Türfent, a former reporter for the shuttered Dicle news agency (DİHA), was jailed pending trial on 13 May 2016. At the end of the final hearing of his trial on 15 December 2017, the 2nd High Criminal Court of Hakkari convicted Türfent of “terrorist group membership” and sentenced the journalist to 8 years and 9 months in prison.
Global appeal marks 1000 days behind bars for Nedim Türfent
Over 650 writers, journalists, publishers, artists, and activists are calling for the immediate and unconditional release of news editor, reporter and poet Nedim Türfent. Today marks 1000 days since he was arrested and sentenced to eight years and nine months in prison on trumped-up terrorism charges following an unfair trial, during which numerous witnesses said they had been tortured into testifying against him.
In an appeal published today by the International Press Institute (IPI), the Media and Law Studies Association (MLSA) and PEN International, signatories from around the world pledged their support for Nedim Türfent and his fight for justice. The letter reads:
‘Today, we are writing to let you know that you are not alone. We stand alongside you and unite our voices to call for your immediate and unconditional release. We will continue to fight for the rights of journalists and writers – in Turkey and around the world – to be able to write freely, and for all those jailed for peacefully expressing their views to be free.’
A news editor and reporter at the pro-Kurdish Dicle News Agency (DİHA), Nedim Türfent was arrested on 12 May 2016 after covering clashes between the Turkish army and the armed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in the predominantly Kurdish southeast of Turkey. He spent nearly two years in solitary confinement, during which time he was transferred to several prisons and reportedly held in conditions amounting to torture or other ill-treatment.
“Today marks another grim milestone in Nedim Türfent’s miscarriage of justice. He has now spent a thousand days behind bars when he should have never been imprisoned in the first place. As we are reminded of the shocking and unacceptable price journalists can pay for simply doing their job, we commend his resolve and forcefully call for his swift release,” said Carles Torner, Executive Director of PEN International.
Nedim Türfent was formally charged with ‘membership of a terrorist organization’ and ‘spreading terrorist propaganda’ 10 months after his arrest. Among the reasons listed in his indictment were his social media posts, his news reporting and 20 witness testimonies. His first hearing was held in Hakkari on 14 June 2017, some 200km away from Van where he was being detained. He was denied the right to appear physically in court seven times, instead forced to testify via the judicial conferencing system SEGBİS, experiencing severe connection and interpretation issues. Out of the 20 witnesses called, 19 retracted their statements, saying they had been extracted under torture.
“IPI has followed Nedim’s case closely from the outset. Firstly, by reporting the online harassment he received at the hands of the security forces and secondly by closely monitoring his unfair trial and writing to him in his cell in Van. Nedim is a journalist. Nedim is innocent of any crime other than having published a story that the Turkish authorities did not want to be revealed. His case is one of the most unjust in a country full of unwarranted legal cases against journalists. IPI calls for Nedim’s immediate release and for the Turkish government to reinstate media freedom in Turkey, allowing journalists to do their job in fulfilling the right of the people to receive the news,” noted Caroline Stockford, IPI Turkey Advocacy Coordinator.
Despite such clear evidence of flagrant fair trial violations, Nedim Türfent was sentenced to eight years and nine months in prison for ‘membership of a terrorist organization’ and ‘spreading terrorist propaganda’ on 15 December 2017. On 19 June 2018, the Erzurum Regional Appeals Court upheld his conviction. On 3 September 2018, his lawyers lodged an appeal before Turkey’s Constitutional Court.
“MLSA has represented Nedim Türfent since shortly after his conviction. This is a highly political trial, which was launched after Nedim covered human rights violations that occurred in the Kurdish regions of Turkey during security operations in the area. We demand his immediate release and we will continue working to that end,” said Barış Altıntaş, MLSA Co-Director.
“The story of Nedim is actually the story of Kurdish journalism,” added Veysel Ok, MLSA Co-Director. “Nedim’s trial differs from the journalism trials known in the West in that the police extracted witness testimony by force and through torture. Nedim himself was physically tortured. He was convicted without being taken to the court trying him. We will continue our legal fight using all legal remedies available to ensure his freedom,” he noted. Source
Nineteen of 20 prosecution witnesses had recanted their testimonies at Türfent's trial and said that they were subjected to police threats and, in some cases, torture, to testify against the former journalist, defense lawyer Harika Karataş told Bianet after the sentencing.
The court accepted some of the witnesses' original testimonies as evidence, despite these discrepancies, according to Bianet.
Türfent has been in prison since May 12, 2016, according to CPJ research.
DİHA’s Yüksekova reporter Nedim Türfent was arrested on May 12, 2016, at a checkpoint at the entrance of the city of Van and imprisoned pending trial by a court the next day. Türfent, who covered the military operations of early 2016 in his hometown of Yüksekova, in the southeastern Hakkâri province, was receiving threats since he disclosed a video showing the ill-treatment inflicted by a special forces commander to people who were under arrest.
His trial, which started on June 1, 2017 — more than a year after his arrest — was marred by claims of torture. 20 witnesses who testified against the reporter at the police station retracted their statements during the trial arguing that they had given those statements under torture. Despite the retractions, the court sentenced Türfent to 8 years 9 months in prison for “membership in a terrorist organization.”
Türfent had to move to five different prisons during his time in custody, eventually being sent to the newly built Van High Security Prison on 26 April, 2016. Türfent has remained in solitary confinement since then, only being able to share a common space with one inmate.
