Five defendants convicted in Özgürlükçü Demokrasi trial; Constitutional Court issues judgments in applications by Ahmet Altan, Nazlı Ilıcak, Deniz Yücel and nine other journalists
The final hearing in the trial of 14 staff members of the shuttered newspaper Özgürlükçü Demokrasi on terrorism-related charges took place on 28 June 2019 at the 23rd High Criminal Court of Istanbul.
The newspaper’s editors Mehmet Ali Çelebi and Reyhan Hacıoğlu and publisher İhsan Yaşar have been in pre-trial detention as part of the case since April 2018. All 14 defendants in the case were accused of “membership in a terrorist group,” “publishing statements by terrorist groups” and “disseminating propaganda for a terrorist group.”
At the end of the hearing, monitored by P24, the court convicted journalists Hicran Urun, Reyhan Hacıoğlu and İshak Yasul of “aiding a terrorist organization without being its member” and gave each other a prison term of 3 years, 1 month and 15 days. Yasul was also given an additional sentence of 1 year, 6 months and 22 days on the charge of “propaganda.” Mehmet Ali Çelebi was also convicted of “aiding a terrorist organization without being its member” and given a prison sentence of 3 years and 9 months.
The court ruled to release Hacıoğlu, Çelebi and Yaşar, however, Çelebi was not expected to be released immediately because of a previous conviction in another case.
Sendika.Org editor Ali Ergin Demirhan briefly detained
Sendika.Org editor Ali Ergin Demirhan was taken into custody on 28 June 2019 in Istanbul during a security check by the police. Demirhan was taken to the Aksaray Police Station. The grounds for his arrest was an ongoing investigation on the allegation that Demirhan “insulted the president” on social media. Demirhan was released after giving his statement at the Istanbul Courthouse.
Journalist Haydar Ergül’s trial adjourned until December
The trial of Haydar Ergül, the editor of the periodical Demokratik Modernite, and 18 others on the charge of “membership in a terrorist group” resumed on 28 June 2019 at the 22nd High Criminal Court of Istanbul. This was the ninth hearing in the case. The court ruled to release detained defendants Eşref Yaşar, Ayşegül Turhan, Mustafa Elma, Münevver İlingi and Aysel Diler and adjourned the trial until 26 December 2019.
Constitutional Court ruled for rights violation in Deniz Yücel’s application
The Constitutional Court on 28 June 2019 issued its judgment concerning the application on behalf of journalist Deniz Yücel, the former Turkey correspondent of the German newspaper Die Welt, who remained in pre-trial detention in Turkey for a year before being released by the trial court’s decision in February 2018.
In its judgment, dated 28 May 2019 and issued on 28 June 2019 on the court’s official website, the court’s Second Section ruled that Yücel’s pre-trial detention violated his rights to personal liberty and security, enshrined in Article 19 of the Constitution, and the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of the press, enshrined in Articles 26 and 28.
Top court issues judgment in Osman Kavala application
The Constitutional Court has issued its judgment concerning the application on behalf of Osman Kavala, who has been jailed pending trial since 1 November 2017. The court had rejected Kavala’s application on 22 May.
The judgment, issued on the court’s official website on 28 June 2019, included dissents by five judges of the Constitutional Court, including President Zühtü Arslan, who were of the opinion that Kavala’s detention violated his right to liberty and security.
Necmi Demir appears in court for supporting Academics for Peace
Necmi Demir, one of 18 rights defenders who turned themselves in to the authorities in support of the academics who are being prosecuted for signing 2016’s Academics for Peace petition, appeared in an Istanbul court on 27 June 2019 for the first hearing of his trial on the charge of “propaganda.”
The Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office has issued separate indictments against all 18. Demir’s trial is overseen by the 28th High Criminal Court of Istanbul.
Demir and his lawyer Meriç Eyüboğlu were in attendance in the courtroom. Demir rejected the accusation and requested to be acquitted. His lawyer told the court that the elements of the “propaganda” charge were not present in the case. She said the text for which Demir is accused should be deemed an exercising of the right to freedom of expression and requested her client’s immediate acquittal.
Rejecting the immediate acquittal request, the court agreed to grant Demir additional time for his defense statement and adjourned the trial until 31 October 2019.
Top court issues judgments in Ahmet Altan case, 13 others
The Constitutional Court’s Plenary has issued the judgments concerning its 3 May 2019 decisions, in which it rejected the individual applications filed on behalf of jailed journalists Ahmet Altan, Nazlı Ilıcak and former Cumhuriyet staff members including Murat Sabuncu and Ahmet Şık.
All nine applications, filed in 2016 and 2017, asserted that the applicants’ arrests violated their rights to liberty and security and freedom of expression and freedom of the press.
The top court’s judgments were published on 26 June 2019 on the court’s official website. The judgments concerning the rejected applications said, in a nutshell, that “the assessments made by the investigation authorities and the decisions rendered by the courts that ruled for [the journalists’] arrests could not be deemed as ‘arbitrary and baseless’.”
In Ahmet Altan’s application, the President of the Constitutional Court Zühtü Arslan, Vice President Engin Yıldırım and three other justices disagreed with the majority opinion. All five judges were of the opinion that Altan’s arrest violated his rights to liberty and security and freedom of expression and freedom of the press.
