Expression Interrupted

Journalists and academics bear the brunt of the massive crackdown on freedom of expression in Turkey. Scores of them are currently subject to criminal investigations or behind bars. This website is dedicated to tracking the legal process against them.

Ahmet Şık expelled from courtroom in Cumhuriyet trial

Ahmet Şık expelled from courtroom in Cumhuriyet trial

In response, Murat Sabuncu and Akın Atalay refuse to present their defense. Court rules all imprisoned defendants shall remain behind bars

Journalist Ahmet Şık was removed from the courtroom at the fifth hearing of the Cumhuriyet trial held on December 25, after the judge said his defense statement was “political” and would not be allowed.The Istanbul 27th High Criminal Court later ruled that Şık and all other imprisoned defendants in the case remain behind bars pending trial and set 9 March 2018 as the date of the next hearing.

The hearing was originally planned to last two days but was cut short after defense lawyers demanded that the panel of judges recuse themselves, arguing that removal of Şık indicated that the judges are not impartial.

Şık, who has been in prison for almost a full year now, was interrupted by the presiding judge only a few minutes after he started reading his written statement.

“Depending on majoritarianism as opposed to pluralism, the current government treats and views every citizen who does not agree with them as terrorists,” Şık had said before the judge interrupted arguing that he cannot allow such a “political” statement that does not remain within the scope of the case.

“There is a judicial system, under the control of the current government, that transforms all suspicions of terrorism into outrageous charges. There is the media which hides facts and consequently, are accomplices in ruining our common future. There is a silent majority which remains in a web of silence as everything happens in front of their eyes because they are scared for their well-being or afraid that their comfortable lives will be disrupted. Within this current situation, under a dictatorial regime which feeds off violence and is based on cruelty and oppression, naturally the only that thrives is evil,” Şık said.

(The full text of the defense statement that Şık prepared for the December 25 hearing can be accessed here.)

The judge said he cannot allow Şık to read such a political statement that he said was outside the scope of the case and advised Şık to become a politician if he wanted to criticize the government. He then ordered the removal of Şık from the courtroom, prompting loud protests from the audience.

The trial was then adjourned for lunch. After the break, only journalists and lawyers were allowed into the courtroom and the rest of the audience, including family members of the defendants, were kept out.

Presiding judge Abdurrahman Orkun Dağ then announced that Şık would not be allowed in the courtroom for the rest of the day since he disrupted the order of proceedings under articles 203 and 204 of the Turkish Criminal Procedural Code (CMK).

But defense lawyer Fikret İlkiz objected, saying Şık had right to defense and that he should be present when the court hears two witnesses who were expected to give their testimonies in the afternoon session. İlkiz said the court should allow Şık back in and, if necessary, file a complaint against him for his defense statement later on. But that request was rejected.

Bahri Belen, another defense lawyer, then said Şık and other defendants were faced with the threats of restrictions and interruptions while giving their defense statements. Belen said the court has lost its impartiality and therefore the panel of three judges should be recused.

Judge Dağ then said the two witnesses who were supposed to testify in the session could not be heard since the criminal procedural law stated that the courts should not go ahead with the proceedings, except dealing with urgent matters, once a request for recusal of judge was made.

He then asked the prosecutor to state his opinion on the urgent matters of continued detention and judicial measures imposed on the defendants who were not imprisoned. The prosecutor requested continuation of detention and the judicial measures and the judges ruled affirmatively.

Sabuncu: I want to go to my friend

Murat Sabuncu, the editor-in-chief of Cumhuriyet and a founder of P24 who is also imprisoned, said he had prepared a defense statement for the hearing but he would not present it since Şık was not allowed to read his statement.

“Yesterday marked my 15th month in detention. I had prepared a statement that I wanted to read out here. But since Ahmet was unable to give his defense, naturally, I will not present mine either,” said Sabuncu. “Ahmet Şık is one of the most righteous journalists in this country and if he could have made his statement, he would have told the truth again. I only have one request from you, my friend is alone downstairs, I want to go to him.”

Akın Atalay, the chairman of the Cumhuriyet Executive Board, also refused to present his defense statement.

Witness: I don’t believe defendants are linked to FETÖ

Before the expulsion of Şık, the court was able to hear the testimony of one witness, journalist Doğan Satmış, who criticized the Cumhuriyet executives in a recent interview.

Satmış, however, said in his testimony at the court that he did not believe the defendants, with whom he worked together for 1,5 years, was linked to “FETÖ [the Fethullahist Terrorist Organization],” one of the groups that defendants in the case are accused of supporting. The group, led by Fethullah Gülen, is accused of masterminding the 15 July, 2016 coup attempt.

Satmış also said he did not believe it was right to put journalists on trial in high criminal courts for their journalistic activities. Commenting on the interview, Satmış said some of his remarks were misrepresented to mislead the public and that he had particularly named in his Twitter account two newspapers that printed false reports about his interview.

A total of 20 defendants face charges of “aiding terrorist groups FETÖ, PKK and DHKP/C without being a member” and “employment-related abuse of trust” in the trial. Şık, Sabuncu, Atalay and accounting department worker Emre İpek, as well as a teacher, Ahmet Kemal Aydoğdu, who was linked to the case for being the alleged user of an anonymous Twitter account, are in prison. Other Cumhuriyet journalists and executives who were in pre-trial detention were released in earlier hearings.