Investigative journalists complete six months in detention on terrorism charges

Published on Tuesday 6 September 2011.
Reporters Without Borders is appalled by the way the Turkish authorities continue to treat two of the country’s leading investigative journalists, Ahmet Sik (Ahmet Şık) and Nedim Sener (Nedim Şener), who have just completed their sixth month in prison on trumped-up terrorism charges. They have been held since 3 March.
“These two journalists have already been detained without any justification for six months and the trial has not even started,” Reporters Without Borders said. “Each day they spend in prison is an outrage that sullies the image of Turkish democracy. Although the judicial authorities keep delaying the start of their trial, it is vital that they are released conditionally at the first hearing. It will signal that the Turkish courts are part of Turkish society’s move towards more democracy.”
Last week, prosecutor Cihan Kansiz finally presented an indictment for the approval of an Istanbul court, which will set a date for the trial. It concerns 14 defendants, including Sik and Sener and nine other journalists and writers who are accused putting their reporting and writing in the service of an alleged terrorist conspiracy known as Ergenekon.
Most of the other defendants worked for the Oda TV ( news website and were arrested between 18 February and 3 March.
The full text of the 134-page indictment is not yet available but the details that have already emerged suggest that there has been no change in the paranoid rhetoric used by the prosecutor-general’s office during the initial interrogations.
It will be interesting to see whether the six-month investigation has enabled prosecutors to gather more evidence, especially against Sik and Sener, than was apparent from the truncated reports of the interrogations, which contained wild accusations.
Some of the judges who have ruled on the monthly requests for extensions to their detention have expressed outrage at having to approve them. Seref Akçay, the president of the 11th chamber of the Istanbul court of assizes, said “the investigation does not respect the principles of impartiality, justice and morality.”
He also pointed out that “the defendants are not in a position to endanger the evidence held by the police,” that the book [by Sik that prompted his arrest] had not even been published, and that you could not accuse journalists of “propaganda in support of terrorist organization” if all they did was criticize the conduct of the trial of its members without expressing support for them or praising their organization.
After visiting Sik in Silivri prison on 4 September, his wife Yonca told Reporters Without Borders: “Ahmet is all right but he is impatient for his indictment to be published and to know the date of the start of his trial. He just has problem with his knee. The doctors say he may need an operation to the meniscus. The prison doctor prescribed a knee support but the prison management refused to let me give it to him. Nedim Sener is all right too. He has lost weight because he is doing lots of exercise.”
After three days in police custody, Sik and Sener were transferred to prison on 6 March together with their Oda TV colleagues. Their arrests and the absurd charges that ensued triggered a wave of protests in Turkey and abroad and became the symbol of both the judicial system’s paranoid attitude towards the media and the widespread use of pre-trial detention.
The journalists are paying for their critical coverage of an extremely sensitive subject, an alleged clandestine network of secularist military officers and ultra-nationalists known Ergenekon that is supposed to have plotted a coup against the pro-Islamic AKP government. The arrest of alleged military conspirators in 2007 was initially hailed as a victory for democracy but the conspiracy allegations have since been seen as pretext for witchhunts within opposition sectors.
Reporters Without Borders published an investigative report on the subject on 16 June.