ETHA editor Semiha Şahin and reporter Pınar Gayıp appear before court for the first time after five months of detention

 

Two journalists for Etkin News Agency (ETHA), editor Semiha Şahin and reporter Pınar Gayıp, appeared for the first time before court on 10 September after five months in pre-trial detention.

The 23rd High Criminal Court of Istanbul, which oversees the case, ruled to continue the detention of both journalists and two other defendants, Ferhat Harun Pehlivan and Gülsen İmre. The court postponed the trial and scheduled 5 December 2018 as the date of the next hearing.

Şahin and Gayıp were detained on charges “membership in a terrorist organization” and “conducting propaganda for a terrorist organization” while the two other defendants of the case, Pehlivan, who has interned for ETHA, and İmre face the sole charge of “terror propaganda. The trial was monitored by P24, English PEN and several news organizations. 

Şahin: This is a political trial

ETHA editor Şahin said they were facing charges of membership in a terrorist organization for working for ETHA. “Freedom of information is a universal norm,” she said. “But (the indictment) considers ETHA as an illegal organization, the agency’s workers are criminalized and its news reports presented as evidence of a crime. This is why I would argue that this is not a legal, but a political trial.”

Durin her defense statements, Şahin also noted ETHA’s report on their detention was used as evidence. “During our detention in police custody we engaged in a hunger strike to protest the house raid arrest carried out by police officers, including special operation forces. This was also used as an evidence against us in the indictment,” she said. Evidence against her included 3-4 social media posts that she said had been picked out of her more than 7,000 tweets. “We are considered as usual suspects and arrested when it’s opportune. How can there be a fair trial with such approach?” she asked. 

For her part, Pınar Gayıp said she wasn’t called to testify by the police before being arrested. “I have lived in the same house since I came to Istanbul, worked at the same agency and came to the courthouse to follow trials almost every day,” she said. “I have never been called to testify even once. Instead, my house was raided at dawn by police wearing balaclavas and holding long barrelled weapons.” Following their arrest by police, they were sent to pre-trial detention without testifying to the prosecutor despite remaining seven days in custody, Gayıp said. “I’m sure that I will be acquitted if the court abides by the law,” Gayıp told the court, demanding her release. 

Lawyers speaking at the hearing criticized that rallies or commemorations both journalists attended 3 or 4 years ago were presented as evidence in the case. “If my client committed a crime by attending those demonstrations 3-4 years ago, why didn’t the police department report it to the prosecution then? How come these demonstrations can be presented as an evidence 3-4 years later when there had been no warnings, no police dispersal and no arrest?” Semiha Şahin’s lawyer Özcan Karakoç asked. 

Pınar Gayıp’s lawyer Kader Tonç said documents certifying that ETHA is a legal agency and her client was legally working for them had been submitted to the court. “Could you imagine a terrorist organization having official documents attesting that a certain person is their employee?” she told the court. 

Following the defense, the prosecutor demanded the continuation of the detention of all four defendants in the case arguing that there were “elements missing” in the case. Following a short break, the court ruled that all four defendants should remain in detention pending trial, setting 5 December 2018 as the date of the next hearing. 

Meanwhile, journalists who were asked to leave the courtroom as during the deliberation of the demands of release, could not observe the announcement of the court’s decision over the head judge’s demand. Journalists who followed the hearing protested the head judge’s attitude, considering it a “lack of transparency”.