The judgments issued on 26 June also revealed that the Plenary had found Ahmet Şık’s application “inadmissible.”
A report about the judgments can be accessed here.
School teacher Ayşe Çelik acquitted in retrial
School teacher Ayşe Çelik appeared in an Istanbul court for her retrial on the charge of “disseminating propaganda for a terrorist group” on 26 June 2019 as per the Constitutional Court’s 9 May 2019 ruling that found a rights violation in Çelik’s case and ordered a retrial.
The Bakırköy 2nd High Criminal Court, which had convicted Çelik of the propaganda charge in 2017 in the original trial, acquitted her at the end of the first hearing of her retrial.
A report about the hearing can be accessed here.
Prosecutor seeks up to 15 years of imprisonment for Beritan Canözer
The second hearing in a trial where journalist Beritan Canözer is accused of “membership in a terrorist group” took place on 26 June 2019 at the 9th High Criminal Court of Diyarbakır.
Canözer and her lawyer Resul Tamur were in attendance in the courtroom. Statements by witnesses who testified against Canözer were first read out during the hearing. Addressing the court afterwards, Canözer rejected the accusations in the witness testimonies and told the court that she was a journalist and was only doing her job.
The prosecution then went on to submit their final opinion of the case, seeking up to 15 years in prison for Canözer on the charge of “membership in a terrorist group” as per Article 314/2 of the Turkish Penal Code (TCK) and Article 5 of the Law on the Fight against Terror (TMK), based on testimony by four witnesses.
Accepting Canözer’s request for additional time to prepare her defense statement in response to the prosecutor’s final opinion, the court adjourned the trial until October.
Ahmet Altan’s trial over 2009 column adjourned until September
The third hearing in a trial where jailed novelist and journalist Ahmet Altan is accused over a column he penned in 2009 in the now-defunct Taraf daily took place on 25 June 2019 at Istanbul’s Anadolu 2nd Criminal Court of First Instance.
Altan is accused of “attempting to influence a fair trial” and “violating the confidentiality of an investigation” in the case, filed upon a complaint by former Sakarya Chief of Police Faruk Ünsal.
Altan, who has been imprisoned in the Silivri Prison since September 2016, addressed the court via the video-conferencing system SEGBİS for the hearing. His lawyer Figen Albuga Çalıkuşu was in attendance in the courtroom.
Rejecting the accusations, Altan requested to be acquitted. Lawyer Çalıkuşu told the court that a compensation case also filed by Ünsal over the same column had previously been rejected by a court, which was upheld by the Supreme Cıourt of Appeals in 2018. Çalıkuşu requested Altan’s acquittal.
In its interim ruling, the court decided to ask the Ankara 1st Civil Court of First Instance, which rejected the compensation case, for the original case file, and adjourned the trial until 5 September 2019.
“Gezi Park trial” gets under way
The first courtroom hearing in the “Gezi Park trial,” where 16 civil society members, including jailed businessperson Osman Kavala, face aggravated life imprisonment on the charge of “attempting to overthrow the government” over their alleged involvement in 2013’s nationwide Gezi Park protests, got under way on 24 June 2019 in Istanbul.
The court ruled to release the jailed civil society executive Yiğit Aksakoğlu from pre-trial detention at the end of the two-day hearing while ordering the continuation of Kavala’s detention on remand and adjourned the trial until 18 and 19 July 2019.
A report about the hearing, monitored by P24, can be accessed here.
Journalist Meryem Yıldırım sentenced in first hearing
Journalist Meryem Yıldırım appeared before the 36th High Criminal Court of Istanbul on 19 June 2019 for the first hearing of her trial on the charge of “disseminating propaganda for a terrorist organization” over her social media posts.
Yıldırım and her lawyer Özgür Urfa were in attendance during the hearing. Addressing the court for her defense statement, Yıldırım said the social media posts for which she is accused were from over two years ago and that she did not remember posting them. Her lawyer asked the prosecution to take the recent Constitutional Court judgment in the case of teacher Ayşe Çelik into consideration in their final opinion.
The prosecutor then submitted their final opinion of the case, claiming that Yıldırım’s posts could not be deemed an exercising of the right to freedom of expression and asking the court to convict Yıldırım of “systematically disseminating propaganda for a terrorist organization.” In her statement in response to the prosecutor’s final opinion, Yıldırım rejected the accusation and asked to be acquitted.
Yıldırım’s lawyer said the evidence in the case file was collected in an unlawful manner, without first obtaining a court order for her social media accounts to be investigated. Asserting that Yıldırım’s posts neither constituted crime nor called for violence the lawyer requested Yıldırım’s acquittal.
Issuing its verdict at the end of the first hearing, the court convicted Yıldırım of the propaganda charge and handed down a sentence of 2 years, 4 months and 3 days. The court did not grant any reductions or defer the sentence.
List of journalists and media workers in prison
As of 28 June 2019 at least 140 journalists and media workers are in prison in Turkey, either in pre-trial detention or serving a sentence.
The full list can be accessed here.