All final defense statements completed on the first day of the eighth hearing
The final hearing in the Cumhuriyet trial, where journalists and executives of the newspaper are standing trial on “aiding an armed terrorist organization without being its member” and “abuse of authority” charges, got under way on April 24, 2018, at the 27th High Criminal Court of Istanbul.
The court is expected to render its verdict on the case at the end of the hearing.
On the first day of the hearing, the defendants gave their defense statements in response to the prosecutor’s final opinion, submitted during the latest hearing of the case, on March 16.
The hearing opened with Cumhuriyet Executive Board Chair Akın Atalay’s address to the court concerning documents that were submitted to the court after the latest hearing.
Following Atalay’s address, the court went on to hear the final defense statements, beginning with that of columnist Kadri Gürsel. In his statement, Gürsel responded to accusations against him, saying the accusations are based on one of his columns, his phone conversations with press members who worked in media outlets that were said to make up the “media leg of FETÖ” (FETÖ being the acronym for Fethullahist Terrorist Organization, the name given by the government to the religious network led by Fethullah Gülen), and his 34-day stint as the newspaper’s editorial consultant.
“I am against violence. The fact that I opposed to [Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan being shown as a father figure cannot be deemed a call for violence. There is no rule in democracies that prevents one from criticizing a president,” Gürsel said. Also touching upon his phone conversations with employees of the shuttered Feza Media Inc, which was the parent company of the Zaman daily, Gürsel said: “These conversations comprise a total of nine text messages and several calls that lasted 240 seconds at most. Most of these conversations were calls seeking my comments on press freedom. But I have never given them any comments.”
Gürsel added: “It is being alleged that the editorial policy of the newspaper changed radically in three years’ time. What could I have done [to make this change happen] in only 34 days?” Gürsel requested his acquittal.
“Case aimed at seizing Cumhuriyet”
Following Gürsel, Atalay spoke once more, this time to make his final defense statement.
Making a reference in his statement to the Ergenekon investigation, in which the newspaper’s late chief columnist İlhan Selçuk was targeted in the investigation and accused of masterminding the bombings on the Cumhuriyet newspaper offices on account of one of his newspaper columns, Atalay said that Selçuk’s article was a satire meant to criticize the rest of the media which had remained silent on the attacks on the newspaper during that period. Atalay explained that the accusation Selçuk faced back then were based on sentences handpicked from Selçuk’s column.
Continued Atalay: “The reason I’m telling this is, today’s prosecutors too, just like Ergenekon prosecutors did, frame and discredit suspects beforehand, and then issue indictments that are thousands of pages long about them. The point of this indictment too is to seize the newspaper and transfer it to docile hands.”
Atalay added that it was clear from the indictment that they were standing trial on account of their journalistic activities. “The political authority aims to take full control of the media, as though it were not enough to take control of all state institutions. This trial is a part of this plan,” Atalay added.
“We cannot let press freedom get strangled once again by reason of this trial,” Atalay said.
Following Atalay, columnist and reader representative Güray Öz gave his defense statement, in which he highlighted that in law, there was no crime definition such as “changing a newspaper’s editorial policy.” Speaking after Öz, cartoonist Musa Kart also gave his defense statement, in which he said that in Turkey so many journalists, politicians, students are in jail, and that this did not paint a good picture of Turkey.
Ahmet Kemal Aydoğdu, a co-defendant in the case who is purported to be the user of the Twitter account with the handle “JeansBiri” and is facing up to 15 years in prison on the charge of “leading a terrorist organization,” said in his defense statement that although it had become clear in the indictment that the said account was not his, he has been in detention on remand for 18 months. In response to the allegation that he used 28 different phone numbers, Aydoğdu said those phone numbers belonged to other people who have the same first name and last name as him. He rejected the accusations and requested his acquittal.
