Turkey: Academic Bülent Şık sentenced for exposing public health risk

ARTICLE 19 condemns the sentencing of academic Bülent Şık on 26 September for revealing public health risks in a Cumhuriyet newspaper article published in 2018.

An academic and columnist specialised in public health, Şık was sentenced to one year and three months in prison for ‘disclosing official secrets’ at the Istanbul 2nd Penal Court of First Instance. The indictment also brought two charges of ‘holding’ and ‘disclosing information for political or military purposes’ for which he was acquitted at the third, final hearing.

The court did not defer the prison sentence on grounds that ‘he did not show remorse’.

Sarah Clarke, Head of Europe and Central Asia at ARTICLE 19 said, “Bülent Şıkconviction is yet further evidence of the erosion of the rule of law and judicial independence in Turkey. The charges brought against Şıare manifestly ungrounded and gross violations of his right to freedom of expression and his academic freedom.

Furthermore, the content of the article for which he is charged, raising public health and environmental issues, are matters of public interest, which means they are subject to higher protections in law. It is ironic that the State both denies the veracity of the information revealed by Şık, and simultaneously accuses him of revealing state secrets.

The Cumhuriyet article entitled “Report Hidden From the Public,” with the subtitles: “This Is How We Are Poisoned;” “Research Hidden by the Ministry”, revealed the results of a study carried out by Şık and other scientists for Turkey’s Ministry of Health between 2011 and 2015. The study linked contamination of water and soil with toxic materials in the Western Thrace region of Turkey with high cancer rates in the area.

In the final hearing yesterday, Şık’s lawyers submitted an expert opinion to the court by ARTICLE 19 that found that the case violated his right to freedom of expression and constituted a disproportionate interference for a democratic society.

ARTICLE 19 calls for Bülent Şık’s immediate aqcuittal and for Turkey to cease its politically motivated campaign to criminalise academics, journalists and human rights defenders.