“I use self-censorship when writing letters”
Türfent is allowed to receive letters, but those are sometimes given to him months later and sometimes not at all. He told P24 that he received on June 10 a letter that was sent to him in January 2018. Letters were strictly scrutinized, he said, adding that “he had to use self-censorship when he wrote.”
“Letters are seized if they contain criticism towards the prison (or the government or the state),” he said. The same arbitrariness is also valid for some books or periodic publications. “Articles containing criticism and books, magazines or newspapers which are not banned can be seized by the ‘Education Committee’,” he said.
Denied being sent to hospital within 20 minutes for four months
A strip search had been imposed on all inmates when they had been moved to the Van High Security Prison, including to him, Türfent said. He also explained that inmates face major healthcare issues in the prison. Türfent was only able to be examined at the prison’s infirmary over a toothache after filing several petitions.
He especially notes that hospital transfers are commonly done long after the doctor grants permission for them: Türfent himself was denied to go to a hospital only 20 minutes from the prison for four months. He also said inmates would often be subject to the verbal abuse of soldiers during their transfer to hospitals.
Pledges present for first deputy who visits him
When asked if any members of parliament had come to his visit during the two years he had been imprisoned, Türfent said: “No one visited me until now, I am thinking to give a present to the first one who comes. Our door is open!”
Türfent was unable to access a computer and the library to prepare his defence during his entire trial, which was concluded last December. “I’m learning that we had such a right from you, thank you. I prepared all my defence statements with handmade words. It was easy because I explained the profession of journalism,” he said.
Demand of sharing same common space with Ataman refused
Türfent also told that they had filed many petitions to share a common space with his colleague Ziya Ataman, but all had been arbitrarily refused. He was allowed to attend the sport and conversation activity — granted to all inmates — only a year after repeatedly filing petitions.
Call of solidarity for 800th day in prison
Türfent’s case is now expected to be appealed at a Regional Court, but he says he hasn’t yet received any notification from his lawyers that the appeal has been filed. He also lacks information on whether any complaint was filed on his behalf at the Turkish Constitutional Court or the European Court of Human Rights, Türfent said.
Noting that July 20 will mark his 800th day in prison, Türfent called for an action of solidarity that day from national and international organizations. While emphasizing that his case was getting some public attention, he also asked not to forget other journalists who couldn’t even afford to get a lawyer. **
Police detained Türfent, a reporter for the pro-Kurdish Dicle News Agency (DİHA), in the eastern province of Van on May 12, 2016, CPJ reported at the time. The Yüksekova Court of Penal Peace in Hakkari province ordered him jailed pending trial in Hakkari prison the following day, according to the leftist daily newspaper Evrensel.
According to court documents CPJ reviewed, prosecutors asked the journalist about a DİHA story on Kurdish Civil Protection Units (YPS), which the Turkish government classes as a terrorist organization, and news he shared on his Twitter account.
The prosecution cited witness testimony, including from someone it said was a captured YPS member, accusing Türfent of being a member of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK/KCK) and the offshoot group, the YPS, who propagandizes for the banned groups by interviewing their members and taking photographs and videos of them.
According to the court documents, Türfent responded that he was not the one who took the pictures or videos his organization used for the story in question, and that he had not written it. He denied being a member of the PKK/KCK, and noted that it was his job to interview people, including members of illegal organizations. "Interviewing organization members does not make one an organization member," he said, according to the court record.
The prosecution also cited witness accounts that Türfent photographed trenches and blockades Kurdish rebels prepared in the eastern Turkish town of Yüksekova. In response, the journalist said he documented the events because they had news value, and that all the witnesses' claims against him were unsupported by evidence.
The court ruled that the witness testimonies were enough to create a "reasonable suspicion" that Türfent was a "member of a [terrorist] organization," and ordered him jailed pending trial.
DİHA reported in May 2016 that Türfent received threats from police officers prior to his arrest. He told his employer that people who claimed to be police officers threatened him at his home, and that police officers told relatives, "Nedim should be careful."
According to court documents CPJ reviewed, Türfent told the court that he was "subjected to inhumane treatment and torture" while being detained.
All of the 13 initial witnesses that prosecutors called to testify that Türfent was a member of a terrorist organization later recanted their written testimony, saying police extracted it under threat or torture, the daily Evrensel reported after the hearing on June 14, 2017. The witnesses told the court said they did not know who Türfent was when they signed their testimonies, and some said that police put guns to their heads to make them sign. One said that police ripped out two of his teeth and threatened to take out more if he tried to recant later, according to news reports. "I signed the testimony while my head was being banged on the desk. I did not know what was written on it," one witness told the court. "I was detained for five days and subjected to torture," another said. "They made me sign the testimony by saying they would shoot me in the head," said another, according to press reports.
At a hearing in August 2017, a 14th witness, a minor identified in press reports only by his initials D.B., also told the court that authorities pressured him to testify against Türfent and that the testimony had not been taken in the presence of a lawyer, the press freedom group P24 reported. D.B. recanted his testimony and told the court that he did not know the defendant.
Türfent attended the hearing via teleconference, but without audio because of technical problems. Despite all witnesses saying they were pressured to falsely accuse the journalist of terrorism, the court did not release Türfent.
Türfent is detained in a maximum-security prison in Van, his lawyer, Harika Günay, told CPJ in September 2017. Authorities have denied Türfent’s requests to attend his trial hearings in person, the lawyer said. Günay said he will raise the issue with the Constitutional Court and, if necessary, the European Court of Human Rights.
Türfent has been kept in solitary confinement since his arrest and although he has access to mail, almost all of the books he has requested are not allowed in prison, the lawyer said.
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