Turkish courts routinely deny journalists fair trials - IPI review

Turkish courts routinely deny journalists the right to a fair trial, in some cases preventing defendants from physically being at court hearings, according to early results of a review from two press groups.

Over six months, the Media and Law Studies Association and the International Press Institute followed 71 separate trials in Turkey, where most of the defendants were journalists and 72 percent were charged with terrorism offences.

“In 34 percent of the trials observed, the defendant was denied the right to be physically present in the courtroom, instead forced to appear via a courtroom video link, which in some cases malfunctioned, preventing any hearing participation at all,” the preliminary results of the review said.

In 36 percent of the court sessions, defendants were taken into the courtroom in handcuffs, a violation of Turkish laws. Judges were also often shuffled out of the panel overseeing the case: in 41 percent of the cases, changes were made to the panel of judges assigned to the case, raising questions over the independence of the judiciary.

Prosecutors in 77 percent of the trials cited news reports as evidence against defendants, using them to justify pretrial detention. “In the remaining cases, evidence mainly consisted of anonymous witness statements or footage showing the defendants attending press briefings or demonstrations,” the report said.

Around 155 journalists are detained in Turkey currently, according to the groups. Caroline Stockford, the International Press Institute’s Turkey advocacy coordinator, said that Turkish courts cannot handle these cases and the European Court of Human Rights must rule.

“Our trial monitoring shows that not only are Turkey’s journalists being prosecuted and jailed for their work on the basis of wholly unsubstantiated charges, but they are also being denied basic rights of defendants in criminal trials,” Stockford said in a press release.

The full report is 26 pages.