Chief judge constantly warns defendants and defense attorneys during sessions over length of defense statements 

Novelist, journalist and former editor-in-chief of the shuttered Taraf newspaper Ahmet Altan, his brother, professor of economics and columnist Mehmet Altan, and veteran journalist-writer Nazlı Ilıcak appeared along with four other co-defendants before the Istanbul 26th High Criminal Court on February 13, 14 and 15 for the second, third and fourth sessions in the fifth hearing of a case where they are on trial for “attempting to overthrow the constitutional order through use of force and violence.”

Imprisoned co-defendants Yakup Şimşek and Şükrü Tuğrul Özşengül, as well as Tibet Murat Sanlıman, the only defendant in the case who is not in pretrial detention, gave final defense statements on the third day of the hearing, which is expected to conclude with the court’s verdict on February 16.

During the third session, held in Silivri for the second consecutive day after the chief judge moved the trial’s venue to the courtroom in the Silivri Prison premises, lawyers representing Ilıcak and the Altan brothers also presented their remarks on the prosecutor’s final opinion.

“I am prevented from defending myself” 

Yakup Şimşek, the brand manager of the shuttered Zaman daily, made explanations regarding a controversial TV commercial for the newspaper, which constitutes the basis of allegations against him.

Şimşek said that he had not had any part in the preparation of the script for the said commercial, which featured “a smiling baby.” Şimşek said the witness who alleged that Şimşek and the newspaper’s former editor in chief, Ekrem Dumanlı, had written the commercial’s screenplay together was not telling the truth. The script for the commercial had been written by the ad agency owned by Tibet Murat Sanlıman, Şimşek said.

Şimşek also rejected allegations that the commercial, which is purported to be “suggestive of a coup,” began to be broadcast exactly nine months and 10 days ahead of the July 15 coup attempt.

Şimşek was subjected to constant warnings from the chief judge over the length of his defense throughout his statement. When the chief judge eventually told Şimşek he had only one minute to wrap up his statement, Şimşek reacted: “I am facing life imprisonment over a TV commercial, and you are telling me to wrap up my defense statement in only one minute.”

Following Şimşek, Şükrü Tuğrul Özşengül, a retired Police Academy lecturer, began his defense statement. Özşengül told the court that he had only appeared in several programs on Samanyolu TV, and that he was not a media figure. Elaborating on his remarks in a show broadcast via YouTube on the night of the attempted coup, Özşengül said the allegations that he supported the coup in his remarks and called on the people to go out to the streets were not true.

Speaking after Özşengül, Tibet Murat Sanlıman, the owner of the advertising agency that produced the TV commercial for Zaman purported to be “evocative of a coup,” rejected the accusations in Şimşek’s statement. Sanlıman said that Zaman was considered a reputable institution by state authorities at the time when his agency made business with the newspaper.

Following the completion of Sanlıman’s defense, the court went on to hear the lawyers representing the defendants. Ilıcak’s lawyer Mikail Hasbek, who spoke first, asserted that evidence should be put forward and argued during the adjudication process as stipulated by Article 206 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CMK), but that this has not been the case in this trial.

“Has anyone ever seen a coup staged via newspaper columns or Twitter posts?” Hasbek told the court, adding: “If you are leveling accusations against someone, you should present evidence against them.”

Ilıcak: Coup was not result of my faulty judgment 

Ilıcak, in her defense statement she gave in the latter part of the previous session on February 13, rejected accusations against her: “It is impossible for a person such as myself who has no relation or connection with religious communities to be able to discern a ‘terrorist network’ that disguises itself. I might have been misguided in my ability to discern that, but the coup is not the result of my faulty judgment.”

Also touching upon an interview she made in 2015 with Zekeriya Öz, the controversial prosecutor behind the “Ergenekon trial,” Ilıcak said: “At the time he was not [known to be] a member of a terrorist organization. Had he been accused of membership in a terrorist network back then, could he have walked around freely? The BBC conducted an interview with Zekeriya Öz as well; was the BBC also trying to vindicate him at the time?”

The full text of Ilıcak’s defense, in Turkish, can be found here.

Altans’ lawyers: Our requests have been dismissed

Melike Polat, Ferat Çağıl and Figen Albuga Çalıkuşu, the lawyers representing Ahmet and Mehmet Altan, presented their comments in the latter part of the February 14 session of the hearing. Attorney Ergin Cinmen’s comments were cut short, to be continued during the next session.

Polat told the court that as the team of lawyers representing the Altan brothers they had filed a request to the court, asking permission to exhibit a visual presentation to accompany the Altans’ defense statements during the hearing. Polat said the court did not respond, leading the lawyers to surmise that this meant their request had been rejected.

Çağıl, who spoke after Polat, also highlighted during his remarks that as the team of lawyers representing the Altan brothers they had filed multiple requests concerning the collection of certain pieces of evidence but that these requests have either been rejected or ignored.

Court switches off lawyer’s microphone

Figen Albuga Çalıkuşu, who was speaking after Çağıl, said that the ongoing trial was “not legal but political, just like many other examples in history; and just like in those examples in history where ideas have been put on trial, in this trial too the rule of law has been suspended.”

“In this case file, the methods of choice in collecting evidence against and in favor [of the defendants] have been handpicking, distorting and manipulating” evidence, Çalıkuşu said.

She added that none of the witnesses who testified during the investigation supported the allegations in the indictment based on claims put forward by the witness Nurettin Veren.

Çalıkuşu said that the court has decided not to hear Veren as a witness, and that therefore his testimony should neither be part of the prosecutor’s final opinion nor regarded as material evidence.

Adding that “force and violence” were elements constituting the criminal offense of “staging a coup,” Çalıkuşu said Ahmet and Mehmet Altan’s only actions were writing articles and making comments.

Çalıkuşu, who received multiple warnings from the chief judge to wrap up her statement, failed to complete her statement when the judge switched off her microphone as the lawyer was still speaking.

Cinmen says never been expelled from court in 40-year career 

Ergin Cinmen, another lawyer from the team representing the Altan brothers, was the last attorney speaking on the third day of the hearing. Cinmen highlighted the violations the defendants and their lawyers encountered during the proceeding, particularly noting that time limitations imposed by the chief judge constituted a violation of the right to defense.

Cinmen pointed out that the trial court has also refused to acknowledge the Constitutional Court ruling concerning Mehmet Altan’s individual application, adding: “I got expelled from the courtroom as I was trying to request that this judgment [by the Constitutional Court] is included in the case file. I am a defense attorney with 40 years of experience. Never before have I been expelled from a courtroom.”

Adding that the right to not  reveal one’s thought or opinion was enshrined in the Turkish Constitution and that this right cannot be suspended even in times of war or state of emergency, Cinmen said: “The defendants are asked what they meant to say in their articles and their remarks on TV programs. This constitutes a violation of the freedom to not disclose one’s opinion.”

The court concluded the third session before Cinmen could wrap up his statement.

The 26th High Criminal Court of Istanbul is expected to issue its verdict on Friday, the last day of the hearing.