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Turkey: Three Hayatın Sesi TV executives jailed for 'terrorist propaganda'

Men chat and drink chai at a teahouse while footage of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is seen on a TV in Istanbul, Turkey, 16 April 2017
Men chat and drink chai at a teahouse while footage of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is seen on a TV in Istanbul, Turkey, 16 April 2017

Chris McGrath/Getty Images

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An Istanbul court on 19 September 2018 convicted three executives of the shuttered television station Hayatın Sesi of "continuously spreading propaganda for a terrorist organization."

The 13th High Criminal Court of Istanbul sentenced the station's co-owners Mustafa Kara and İsmail Gökhan Bayram, and the responsible managing editor Gökhan Çetin to three years and nine months in prison each.

Kara, Bayram and Çetin, who were not in attendance because all three were exempt from attending the hearings, were represented by their lawyers. In addition to P24, representatives from the International Press Institute (IPI), Reporters Without Borders (RSF), Human Rights Association (İHD), the Turkish Journalists Union (TGS), as well as the Republican People's Party (CHP) Istanbul MP Sezgin Tanrıkulu and former CHP MP Barış Yarkadaş were among those who monitored the hearing.

Founded as Hayat TV (Life TV) in 2007, Hayatın Sesi was a left-wing channel that aired programs focusing particularly on labor issues, women's rights, youth issues and the environment. It was shut down by a statutory decree in September 2016 along with several other TV and radio stations under the state of emergency.

The accusations against the three executives of the channel stemmed from news stories aired on the station in 2015 and 2016 concerning some terrorist attacks and military operations in the southeastern district of Cizre. In his final opinion on the case, the prosecutor had requested that each of the three defendants be sentenced to 13 years in prison for "conducting continuous propaganda for a terrorist organization."

Presenting their closing arguments during Wednesday's hearing, the defense lawyers said the right to information was being put on trial in the case. Adding that reporting about a terrorist act could not be deemed propaganda for that terrorist organization, the lawyers requested that their clients be acquitted.

Announcing its verdict after a recess following the defense statements, the court convicted Kara, Çetin and Bayram of the "propaganda" charge as per Article 7/2 of the Anti-Terror Law and sentenced each to three years in prison.

The sentences were increased by half on grounds that the crime "was committed continuously on various dates."

The court then reduced the sentences "in consideration of the defendants' good behavior during proceedings," eventually sentencing each to 3 years and 9 months in prison.

One of the judges on the panel gave a dissenting opinion on the verdict, saying that each of the broadcasts in the file "constituted a separate instance of propaganda" and "therefore each defendant should have been given four sentences."

Defense lawyers said they would appeal the verdict. The defendants will be free awaiting the outcome of the appeal.

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