Expression Interrupted

Journalists and academics bear the brunt of the massive crackdown on freedom of expression in Turkey. Scores of them are currently subject to criminal investigations or behind bars. This website is dedicated to tracking the legal process against them.

Büyükada trial adjourned until April

Büyükada trial adjourned until April

After hearing five defendants and some of the defense lawyers, court rules to adjourn the trial, citing lengthy defense statements

CANSU PİŞKİN, ISTANBUL

The trial of 11 human rights defenders accused of “aiding an armed terrorist organization” and “membership of a terrorist organization” for attending a meeting in Istanbul’s Büyükada concerning the safety of rights defenders resumed on 19 February 2020 at the 35th High Criminal Court of Istanbul.

This was the 11th hearing in the trial, where Amnesty Turkey’s Taner Kılıç is accused of “membership of a terrorist organization” and 10 other HRDs are charged with “aiding a terörist organization without being its member.”

The prosecutor demanded in his final opinion submitted during the previous hearing that the court convict Taner Kılıç, Günal Kurşun, İdil Eser, Özlem Dalkıran, Nejat Taştan and Veli Acu as charged and acquit Peter Frank Steudtner, Ali Gharavi, İlknur Üstün, Nalan Erkem and Muhammed Şeyhmus Özbekli based on lack of evidence.

Defendants Nejat Taştan, Taner Kılıç, Veli Acu, Günal Kurşun and İlknur Üstün were in attendance at the 11th hearing, at the end of which the court was expected to issue its verdict. However, after hearing the final arguments of five defendants and some of the defense lawyers, the panel ruled to adjourn the trial until 3 April, citing lengthy defense statements.

In addition to P24, representatives from the Delegation of the European Union to Turkey, HDP deputy Ahmet Şık, CHP deputy Sezgin Tanrıkulu and representatives from numerous local and international civil society organizations were among those observing the hearing. A large number of spectators, including press members, could not enter the courtroom due to limited seating capacity.

The court first heard the final defense statement of Kılıç, who once again denied the prosecutor’s allegation that he had downloaded and used ByLock, an encrypted mobile messaging app purported to be used exclusively by the members of the Fethullah Gülen community. He asserted that law enforcement and expert reports submitted to the case file confirmed that he was not a ByLock user.

Kılıç added that his brother-in-law Mehmet Kamış’s former employment with the shuttered Zaman newspaper as deputy editor-in-chief to be held among grounds for the accusation leveled against him in the prosecutor’s final opinion was against the principle of individual criminal responsibility.

Asserting that the Büyükada meeting did not involve any criminal elements, Kılıç said this trial was aimed at criminalizing and defaming the 11 HRDs and their respective organizations and asked to be acquitted.

“Human rights put on trial”

Addressing the court next, Günal Kurşun said the investigation against him was not properly conducted.

Kurşun said: “This trial is publicly known as the Büyükada trial, but the Büyükada [meeting] was not discussed in the courtroom save for the first hearing. Instead, this turned into a trial where human rights defenders and human rights are put on trial. The prosecutor is asking the court to punish me for ‘aiding a terrorist group’ but neither the indictment nor the prosecutor’s final opinion includes even a single clue, let alone evidence supporting this accusation.”

Kurşun asserted that the fee he was paid for an article he had penned for the shuttered Zaman newspaper cannot be held as grounds for the accusation against him. “In that case, Presidential Spokesperson İbrahim Kalın should also be facing charges,” Kurşun said, referring to Kalın’s time as a columnist for Today’s Zaman, adding: “I don’t think he was writing for free.” Kurşun requested to be acquitted.

Veli Acu addressed the court next. Asserting that he is a human rights defender, Acu said their actions as rights defenders were being put on trial and asked to be acquitted.

The court heard İlknur Üstün next. Üstün told the court that the Büyükada meeting was no different than similar human rights-themed sessions held at the Parliament or at various city halls or civil society organizations. Asserting that she and her co-defendants were on trial under similar circumstances, Üstün asked the court to acquit all of her co-defendants.

Addressing the court next, Nejat Taştan said that the trial was aimed at intimidating the civil society and rights defenders, adding that he would nevertheless continue striving for human rights and a constitutional state.

Trial adjourned

Following the defendants, their lawyers began addressing the court in response to the prosecutor’s final opinion. In their statements, lawyers representing Taner Kılıç, İlknur Üstün, Veli Acu, Günal Kurşun and İdil Eser said the prosecutor’s final opinion was based on subjective assessments and that the accusations were not based on substantial evidence.

After hearing İdil Eser’s lawyer Erdal Doğan during the afternoon session, the presiding judge told those in attendance that the court had planned to conclude the hearing by 5 p.m. but that since defense statements took longer than they’d expected, it would not be possible to hear all defense lawyers until 5 p.m. and suggested to postpone the trial. Although some of the defense lawyers objected, the court ended the hearing at 4:40 p.m. and adjourned the trial until 3 April 2020, when the remaining defense statements will be heard.

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