel Hürtaş and Hayri Demir, which was set to resume on 26 March at the 15th High Criminal Court of Ankara, was postponed until 25 June 2020.

List of journalists and media workers in prison 

As of 27 March 2020, at least 100 journalists and media workers are in prison in Turkey, either in pre-trial detention or serving a sentence. The full list can be accessed here.



Turkey puts more villages under coronavirus quarantine

Six villages in the Black Sea province of Gümüşhane and the central province of Sivas have been put under quarantine due to the coronavirus  pandemic, which has so far claimed the lives of at least 131 people in Turkey, according to Turkish media reports.

Several other villages in the provinces of Çankırı, Kütahya, Yozgat and Rize were also quarantined last week to mitigate the spread of the virus. Entry and exit to and from the villages under quarantine is forbidden.

The death toll in Turkey due to the coronavirus jumped by 23 to 131 on Sunday, while the number of confirmed cases has surged to 9,217 since the first case was reported on March 11.

There are widespread claims that the number of COVID-19 cases is actually higher than what is officially announced in Turkey as many cases go unnoticed because tests are not widely performed.


Truck driver briefly detained for criticizing Turkish gov’t over coronavirus measures

A Turkish truck driver was briefly detained over his video criticism of the government for calling on people to stay at home due to the coronavirus pandemic while presenting them with no solutions to the financial problems that will stem from an inability to work, according to Turkish media reports.

The truck driver, Malik Baran Yılmaz, says in the video posted on TikTok, a video-sharing social networking service that has millions of followers in Turkey: “Stay at home, Turkey. How can we do that, father? I am not a retired person, a civil servant or a rich man. I am a worker, a truck driver. When I don’t work, there is no food. I can’t pay my rent and my bills. Failing to pay them is actually worse than death. It doesn’t matter — either I stay home and die of hunger or because of the virus. This virus won’t kill me, but your style of administration [will].”

Yılmaz’s video also went viral on other social media platforms such as Twitter. Many said he expressed the feelings of millions who desperately need to go out to work.

Turkey dumps Chinese COVID-19 test kits over unreliable results

The Turkish government has rejected samples of Chinese-made coronavirus rapid testing kits after finding that they gave inaccurate results, a Turkish official confirmed to Middle East Eye on Friday.

“We have received some samples from the company,” the official said. “We didn’t find them viable and ordered some other testing kit models from a separate Chinese company.”

The official did not say how many kits were concerned while noting that they hadn’t yet been used with the wider public.

The news comes as Spain revealed on Thursday that it had withdrawn 9,000 Chinese-made kits after realizing that they had only 30 percent accuracy. A Czech media outlet also reported that up to 80 percent of the 150,000 portable quick tests that China delivered to the republic earlier this month were faulty.

Spanish officials told the media that the testing kits were also manufactured by the same company that had supplied the Turkish government.

“I cannot confirm whether the ones we received are the same as the ones in Spain,” the Turkish official added.

Turkish Health Minister Fahrettin Koca confirmed later on Friday that Turkey had tried some rapid antigen tests from China but that authorities “weren’t happy about them.”

“We didn’t release them for public use,” he said in a televised presser.

Koca also said that Turkey had received from China different and viable testing kits that are based on antibodies. “We have 350,000 of them now,” he said.

A member of the Turkish health ministry’s special science board on coronavirus said the batch of testing kits were only 30 to 35 percent accurate.

“We have tried them. They don’t work. Spain has made a huge mistake by using them,” Professor Ateş Kara said on CNN Türk.

Kara said Turkey was among only three countries able to produce their own real-time polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests that can give results in six hours.

State-appointed mayor in Turkey’s Batman province removes Kurdish from municipality website

The government-appointed municipality in Turkey’s eastern city of Batman has removed the Kurdish language from its website, just leaving Turkish language content, Gazete Duvar said on Sunday. Turkish authorities on March 23 removed the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP) co-mayors of Batman on terrorism charges and replaced them with appointees.

The total number of HDP mayors removed from their posts since the local elections in March 2019 has reached 40. The government escalated its crackdown against pro-Kurdish politicians after launching a military offensive against Kurdish-held territories in northern Syria last October. The Turkish government accuses the HDP of links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has been fighting for self-rule in southeast Turkey for more than 30 years.

The government-appointed administrators in predominantly Kurdish regions have reportedly taken measures to reverse previous positive steps taken by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) towards recognising the Kurdish identity shared by millions of Turkish citizens.

These measures included shutting down organisations promoting Kurdish language and culture, removing Kurdish names from public parks and streets, and destroying Kurdish cultural monuments.


French Navy intercepts Turkish ship carrying weapons to Libya

The French Navy has intercepted a Turkish ship transporting anti-aircraft missile systems for Libya’s Government of National Accord (GNA), Syrian NGO Al Marsad reported on Saturday citing Russia’s state-run nRIA Novosti news agency.

The French frigate Provence forced the Turkish cargo ship to change course after the latter switched off its transporter in a move that raised suspicions of the French navy, it said.

