Turkey increased restrictions on the media, political opposition, and human rights defenders during 2017, on the back of a very narrow referendum, Human Rights Watch said today in its World Report 2018. Turkey also introduced a presidential system with insufficient democratic checks and balances against the president’s abuse of power. “Everywhere you look, checks and balances that protect human rights and rule of law in Turkey are being eroded” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. Under the state of emergency, the government has failed to provide redress for the over 100,000 civil servants dismissed, as well as hundreds of media outlets, associations, and other institutions closed down.
A Turkish media worker, who has been behind bars for 478 days, faces three consecutive life sentences and additional 15 years in jail on fabricated terrorism and coup plotting charges.
Zafer Özsoy, 44-year-old media professional who specializes in broadcasting network and satellite uplink services, is charged under Turkey’s abusive anti-terror laws when his company FİA was found to have provided infrastructure services to critical media outlets.
The company does not get involved in editorial policies of the clients that it provided services yet he stands accused of attempting to overthrow the constitutional order, the Turkish government and the Turkish Parliament without any evidence to back up any of the charges.
Özsoy started his media career at Cihan News Agency in 1995 right after he graduated from İstanbul University’s Radio and Television department. He had worked almost for 20 years at the same company’s various departments. Thanks to his experience and extensive network of contacts, he became one of the best media professional in his field of expertise.
Starting in 2014, Erdoğan’s government intensified pressure on Cihan news agency and its clients, forcing the company to downsize a year later to survive by shedding some of its assets and laying off workers.
Özsoy and his colleagues who worked together for years decided to establish their own production company FİA that would serve live streaming, broadcasting and digital video content for businesses. FİA purchased some of the technical equipment from the Cihan news agency under a deal that included negotiated fee for severance and compensation payments.
However, on March 7, 2016, Turkish government unlawfully seized both the Cihan news agency and FİA as part of the escalating crackdown on critical media outlets in Turkey. Özsoy and his partners were the first ones who were fired by the government appointed trustees who took over the management of these companies.
After working 20 years in media industry, Özsoy’s dream to run his own company with a selected team of his own was over but the worst was yet to come.
He was detained on July 27, 2016 at his home in İstanbul following detention warrants were issued for 47 journalists on dubious charges. He was formally arrested on August 4, 2016 over alleged links to FETÖ, a hoax terror organisation that was fabricated by the regime of autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to defame the civic Gülen movement. He was sent to notorious Silivri Prison pending trial.
During the interrogation, Özsoy was asked why he continued to work for “Zaman Newspaper” when Turkey’s biggest corruption investigations incriminating cabinet ministers and President Erdoğan’s family members were made public at the end of 2013. Erdoğan, then prime minister, presented graft probes as a coup attempt against his government and accused critical media outlets, which covered the graft scandal, of being traitors and coup plotters against his government. Özsoy told his interrogators that he has never worked in Zaman newspaper.
The police even asked Özsoy whether he made any contribution to a piece written by Today’s Zaman former editor-in-chief Bülent Keneş who forewarned that a coup would be terrible for Turkey’s future, in an article Keneş wrote on July 8, 2016. Özsoy replied “I heard about the article for the first time here.” Keneş has also been indicted over absurd terrorism charges in several cases and remain at large. Ironically, this question was asked to all suspects who were detained along with Özsoy on July 27, 2016.
Özsoy appeared before judges for the first time in 14 months after he was arrested on September 18, 2017. The most difficult moment of the hearing was that he had to defend himself against the indictment that included no direct accusation on him. The public prosecutor mentioned his name twice in 64-page indictment. The first citation of him is recorded among the list of defendants in the first part of the indictment. The second and the last was in the list of suspects for whom the prosecutor demanded severe punishment for him. The prosecutor did not bother to present any evidence against the suspect whom he asked for sentencing that amounted to three life sentences and additional 15 years in prison.
As expected the court ruled for the continuation of his arrest pending next hearing which will be held on December 8, 2017.
Özsoy who is married with two children and known for his Formula-1 passion is looking forward to being free one day and reuniting with his loved ones.
Turkey is the biggest jailer of journalists in the world. The most recent figures documented by the SCF has showed that 256 journalists and media workers are in jails as of November 21, 2017, most in pre-trial detention languishing in notorious Turkish prisons without even a conviction. Of those in Turkish prisons, 230 are arrested pending trial, only 26 journalists remain convicted and serving time in Turkish prisons. An outstanding detention warrants remain for 135 journalists who live in exile or remain at large in Turkey.
Detaining tens of thousands of people over alleged links to the Gülen movement, the government also closed down more than 180 media outlets after the controversial coup attempt.
Turkey survived a controversial military coup attempt on July 15, 2016 that killed 249 people. Immediately after the putsch, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government along with President Erdoğan pinned the blame on the Gülen movement.
Gülen, who inspired the movement, strongly denied having any role in the failed coup and called for an international investigation into it, but President Erdoğan — calling the coup attempt “a gift from God” — and the government initiated a widespread purge aimed at cleansing sympathizers of the movement from within state institutions, dehumanizing its popular figures and putting them in custody.
Turkey has suspended or dismissed more than 150,000 judges, teachers, police and civil servants since July 15. Turkey’s Justice Ministry announced on July 13 that 50,510 people have been arrested and 169,013 have been the subject of legal proceedings on coup charges since the failed coup.