“Such a conviction is not plausible at all. What Tayyar published in his article was an excerpt of the [Ergenekon] indictment. The court ruling has revealed once again the inconsistency of the Turkish judiciary,” stated Mehmet Altan, a columnist for the Star daily.
An İstanbul court fined Tayyar and sentenced him to prison time for violating the right to privacy of Ergenekon suspect and journalist Güler Kömürcü. The court originally handed down a sentence of one-and-a-half years in jail, but the sentence was delayed and later decreased to one year and three months for good behavior during the trial. Tayyar will be under judicial supervision for five years and will be imprisoned if he commits a crime within that period.
The columnist was also fined TL 2,610 for libeling Kömürcü in the media. Kömürcü had filed a court case against Tayyar for two of his columns, published on Sept. 12, 2008 and Sept. 17, 2008, respectively. In the earlier column, Tayyar presented a telephone conversation between Kömürcü and Tuğrul Türkeş, the son of the Nationalist Movement Party's (MHP) former leader, Alparslan Türkeş, that is among the evidence in the investigation into Ergenekon. “The court did not provide any reasoning for its ruling. Thus, Tayyar does not have the right to seek redress at the Supreme Court of Appeals. I hope an upper court will compensate the mistake,” Altan remarked. Tayyar is best known for his columns on Ergenekon, each revealing a shady side of the terrorist organization. He is also the author of two books on the organization.
Tayyar expressed concern that his conviction will set an example for future lawsuits against journalists, which will eventually hinder them producing reports and columns on Ergenekon.
“I am sorry for the conviction but not solely in my own name. This ruling threatens all journalists as it will set an example for future suits. I face the risk of being imprisoned for the next five years. The ruling will remain like Damocles' sword over me. It will, unfortunately, have a direct impact on my columns,” Tayyar stated.
The journalist stands as the first member of the press who has been punished for penning an article on a document included in an Ergenekon indictment. “The indictment has been accepted by the court. I don't understand how it could be a crime to write a column on a document included in the indictment,” he said.
According to Tayyar, the ruling came as a threat to all journalists as well as prosecutors preparing the indictments and the members of the court who accepted hearing them.
“I am constantly receiving death threats. Some say I will languish in prison when the government is overthrown by a military coup,” the journalist added.
Tayyar also claimed that he was offered a bribe of $1 million by a journalist he deemed to have close links to Ergenekon not to write any articles or columns on the organization.
Alper Görmüş, a Taraf daily columnist, interpreted Tayyar's conviction as an attempt to play down the Ergenekon investigation. “Both sides have shown their [trump] cards. The ruling is not plausible at all. The ruling will pave the way for future complaints or lawsuits against journalists,” the columnist noted.
For Sabah daily's Mehmet Barlas, the ruling is a big blow against the freedom of the press in the country. “Tayyar is the best journalist who examines all indictments and documents related to Ergenekon. It is a shame to punish him for his efforts. All who advocate the freedom of the press should react against his punishment,” he remarked.
However, the freedom of the press and expression in Turkey is not threatened solely by critics of the Ergenekon probe. A highly disputed article of the Turkish Penal Code (TCK), Article 301, stands as a major threat for journalists, writers and intellectuals as many of them have been convicted under the article so far. The article criminalizes “insulting the Turkish nation.”
Charges have been filed recently against Taraf daily correspondent Mehmet Baransu and Adnan Demir, the daily's manager and the representative of the daily's owner, under Article 301 on the grounds that the two “openly insulted the military institution of the state,” following a criminal complaint by the General Staff. The General Staff's complaint came shortly after Taraf published a suspected military plot aimed at undermining the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) and the faith-based Gülen movement.
The alleged plan bears the signature of Senior Naval Forces Col. Dursun Çiçek and describes a plot to bring down the AK Party and the Gülen movement through framing individuals by planting weapons in their homes and manufacturing false news stories. The plot drew the indignation of many, who lashed out at the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) for seeking ways to interfere in politics.
Baransu said such lawsuits are aimed at narrowing journalists' room to maneuver and hampering efforts to reveal the truth.
“I believe the charges journalists are faced with are part of a silencing campaign. Journalists are writing about illegal bodies, immoral organizations and unlawful acts and they are getting punished for this. I am concerned that the freedom of the press and expression will totally run out in Turkey one day,” the journalist remarked. He also advised his colleagues to continue their efforts to help reveal illegal groups and irregularities in the country.
Celebrity Hülya Avşar investigated over Kurdish remarks
The freedom of expression in Turkey is threatened by several other articles enshrined in the TCK. The latest victim of censorship on the freedom of expression is celebrity Hülya Avşar.
The Bakırköy State Prosecutor's Office has launched an investigation into Avşar over remarks she made regarding the government's Kurdish initiative on charges of instigating public animosity, hatred and enmity.
The prosecutor's office's move comes after an interview with the celebrity on the government's recently launched Kurdish initiative conducted by reporter Devrim Sevimay was published in the Milliyet daily. The prosecutor's office is investigating both Avşar and Sevimay. Speaking to the press outside Anıtkabir in Ankara, the mausoleum of Turkish Republic founder Mustafa Kemal Atatürk where Avşar had traveled to pay respects with her daughter on the occasion of the Eid al-Fitr holiday, Avşar answered questions regarding the subpoena she had received from Bakırköy State Prosecutor's Office regarding her status as a suspect in a criminal investigation.
“When I received the subpoena I felt the need to read it over several times -- I usually understand the first time I read a document, but I couldn't believe it. How could something like this be, I thought to myself,” Avşar said. She described the investigation's opening as “the greatest act of contempt” ever committed against her in her life. “This isn't an opening [the Turkish word for initiative], but a closing,” she said.
“I spoke about these things [during the Milliyet interview] thinking that we were in a democratic country,” Avşar said. “There's nothing democratic in Turkey that such an initiative can be taken. It was an interview in which I spoke about my childhood days. And what did they say about it? Instigating animosity, hatred and enmity. I think that this is the greatest act of contempt committed against me in my life. In this situation, how can democracy be spoken about in Turkey?” the entertainer reacted. “If this is how reaction is expressed to my interview, then no Kurdish initiative can be taken nor any democratic initiative. It's not like we're living in a democratic country in which such an initiative can be started.”
In the Milliyet interview, Avşar had explained that she was born to a Turkish mother and Kurdish father, and expressed her concerns over the government's democratic initiative, saying that it could be difficult to convince terrorist operatives of the separatist Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) to lay down their arms.
If, upon the conclusion of the investigation, the prosecutor's office decides to press charges, Avşar could be dealt a sentence of between one-and-a-half and four-and-a-half years in jail if the trial judges find her guilty. She is being investigated under TCK Article 216, which foresees jail sentences of one to three years for presenting a clear and present danger to public security for instigating hatred and enmity between one segment of society and another on the bases of social class, race, religion, sect or regional characteristics. Under Article 218, this sentence would be increased for Avşar for using the press to commit the crime covered by Article 216.