Turkey is the main backer of Libya’s U.N.-recognised GNA, and its earlier shipments of armoured vehicles and drones have helped the Tripoli-based government withstand an offensive launched last April by the eastern-based Libyan National Army (LNA).

The BBC earlier this month reported that Turkey sent arms to Libya and violated a United Nations arms embargo on the war-torn country, citing satellite images and footages obtained by its investigation team.


Confined to homes, Turks post comedic lockdown videos on social media

HDP mayor faces terrorism charges over ‘planting green beans’

A court in Turkey’s southeastern Mardin province has pushed forward with terrorism charges against a dismissed mayor from the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) over her municipality’s support for women’s cooperatives, which were planting green beans, news site Duvar reported on Saturday.

The court cited former Mazıdağı district mayor Nalan Özaydın’s support for the Sarya Women’s Cooperative, founded by a group of women in Mardin, as evidence of her involvement with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

Sarya Women’s Cooperative was founded last year after the March 31 local elections, and had started its work by planting green beans in a three-hectare plot, after which the women sold the harvest and launched more agricultural projects in several villages.

The indictment against the former mayor cited assemblies, communes and cooperatives as part of the Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK), which Turkey considers to be affiliated with the PKK.

Özaydın, who was dismissed on Nov. 15 and arrested on Nov. 26 last year, was charged with membership of a terrorist organisation with an indictment based on secret witness testimony that appeared word for word in several other cases, Duvar said.

Other evidence in the indictment included secret witness testimony that Özaydın met with an alleged terrorist, who told another person that the mayor would “no longer be asked for money.”

Former member discloses FETÖ's police network

The confessions of a former member of the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ), the terrorist organization that was behind the July 15, 2016 coup attempt in Turkey, revealed the establishment of FETÖ’s police network in Ankara.

One of the confessors, identified as Ö.F. by security authorities, who performed various duties within the terrorist group since 2002, said that even though he tried to leave FETÖ, prominent members did not allow him to and threatened to harm his family members and friends.

Stressing that he got in touch with the group in 2002 when he moved into a dormitory that belonged to the group, Ö.F. said he later transferred to a FETÖ house on the instructions of the dormitory’s director. He was appointed as a public servant when he was in his senior year in university.

Ö.F. said that a person named Sami, who was working at the National Education Ministry, was giving sermons to police officers who stayed with him in the house. Later, Ö.F. was assigned to southeastern Gaziantep province and did not have contact with FETÖ members for nearly a year.

“After a while, a teacher named İrfan, who was on duty in Gaziantep, called me and expressed his wish to meet. When he came to my house, he offered to work together again, asking me to teach the Quran to police officers working in the Gaziantep riot police department. I accepted and start teaching to 15-person groups in their houses,” he said.

Ö.F. returned to Ankara in 2011 and was called again by İrfan, who asked him to meet with a car dealer in the Emek district of the capital. Ö.F. said there was another person in the car gallery, whose name was Vedat, and introduced himself as a handler in charge of police officers.

Noting that he communicated with other members of the terrorist organization via mobile apps including Bylock, Line, Telegram and Coverme, Ö.F. said they also used phones provided by senior members but refrained from holding explicit conversations. “We were not using names, addresses etc. during these calls. We were just conducting brief talks such as ‘I am near the market etc.,’” he said.

ByLock was discovered during criminal inquiries into the terrorist group, whose criminal activities have been under the spotlight since two coup attempts in 2013. The National Intelligence Organization (MİT) uncovered the messaging app apparently programmed or modified for the exclusive use of the group's members.

Ö.F. also revealed FETÖ’s instructions after the FETÖ-led Dec. 17-25, 2013 judicial operations, the so-called "corruption inquiry" which was a plot perpetrated by FETÖ to topple the democratically elected Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government.

“They instructed us to cast votes for any party except AK Party. They also told us to vote for FETÖ’s imprisoned police chiefs. Our President (Recep Tayyip Erdoğan) also started to be discredited,” he said.

Ö.F. said that despite that FETÖ’s U.S.-based leader Fetullah Gülen’s political sermons disturbed some disciples, prominent members told them that “it is necessary to respond to government’s propaganda and Gülen uses his right to answer.”

Gülen has lived in self-imposed exile in a secluded compound in the U.S. state of Pennsylvania since 1999.

Ö.F. said that he was warned along with two other people by Vedat not to express their critical opinions. Ö.F. later disclosed his desire to leave FETÖ, however, he was threatened by prominent members.

“Vedat came and asked me why I want to leave the organization. He tried to convince me for two hours. He told me that I cannot leave the organization because I know too many things. I think they tried to control me to not go to the police and give a testimony against the organization,” Ö.F. said.

FETÖ is accused of staging the July 15 coup attempt that tried to overthrow Turkey's democratically elected government and killed 251 people and injured nearly 2,200 others.

The terrorist group is also accused of using its infiltrators in the police and the judiciary to launch two other coup attempts on Dec. 17 and Dec. 25, 2013, under the guise of graft probes, in addition to sham trials launched against its adversaries using illegal or fake evidence and trumped-up charges.

Council of Europe media freedom alerts: Turkey

Journalists Arrested in Major Clampdown 2016-17-18-19

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