“It is plausible that these charges are politically motivated, and that they represent a grave incursion into freedom of expression and freedom of the press in Turkey”

 

The Bar Human Rights Committee of England and Wales (BHRC) released an interim trial observation report on the Zaman trial ahead of the final hearing in the case this week, raising serious concerns over violations of international law, including freedom of expression and freedom of the press, as well as fair trial rights in Turkey.

Eleven former columnists and editors of the shuttered newspaper will appear before the Istanbul 13th High Criminal Court on 5-6 July for the final hearing of the case, where they face coup and terrorism-related charges. BHRC Vice Chair Schona Jolly QC observed two tranches of the trial in Istanbul in May and June.

The defendants include columnists Şahin Alpay, Mümtazer Türköne, Lale Kemal, Ahmet Turan Alkan, Nuriye Akman, editors Mehmet Özdemir and İbrahim Karayeğen, as well as lawyer and columnist Orhan Kemal Cengiz, who penned columns for Zaman’s English-language sister daily, Today’s Zaman. Cengiz also represented Zaman before Turkey’s Constitutional Court and has appeared in cases against Turkey in the European Court of Human Rights. 

Four of the 11 defendants, Ahmet Turan Alkan, Mümtazer Türköne, İbrahim Karayeğen and Mustafa Ünal, remain in pre-trial detention at Silivri prison, where they have been held for almost two years.

The report, released on 2 July, states that the charges and allegations against the defendants, alongside the manner in which the attendant evidence has been presented and pursued at trial, “give rise to a serious inference that there is no prima facie case against these defendants.” 

“BHRC observes that the paucity of the Prosecutor’s evidence gives rise to the potential conclusion that such charges are manifestly ill-founded, that they have been improperly brought and pursued by the Prosecutor’s office, and that Defendants so charged have been arbitrarily and unlawfully deprived of their liberty. Placing this in the context of the very tight and broad clampdown on civil society, journalists, lawyers, academics and judges that has taken place since the coup attempt, BHRC considers that it is plausible that these charges are politically motivated, and that they represent a grave incursion into freedom of expression and freedom of the press in Turkey,” BHRC said in a press release.

BHRC Vice Chair Schona Jolly said although this is an interim report, prepared before the verdict is out, “very serious human rights failings appear to have been raised by what we have seen so far, including for those defendants who remain in detention.” 

“Despite the seriousness of the charges, and the aggravated life sentences sought by the Prosecutor for some of the defendants, the evidence which has been relied upon to bring and pursue these charges appears farcical and fundamentally ill-considered,” she said. 

“It does not come close to the standard required by international law, or indeed Turkey’s domestic law, which raises the question as to why these charges are being pursued at all. This appears to be a situation in which journalists are being tried for employing everyday tools of their trade, such as common words or rhetorical phrases which, without more and without taking into account the context of the whole piece or the historical and political context in which their articles were written, do not begin to make out the elements of the serious terrorism crimes with which they are charged. Journalism itself does not constitute a crime.”

You can read the full report here.