Çayan Demirel and Ertuğrul Mavioğlu each sentenced to 4 years and 6 months in prison on the charge of “disseminating propaganda for a terrorist group”

Journalist Ertuğrul Mavioğlu and documentary filmmaker Çayan Demirel, the co-directors of the documentary Bakur (North), were convicted of “disseminating propaganda for a terrorist organization” on 18 July 2019, at what was the final hearing of their trial, where neither the filmmakers nor their lawyers were in attendance.

The defense lawyers had submitted letters of excuse to the court, which the panel ignored. Convicting Mavioğlu and Demirel without hearing their final defense statements, the 2nd High Criminal Court of Batman sentenced both to 4 years and 6 months in prison. The court also imposed international travel bans on both Mavioğlu and Demirel.

The court initially sentenced each to 3 years in prison. The sentences were increased on the grounds that “the crime had been committed through the press.”

Demirel and Mavioğlu’s 2015 documentary was about PKK militants’ withdrawal during the short-lived Kurdish-Turkish Peace Process.

Erkan Şenses, one of the defense lawyers, pointed out the absurdity of the court’s suspicion that “the defendants might commit a crime again,” considering the fact that a health report about Demirel, who had a stroke, established that the filmmaker was 90 percent disabled, and the report was already in the case file.

Şenses added that the sentences were increased and there were no lawyers present during their delivery. Şenses compared the ruling that was simply over artistic expression to the period that followed the 12 September 1980 coup.

The trial court was actually expected to render its verdict at the previous hearing. However, the trial was adjourned until 18 July since the court ruled to inquire of judicial authorities in Ankara about whether another ongoing investigation against Mavioğlu was over the same topic.

The case is now headed to a Regional Court of Justice for the appellate hearing.

The court’s verdict is one of the heaviest punishments recorded so far on a propaganda charge. The same court had also handed down prison sentences over two years to filmmaker Veysi Altay and the former manager of the Batman Yılmaz Güney Movie Theatre, Dicle Anter, over a documentary titled Nû Jîn

According to Turkish law, in “propaganda” convictions, only sentences that are less than two years can be deferred.

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