Court refuses to release Kılıç despite favorable police report, adjourns trial until 7 November
An Istanbul court ruled on 21 June to keep Taner Kılıç, the honorary chair of the Amnesty Turkey, in prison despite police reports indicating that he, contrary to the prosecutor’s claim, did not use an encrypted smart phone messaging application that authorities consider to be the evidence of “FETÖ membership.”
Kılıç has been in pre-trial detention for over a year on the charge of “membership in FETÖ.” He stands trial along with ten other human rights defenders who were arrested during a meeting in Istanbul’s Büyükada last July.
Amnesty International representatives, including Secretary General Salil Shetty, traveled to Istanbul to attend the hearing. P24 was among the civil rights organizations monitoring the trial.
Prior to the hearing, the Istanbul 35th High Criminal Court received a police report on digital materials seized from Kılıç, indicated that, contrary to the prosecutor’s claim, Kılıç was not a user of the messaging application, ByLock. Later in the hearing, the presiding judge said the court also received an additional report confirming the same result.
The court indicated in its decision that the reports were deemed insufficient to order Kılıç’s release.
During Thursday’s hearing, the court heard two witnesses – an interpreter and a secret witness.
The first witness said there was nothing secret about the meeting, that workers of the hotel in Büyükada where the meeting took place were coming in and out of the meeting room to bring tea or coffee.
Asked whether Kılıç was mentioned as the organizer of the meeting, the witness said he did not remember anyone talk of Kılıç as the organizer. He also said there was no “chaos plan” discussed at the meeting and that he would have left had this been the case.
The secret witness, who testified via video-conferencing system on a pixelated screen, said he heard bits and pieces of the discussions at the meeting as he was on his way use the toilette next to the meeting room.
When asked to elaborate on some of his earlier incriminating statements against the defendants, the secret witness said he could not repeat what he said then because it was a long time ago but added that he had told the truth.
During the cross-examination of the secret witness, lawyers also raised contradictions in his statements while identifying the defendants and his statement at the court. The witness had earlier said he was able to identify the defendants because he saw them through the door left ajar, while at the court session, he said he saw them in the garden of the hotel.
The secret witness also refused to answer several questions from the defense lawyers, saying they were aimed to “reveal his identity.”
Taner Kılıç: Indictment has collapsed
Following the witness statements, Kılıç, who addressed the court via video-conferencing system SEGBİS, commented on the latest digital forensics report sent to the court by the police.
Kılıç reminded that he was released by the court at the end of the hearing on 31 January but was rearrested when the prosecutor objected to the decision, “by copying and pasting from the indictment.”
Kılıç said he was accused for “his role in the organization of the meeting” in Büyükada, even though he was never involved in organizing the gathering. Kılıç was arrested and jailed pending trial a month before the Büyükada meeting.
“The court ruled to have the next hearing five months later because it decided to release me but I ended up waiting in prison for the next hearing for half a year because I was rearrested. Our requests to move the hearing to an earlier date were rejected,” Kılıç said.
Kılıç also said the police report on his digital materials were so thorough and extensive that even his e-mails from 15 years ago went through screening. “Perhaps no one else has been subjected to such a detailed examination,” he said.
Noting that even advertisement e-mails from a bookstore chain and a charity known to be linked to the Gülen movement and family photos were included among the findings of the report, Kılıç asked: “Can familial ties be the evidence of crime?”
Kılıç also reminded that the police report that was received by the court confirmed that he had not used ByLock and the court still requested an additional report to be extra clear. At that point, the presiding judge intervened to say that the additional report also arrived at the morning and that it also showed that he was not a ByLock user.
Kılıç said then it was clear that the indictment has collapsed, requesting his release. Kılıç’s lawyers also insisted that he should be released in the light of the new police reports.
Defense lawyers also criticized the secret witness’ statement, saying he made accusations based on what he had heard on the way to the bathroom and that his status as secret witness should be terminated as the criteria for giving someone that status had nor been met in this matter.
About the case
Kılıç, along with ten other human rights defenders who were arrested during a meeting in Istanbul’s Büyükada island in July 2017, face terrorism-related charges as part of the case. Kılıç was arrested a month before the Büyükada meeting participants as part of a separate investigation.
At the end of the first hearing in the trial on 25 October, the court released all eight imprisoned defendants — Günal Kurşun, İlknur Üstün, İdil Eser, Nalan Erkem, Peter Steudtner, Ali Gharawi, Özlem Dalkıran and Veli Acu. Dalkıran and Acu were, however, given an international flight ban. Judicial control measures for Şeyhmus Özbekli and Nejat Taştan, who were released earlier in the same case pending trial, were lifted.
The court also ruled to merge the case with Kılıç’s case at that hearing. On 31 January, the court ruled to release Kılıç but he was immediately rearrested after the prosecutor objected to the decision.
The indictment seeks up to 15 years in prison for Kılıç for “membership in a terrorist organization” and up to 10 years in prison for the other defendants on the charge of “aiding a terrorist organization.”