“A dangerous blow to freedom of expression”
Bülent Utku, one of Cumhuriyet newspaper’s attorneys, who is among the suspects in the case, said the trial was a “politically motivated operation.” Utku said the prosecutor’s final opinion paved the way to punishing journalistic activities although there were no elements of crime in news reports and columns. “This is a new milestone, a dangerous blow to freedom of thought and freedom of expression,” he said, adding: “I believe, just as in all politically motivated trials, this trial will not serve justice. I hope I’m wrong.”
Speaking after Utku, columnist Hakan Kara gave his statement, in which he also said that this case was one in which not only the Cumhuriyet newspaper, but journalism and freeom of expression in general were being put on trial.
Önder Çelik, a member of the executive board of the Cumhuriyet Foundation, who is also among the defendants, said in his statement that the accusations have already been proven to be baseless.
Sabuncu: Journalism is about love
Cumhuriyet editor in chief Murat Sabuncu, who was released from pretrial detention in Silivri early March, gave a rather brief defense statement in which he said journalism was all about loving one’s occupation, adding, “one has to honor this love, whether its price at times may be going to prison.”
Sabuncu’s statement was followed by that of reporter Ahmet Şık, who was also released from pretrial detention on the same day as Sabuncu. Şık began his statement by recalling that this was his second time in prison for his journalistic activities, noting that the first time was because of a setup by the Gülen network.
Şık continued: “When you take the rule of law out of the government, what remains is not called a government but a gang. Therefore, the words that I used for the members of the Gülen network apply to those who have taken part in the current setup. I wish they are put on trial at truly impartial and independent courts that follow the universal standards of law.”
Şık added that he was sticking to his previous defense statement, which he was prevented from delivering in full before the court on grounds that it was “political” during the trial’s December 25, 2017, hearing, where he was expelled from the courtroom by the chief judge.
Şık wrapped up his statement, saying, “Journalism is not a crime.”
Cumhuriyet Foundation Executive Board member Mustafa Kemal Güngör, in his defense statement, said the accusation of “abuse of authority” was put in the case file in order to destroy the public image of Cumhuriyet columnists and executives.
Güngör added: “All the world is waiting for the verdict in this case. This verdict will go down in the history of law.”
Cumhuriyet’s book supplement editor Turhan Günay said in his statement that despite everything that has been said throughout the nine months of hearings, the prosecutor was still reiterating the allegations in the beginning of the case, adding: “Therefore, I consider any further comments from that point onwards as blabber.”
Cumhuriyet columnist Aydın Engin also said in his statement that each defendant heard by the court since the beginning of the trial has proven the accusations wrong. He said that after the collapse of the financial allegations, the only basis left for the case to rest on was the newspaper’s editorial policy, adding: “Yes, we did change the newspaper’s editorial policy, and we did not ask permission from the prosecutor for that. We could do it again if we wanted to, and we don’t need to ask anyone’s permission.”
Cumhuriyet Foundation President Orhan Erinç also said in his statement that the case was politically motivated, adding that his claim was based on the fact that a majority of the witnesses heard throughout the trial were from the Patriotic Party (Vatan Partisi).
Following the completion of the defendants’ statements, the court went on to hear the lawyers.
Ergin Cinmen: There can be no fair trial on instruction
Following the remarks of lawyers representing Kadri Gürsel and Hikmet Çetinkaya, lawyer Ergin Cinmen addressed the court representing Bülent Utku.
Cinmen told the court that this trial was in violation of the right to not explain one’s opinion, which, according to the Constitution, cannot even be derogated from during states of emergency. Cinmen said: “Journalists are being asked why they chose to use certain words in a certain headline, placed on the front page above the newspaper’s logo. The defendants are forced to disclose their personal views.”
“For an indictment to be lawful, the allegations in it have to be in accordance with the rule of law, universal norms of law, and human rights. The right to a fair trial also requires a decent trial. Which means, this trial should be overseen by decent people. A fair trial can only be possible through an honest judiciary and an honest trial. If one is giving a judgment based on others’ instruction and the zeitgeist, this cannot be a fair trial. … But looking at the indictment in this case, the procedures and the final opinion, we can say it’s not an honest trial. This case is in violation of the right to an honest trial,” Cinmen said.