İbrahim Aydın, Barış İnce, Can Uğur and Bülent Yılmaz are charged with “aiding a terrorist organization” over BirGün’s online coverage of Twitter account named Fuat Avni

CANSU PİŞKİN, ISTANBUL

BirGün daily’s executives İbrahim Aydın, Barış İnce, Can Uğur and Bülent Yılmaz appeared before the 32nd High Criminal Court of Istanbul on 26 November 2019 for the first hearing of their trial on the charge of “aiding a terrorist organization without being its member.” 

The four are accused over news coverage of posts by the Twitter account “Fuat Avni” featured in the online edition of the newspaper between 2014 and 2015.

P24 monitored the hearing, which began later than scheduled. Aydın, İnce, Uğur and Yılmaz were in attendance with their lawyers in the courtroom.

The court first heard the statement of Barış İnce, the managing editor of the newspaper at the time the news stories were posted online. İnce told the court that the news reports about “Fuat Avni” were published before the 15 July 2016 coup attempt and many news websites, including Hürriyet and Mynet, had reported on the account. İnce said, “We had no intention of committing a crime.”

The presiding judge asked İnce about the process of verifying news and the sources used. İnce said that other newspapers, news agencies and social media accounts were among sources used. News about Fuat Avni were widely read and reported on at the time, he told the court.

Speaking afterwards, Yılmaz said that as the publisher of the newspaper from 2006 until the end of 2014, he had no editorial responsibility over the content of the stories published. He also said that the allegation against BirGün was leveled on the grounds of an account that was followed by everyone and covered by all news sources at the time.

Addressing the court next, Cansever Uğur, who was the political editor of the paper, said it was out of the question for BirGün, known to have a stance against religious movements, to be engaged in “aiding a terrorist organization.” “Information that has become public is information that needs to be written about by journalists,” Uğur said.

Aydın told that BirGün was an independent newspaper and he recounted about his past as a left-wing activist. He said it was a source of embarrassment for him and the newspaper he represents to be mentioned in connection with “FETÖ” and such allegations only aimed to disrepute what they stood for.

Speaking next, lawyer Tolgay Güvercin presented the court criticisms of the Gülen movement published by BirGün. “How could journalists know the truth about those who had managed to fool the very top of the government?” Güvercin told the court. “There is no crime here,” the lawyer said.

Lawyer Ali Deniz Ceylan said that recently journalists were being wrongly accused of “manipulating public opinion.” He continued: “The judiciary says it is the responsibility of journalists to reveal the tangible truth. The place to evaluate the mistakes committed by journalists are not criminal courts, they are places where journalists are not under pressure. Free press has been destroyed and this should be discussed in public, not here. We are talking about an organization that has emerged after [the coup attempt of] 15 July. The first court verdict that declared that FETÖ was a terrorist organization was rendered in 2017. The charge of knowingly and willingly aiding a terörist organization is a crime that cannot be applied to this case. In terms of this, the indictment is wrong.”

Lawyer Erdal Fatih Çanakçı said that the actions of the defendants were within the scope of freedom of the press.

After hearing the defense statements, the panel deliberated in the presence of the audience. In its interim ruling, the panel ruled to adjourn the trial until 5 March 2020 to allow time for the prosecution to draft their final opinion and for the preparation of the final defense statements.

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