Court commutes Cemal’s sentence on “propaganda” charge to a judicial fine of TL 3,360

P24’s founding president and T24 columnist Hasan Cemal was given a prison sentence of 3 months and 22 days on the charge of “disseminating propaganda for a terrorist organization” on 7 May 2019. Cemal was standing trial over an article he penned in 2015, titled “Silvan’dan: Bizi acılara ve ölümlere o kadar alıştırdılar ki…” (Silvan: They’ve inured us to pain and death).

This was the third hearing in the trial, overseen by the Istanbul 36th High Criminal Court. In addition to P24, representatives from Reporters Without Borders (RSF), International Press Institute (IPI) journalists and academics monitored the hearing.

Hasan Cemal and his lawyer Fikret İlkiz were in attendance.

In his defense statement, Cemal said: “Today Turkey is experiencing a great collapse of its democracy, law and freedom. A 75-year-old journalist with a 50-year career being tried here for “disseminating terrorist propaganda” is one of the pitiful snapshots of this pitiful collapse.”

Cemal continued: “I would like to emphasize this: I have never been a writer of propaganda; throughout my career, I have always defended peace. I wrote four books and thousands of articles on the Kurdish issue. There is advocacy for peace in all of them. The mindset that wants to still lock me up for “terrorist propaganda” has nothing to do with law and freedom. A few snapshots come to mind depicting the great collapse Turkey is experiencing in the areas of democracy, law and freedom. One of these snapshots is of all those names that still remain behind bars. I should also mention another indicator of collapse: Among the 180 countries in the world, Turkey is ranked 157th regarding press freedom. A country that lacks press freedom to this extent is distant from the rule of law.

“As for the Supreme Electoral Council’s decision concerning Istanbul [mayoral elections] and [the main opposition CHP candidate Ekrem] İmamoğlu: It is the final nail in the coffin of democracy. Honorable judges, I sometimes feel so desperate when I think about democracy, the rule of law and freedom in this country. Today I am having one of those days. But I am still underlining the fact that the flag of democracy, rule of law and freedom will not fall off my hands until the day I die. Because I truly believe tyrants will not escape condemnation when faced with history. My last word is, I did not “disseminate terrorist propaganda,” I did not become a propaganda tool. I request my acquittal.”

After Cemal completed his defense statement, his lawyer Fikret İlkiz addressed the court and reminded that the individuals interviewed in the article Cemal is on trial for were acquitted of the “disseminating terrorist propaganda” charge.

Reminding the court that the reversal decision rendered by the appellate court in Gaziantep was based on Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), İlkiz said: “I agree with the reasoning of the appellate court. Punishing a journalist for helping to spread someone else’s opinions will hinder the ability of the press to reflect the opinions of the public. Freedom of the press and freedom of expression are enshrined in the Turkish Constitution, in Turkey’s Press Law and in the ECHR, and Cemal is just performing his journalistic duty. I request his acquittal.”

Rendering their verdict following the completion of the defense statements, the court initially sentenced Cemal to 1 year, 6 months and 22 days in prison for “disseminating propaganda for a terrorist organization.” The panel noted that the 22nd High Criminal Court of Istanbul had previously sentenced Cemal to 1 years and 3 months on the same charge, and that both files should have been merged, however, since the other court has already rendered its verdict, this option was no longer available. Therefore, the panel ruled for the sentence to be deducted from the sentence rendered by the 22th High Criminal Court. As a result, the court gave Cemal a prison sentence of 3 months and 22 days. It then commuted the sentence to a judicial fine of TL 3,360.

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