ETHA editor İsminaz Temel and reporter Havva Cuştan’s trial on charges of “membership in a terrorist organization” and “propaganda” adjourned until 13 March 2020

The seventh hearing in the trial of 23 defendants — including Etkin news agency (ETHA) editor İsminaz Temel and reporter Havva Cuştan —  on the charge of “membership in a terrorist organization” and “disseminating propaganda for a terrorist organization” was held on 26 November 2019 at the 27th High Criminal Court of Istanbul.

P24 monitored the hearing, which began 20 minutes later than scheduled. Eight of the defendants were in attendance with their lawyers in the courtroom. İsminaz Temel and Havva Cuştan were not present. 

The hearing began with lawyer Kader Tonç requesting the court to not allow the secret witnesses, Zafer Atılım and Eylül Kızılbaş, who had not been included in the file during the investigation, to testify. Tonç said the presiding judge had previously told that one of the witnesses had died a year ago and now he was a witness again in the case and the court decided to hear only one of the secret witnesses, Zafer Atılım.

Zafer Atılım addressed the court via SEGBIS, with his face blurred and voice altered. The presiding judge asked the witness to give information about the accused in the case. Zafer Atılım didn’t want to name anyone but said that there were those who he knew by name and others by sight, whom he claimed were actively involved in staging demonstrations.

Defense lawyer Sinan Zincir asked the secret witness if he had registered himself to be a secret witness in the case. The witness said that he had, but when asked if he had gone more than once to the police station, first he said that he didn’t want to respond and later he said he had gone only once. Lawyer Zincir reminded the witness that he had previously claimed to know only two of the defendants. “How can you now claim to know others?” Zincir asked. However, the witness again chose not to respond. Zincir asked the secret witness’ response to go in the minutes of the hearing, to which the presiding judge responded that this was “not obligatory.”

Lawyer Ömer Çakırgöz asked the court to transcribe in the minutes of the proceedings that the secret witness could not be properly heard by those in the courtroom. But the presiding judge asked the lawyer to not distract the court and he asked the security to call police officers to stand outside the courtroom. Afterwards, the presiding judge said that in principle he was against the practice of “secret witness testimony” but said the interim decision had already been rendered. 

The witness next claimed that two of the defendants, who he did not want to name, had been involved in illegal demonstrations. However, upon being questioned further he chose to use his right to remain silent. 

Addressing the court, İsminaz Temel’s lawyer Ömer Çakırgöz said that the secret witness had not said anything substantial about Temel. Çakırgöz reminded the court that his client is a journalist and she would like to also be able to do her work oversees and he requested Temel’s travel ban to be lifted. Çakırgöz asked the court to take into consideration the amicus brief by Article 19 presented to court during the previous hearing, which affirmed that his client was a journalist and this prosecution was a violation of her right to freedom of expression.

The court then deliberated on its interim decision in the presence of the prosecutor, the defense lawyers and all the other attendees. Taking into consideration the scope of the file and the existing evidence, the court ruled to not hear the remaining two secret witnesses. The court also ruled to inquire about the outcome of the forensic examination of digital equipment confiscated from the defendants of the Istanbul Police Department’s Cyber Crimes Unit. Ordering the continuation of the judicial measures imposed on the defendants, the court adjourned the trial until 13 March 2020.

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