ETHA reporter Havva Cuştan released after 9 months in pre-trial detention, İsminaz Temel ordered to remain in jail

 

An Istanbul court on 17 July ruled to release journalist Havva Cuştan after nine months in pre-trial detention, while ordering to keep her colleague İsminaz Temel in jail. Both reporters for Etkin News Agency (ETHA) stood before court in a case in which 23 defendants are charged with “membership in a terrorist organization” and “conducting propaganda for a terrorist organization.” 

Thirteen of the defendants, including Cuştan and Temel, were under pre-trial detention ahead of the first hearing held over two days on 16 and 17 July. The 27th High Criminal Court of Istanbul, which oversees the case, ordered the release of five defendants including Cuştan under judicial control measures. Eight other defendants, including Temel and two lawyers, Özlem Gümüştaş and Sezin Uçar, were ordered to remain in prison until the next hearing of the trial, scheduled for 29 November 2018. 

The first session of the hearing was marked by the presence of plainclothes police officers among the audience. Lawyers told the court that the police officers had been recognized by the defendants as the same officers who arrested and interrogated them at the police department. Stressing that their attendance at the hearing would have an adverse effect on the defense statements of the defendants and prevent them from expressing themselves freely, lawyers requested that the police officers. The judges refused the request on grounds that the hearing was open to public. Although the said police officers were seen leaving the courtroom following the lawyers’ request, they nonetheless remained in the halls outside the courtroom during the entire hearing. 

Cuştan: Police who tortured me was in courtroom

ETHA reporter Cuştan told the court during her defense statements that one of the police officers who was present among the public and subsequently left the courtroom had tortured her during the police raid in her house. She had been subject to both physical and verbal violence by the police as she was being arrested, Cuştan told the court. “When they raided my home [police] beat me while they were taking me to my room. I was handcuffed from the back and subject to torture for two hours,” Cuştan said. “[My] press card [was] burnt. Racist writings were painted on the walls, they forced us to listen to racist music. We were threatened with abuse and rape,” she added.

Speaking on the accusations levelled against her reporting, Cuştan noted that commemorations she attended as a journalist, including for victims of successive terror attacks in Suruç and Ankara in 2015, had been described as a crime. “While Turkey says it is fighting against ISIS, commemorating those who were precisely killed by ISIS is considered as a criminal activity. What a self-contradiction,” Cuştan said. She also added that she has reported on commemorations on many more occasions than the indictment suggested, including those held in the aftermath of the mining disaster in Soma or murders of women. 

“I am confronted to the same mentality that considered a phone call to a [restaurant] as evidence during the Cumhuriyet trial, only in my case it’s about being in some cemetery,” said Cuştan, referring to the high-profile case against the newspaper Cumhuriyet, which was also overseen by the same court. “If I wasn’t chosen to sit here [as a defendant], rest assured that I would be following the trial among the audience,” said Cuştan, who also reported on trials for ETHA. “I love my job. I demand my release,” she said.

Fellow ETHA reporter Temel said they were facing trial because of the socialist editorial line of their agency and their reporting. “Media is the voice, the pulse and lifeblood of society. The government has tried to take everyone hostage by silencing them. Journalists were targeted the most,” Temel said. 

Referring to the accusations in the indictment, Temel deplored that ETHA has been considered as the “publishing organ of a terrorist organization” and its articles treated as evidence. “ETHA is an agency looking to embrace all the segments of society,” she said. 

Temel acknowledged having attended all the events and demonstrations cited in the indictment, but stressed that she had been present as a journalist. “The indictment itself is almost a proof of that. In all the pictures in the case file I either have a camera on my neck or a notebook in my hands,” said Temel, while also stressing that attending press statements or marches shouldn’t be considered as a crime regardless. “But I was there as a reporter” she insisted, demanding her release.

After hearing defendants’ statements and their lawyers over two days, the court ruled to order the release of five defendants out of the 13 who had already spent nine months in pre-trial detention, most of them members of the left-wing Socialist Party of the Oppressed (ESP). The five defendants who were released under judicial control terms are: Journalist Havva Cuştan, Meral Tatar, Özgen Sadet, İsmail Geçer and Onur Binbir. The eight defenders who were ordered to remain in jail are: Journalist İsminaz Temel, lawyers Özlem Gümüştaş and Sezin Uçar – both members of the Law Office of the Oppressed – Coşkun Yiğit, Erkan Kakça, Hünkar Hüdavi Yurtsever, İlhan Arslan and Mazlum Demirtaş. The court also rejected demands to remove or ease the judicial control terms concerning the other 10 defendants who weren’t in pre-trial detention. The court adjourned the trial setting 29 November 2018 as the date of the next hearing.