Demir reiterates that the supposed “evidence” is just journalism 

PELİN BUZLUK, ANKARA 

Journalist Hayri Demir, appeared before the 15th High Criminal Court of Ankara on 23 January 2020 for the third hearing of his trial on the charges of “terrorist group membership” and “disseminating propaganda for a terrorist organization.”

The hearing was monitored by P24. Hayri Demir and his lawyer Nuray Özdoğan were in attendance in the courtroom.

Evidence against Demir include some of his social media posts, articles from his personal website and visuals from a memory card which was stolen from his home on 28 February 2016. The visuals, for which he is accused, are some photographs and footage of interviews he conducted in Syria in 2015.

At the previous hearing on 23 October 2019, Demir had requested for the file on the investigation into the 2016 robbery of his personal items from his home. It turned out however, that the Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office of Ankara mistakenly submitted the investigation file for another case. 

Addressing the court, Demir said that it wasn’t explained in what way the visuals, which form the basis of the investigation, constitute as crime and some of the content (what was said in the interviews) obtained from the memory card had not been accurately transcribed. Rejecting the transcription in question, Demir said that the footage consisted of nothing except the journalistic activities of someone who works for a news agency. Upon this, the presiding judge said that “it wasn’t journalism being prosecuted” and “that he shouldn’t just list journalistic activities .”

Demir told, the footage he shot in Northern Syria in December 2015, was used by numerous media outlets, both mainstream and alternative, such as Hürriyet, Star, Evrensel, T24 and Yeni Şafak, and that he is a news source for the region. Demir asked to present the news stories published by these media outlets to court. The court panel however, rejected the file in which the news reports were, on the grounds that the file didn’t have a cover letter. 

Demir said that all this was sort of a revenge for his reporting which had proven that the Syrian Democratic Forces were in the west of the Euphrates, where the former Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu had declared a red line was drawn. Interrupting Demir again, the presiding judge said, “If you will be giving a political defense speech here, we will bring an end to it, for it not being on the merits of the case and we will say that you chose to use your right to remain silent.” Demir’s lawyer Nuray Özdoğan wanted to object at that point but the presiding judge told her that she hadn’t been granted the turn to speak yet.

Demir explained, that it wasn’t a political defense and that the conjuncture of the period had to be explained in order to defend against the allegations leveled. The presiding judge frequently interrupted Demir’s defense statement. He was asked to slow down, and then to speed up and he was told numerous times to cut his speech short, hindering his ability to express himself properly.

Continuing his defense statement, Demir told that the title of his piece, which was quoting a line from his interviewee, was taken out of context and was vindictively put in the indictment as if the words belonged to him. Demir said that the text should be put in its entirety in the case file, so that it can be seen that particular words were plucked from the interview. He demonstrated this with some examples. Demir pointed out, an investigation was already conducted over the same articles, back in 2016 by the Press Bureau at the Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office. The case was dropped before hearings were held. Demir requested the court to also request that case file.

Speaking after Demir, his lawyer Nuray Özdoğan criticized the court for interrupting her client while he was trying to deliver his defense statement. Özdoğan requested time to examine the documents which were recently added to the case file. 

Issuing an interim decision at the end of the hearing, the court ruled to request the file on the investigation into the theft committed in Demir’s house from the Prosecutor’s Office and the files for the other investigations launched against Demir by the Istanbul and Diyarbakır courts.  The trial was adjourned until 28 April 2020 to allow time for Demir to examine the documents which were added to the file.

Demir was arrested in Ankara on 16 March 2017. After spending eight days in custody, he was freed under judicial control measures. More than two years later, on 16 May 2019, an Ankara prosecutor named Muhammed Akif Ongun submitted an indictment against Demir, charging him with “terrorist group membership” and “disseminating propaganda for a terrorist group.”  Besides the footage and photographs Demir took in Syria in 2015, which were interpreted as “ activities for a terrorist organization,” Demir’s social media posts were also included as evidence. It was later revealed that the content from Demir’s memory card, which was stolen from Demir’s home in 2016, supposedly had been brought to a police station and that’s how it had ended up in the hands of law enforcement. 

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