MLSA lawyers file Constitutional Court applications for journalists İdris Sayılgan and Nedim Türfent

18 July 2018
  • Prohibition of discrimination argued in Constitutional Court applications of two Kurdish journalists for the first time in Turkey
  • International team of lawyers drafting ECtHR application for İdris Sayılgan

Media and Law Studies Association (MLSA) lawyers Veysel Ok and Barış Oflas have applied to the Constitutional Court on behalf of imprisoned Dicle News Agency (DİHA) journalists Nedim Türfent and İdris Sayılgan, demanding a priority review for both journalists and the adoption of an interim measure for their immediate release from prison.

Sayılgan application - clear discrimination

An application was filed with the Constitutional Court on 11 July for journalist Sayılgan, who has been imprisoned on charges of membership of a terrorist organization since October 2016.

The application asserts that news articles by Sayılgan and his phone conversations with news sources fall within the scope of freedom of expression and freedom of the press.

The application also notes that Sayılgan was subject to discrimination for working at DİHA, a news agency which mostly covered news reporters from cities in Turkey with predominantly Kurdish populations until it was shut down under a cabinet decree in 2016. The application also argues Sayılgan’s detention has been a violation of his right to liberty and security of person and right to freedom of expression.

Sayılgan’s application differs from various journalist applications that have been filed to the Constitutional Court in the post-coup attempt period in that --  in addition to free speech, liberty and security of person arguments -- it includes arguments to show that Sayılgan was targeted for working for a news agency that reported mostly from a specific region, a deliberate act of discrimination.

Sayılgan’s lawyer Veysel Ok said "We represented İdris in court for the first time in a hearing on 23 May. The court rejected our request for release despite a detailed defense statement. An objection we filed later against his detention was rejected by the higher court, which gave us the right to go to the Constitutional Court.”

Prohibition of Discrimination violated

Ok noted that this is the only application so far filed by a journalist which includes a discrimination claim. “Our application includes an argument to show that Article 14 of the European Convention of Human Rights (ECtHR) which prohibits discrimination has been violated, in addition to the other violations of his freedom of expression, and right to liberty and security of person, as well as the right to a fair trial. There are 64 people imprisoned in Turkey who work for Kurdish media outlets. Their news agencies, newspapers, television channels, publishing houses have been shot down. We think that Kurdish journalists are given a “special treatment”. We see this in court rulings. İdris is being tried by a court in Muş, but he is imprisoned in Trabzon. He gave his first statement via video-link in court but he did not even appear in the video conferencing system in the last hearing.”

Ok also added that MLSA’s team of lawyers were working on a European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) together with the Media Legal Defense Initiative (MLDI), a London based organization which provides legal help for journalists, bloggers and independent media.

Ok further noted: “Following the Constitutional Court application, we are working on preparing a comprehensive ECtHR application with our colleagues at MLDI. We will file this in the near future. In this sense, we are very hopeful about İdris’s legal processes.”

İdris Sayılgan has been in prison for 632 days. He is currently being held at Trabzon Prison.

Türfent application despite conviction ruling

MLSA lawyers, who started representing DİHA reporter Nedim Türfent more recently, have filed an application to the Constitutionalkı Court for Türfent. The journalist, who has been in prison since May 2016, was convicted of “membership in a terrorist organization” in late 2017. The application, filed on 3 July, argues that guarantees that prohibit discrimination, protect the right to liberty and security of person, the right to a fair trial, the right to be free from maltreatment and freedom of expression were violated in Türfent’s case.

Lawyer Ok said: “The usual practice would have been to wait until the appeals process for Nedim Türfent would be complete since he has already been given a sentence by the court of first instance. An appeal against the ruling was filed by his earlier lawyers. In the month of May, we filed a second and more detailed application to the appeals court, demanding an interim measure for his release. It’s been over two months, yet the Regional Appellate Court still hasn’t reviewed our application.”

Türfent’s lawyer stated that he had doubts as to whether the appeals court will examine Türfent’s case in a serious manner. “This is why we chose to apply to the Constitutional Court, which, like the ECtHR, has strict rules about exhaustion of prior legal remedies. However, our experience shows that higher courts usually uphold the sentencing handed down by lower courts. The same thing applies to the Court of Cassation. As such, we do not see the possibility of a release measure or an acquittal from these processes. Even if we did believe this was possible, in Nedim’s case, his detention on the basis of his journalism-related activities has been unlawful and his Article 5 rights have been violated. For this reason, the Constitutional Court has to review this application.”

Lawyer Ok said: “We also requested a fast review of Nedim’s case, and that his case is given priority. An ECtHR ruling about Mehmet Altan, finding his detention unlawful, was issued after he was convicted by a local court, and we also argued this in Nedim’s Constitutional Court application.”

Ok said: “We will proceed to the European Court based on the outcome of our application to the Constitutional Court.”

Türfent has been detained in for 800 days.