Editors and columnists of Özgür Gündem and journalists who joined solidarity campaign with shuttered daily back at courts in “terrorism” trials
An Istanbul court ruled on 10 October to lift an international travel ban on Eren Keskin, a lawyer and human rights defender who was a co-editor-in-chief and writer of the shuttered Özgür Gündem newspaper.
Announcing its interim ruling at the end of the tenth hearing in the long-running Özgür Gündem main trial, the Istanbul 23rd High Criminal Court also ordered the continued pre-trial detention of the newspaper’s owner Kemal Sancılı.
The hearing was attended by Eren Keskin, linguist and a former Editorial Advisory Board member of Özgür Gündem Necmiye Alpay and the newspaper’s former responsible managing editor İnan Kızılkaya. Sancılı attended the court session via court video-conferencing system SEGBİS.
In her short address to the court, Keskin said her trial was in violation of international conventions. “I am on trial because of articles I did not write,” she said. “I am here because my freedom of expression is violated.”
Sancılı told the court through SEGBİS that their prosecution was against the Press Law, which sets out rules on criminal liability of members of the press and time limitations. Sancılı also requested his release.
Lawyer Özcan Kılıç reiterated the request for Sancılı’s release, saying his lengthy imprisonment has already gone beyond limits of pre-trial detention. Kılıç also requested the lifting of the travel ban on Keskin, recalling that she is a co-president of the Human Rights Association (İHD) and running for the chairperson of the Istanbul Bar Association. “She needs to travel freely to fulfill her professional duties,” Kılıç said.
Speaking after statements by defendants and their lawyers, the prosecutor asked the court to order continuation of Sancılı’s detention, citing flight risk, and to lift the judicial control measures on Keskin as requested by the defense.
In its interim ruling, the court agreed to lift Keskin’s travel ban and to keep Sancılı in pre-trial detention. The next hearing in the case will be held on 17 January 2019.
A total of nine defendants, Eren Keskin, Filiz Koçali, Aslı Erdoğan, Necmiye Alpay, Ragıp Zarakolu, Zana (Bilir) Kaya, İnan Kızılkaya, Kemal Sancılı and Bilge Aykut are on trial in the Özgür Gündem case. Defendants, who include Özgür Gündem’s editors, Editorial Advisory Board members and columnists, are charged with “disrupting the unity of the state,” “terrorist group membership” and “propaganda for a terrorist organization.”
Solidarity case adjourned
Another Özgür Gündem trial, where 13 defendants face “terrorism propaganda” charges for joining a campaign of solidarity with the newspaper in the summer of 2016 by symbolically editing the newspaper for a day, was also held on the same day.
The Istanbul 14th High Criminal Court which oversees the trial, ruled to ask the Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office to state dates of publication for each copies of the newspaper that are deemed to be constituting an offence. It then adjourned the trial until 28 March 2019.
Defendants in the case, most of whom are journalists, include Ertuğrul Mavioğlu, Faruk Eren, Celal Başlangıç, Ömer Ağın, İhsan Çaralan, Celalettin Can, Fehim Işık, Öncü Akgül, Hüseyin Aykol, Veysel Kemer, Yüksel Oğuz, Mehmet Şirin Taşdemir and Dilşah Karakaya.
During the hearing, the prosecutor repeated his final opinion on the case file that was submitted to the court at a previous hearing. The final opinion seeks up to 13 years for Hüseyin Aykol for “systematic propaganda for a terrorist organization” and up to 7.5 years for the remaining defendants for “terrorism propaganda.”
Lawyer for defendants Özcan Kılıç, on the other hand, said the final opinion should be revised, listing a series of alleged flaws in its current version.
Announcing its interim ruling at the end of the hearing, which was the ninth one, the court said defendant Veysel Kemer’s request to present his defense statement in Kurdish was rejected by a court in Osmaniye, where Kemer is held in pre-trial detention as part of a separate case. The court said the court in Osmaniye would be asked to make necessary arrangements to receive Kemer’s defense statement through a translator, saying the court does not have a properly obtained defense statement for Kemer.