Seven released in Cumhuriyet trial while five others remain behind bars
Seven defendants were released from prison in the hearings of the Cumhuriyet newspaper trial, where 12 people — 11 Cumhuriyet executives and columnists and a teacher who was jailed over a provocative tweet — are imprisoned.
The first five sessions in the trial were heard on July 24 – 28 by the Istanbul 27th High Criminal Court. The panel of judges ruled five people — including four Cumhuriyet journalists — to remain in prison.
The court ruled for the release of Cumhuriyet’s news ombudsman Güray Öz, front-page cartoonist Musa Kart, Cumhuriyet Foundation board member attorney Bülent Utku, Cumhuriyet columnist Hakan Kara, Cumhuriyet Foundation board members Önder Çelik and Mustafa Kemal Güngör , and the editor of the newspaper’s literary supplement Turhan Günay. The seven defendants were released late in the evening on july 28 after nine months of imprisonment .
The court ruled to maintain the arrest ruling for Cumhuriyet’s Editor-in-Chief Murat Sabuncu, Cumhuriyet newspaper’s Executive President Akın ATalay, columnist Kadri Gürsel, reporter Ahmt Şık and teacher Ahmet Kemal Aydoğdu, who stands accused of using the Twitter account @jeansbiri.
The court’s interim decision also included a ruling to start a criminal investigation into the defense statement of Ahmet Şık. The ruling said: “It has been understood that some of the phrases or accusations expressed by Ahmet Şık might have gone beyond the boundaries of defense and constitute a crime.”
The court also ruled to keep in place the arrest warrants out for journalists Can Dündar and İlhan Tanır, who are also defendants in the case and who are both abroad.
Additionally, the court ruled to lift the limitations to the hours of lawyers from visits in prison which was in place for the suspects.
The trial was adjourned until Sept. 11. The presiding judge said they intended to schedule hearings back-to-back in the months of October, November and December and hoped to finish the trial until the end of this year.
Speaking to the audience in the courtroom after the ruling was read out, Cumhuriyet reporter said: “The ruling says ‘we will get you down on your knees. This I say for myself and my other colleagues: I have only bowed to kiss the hand of my mother and father until today. This is what I will continue to do.”
Five-day long trial
On the first day of the hearings, Kadri Gürsel, Akın Atalay and Musa Kart made their defense statements.
“I stand before you not because I ‘helped a terrorist organization without being its members, but because I am an independent, questioning and critical journalist.,” Gürsel said. In response to the accusation that phone records show that he had communications records with 112 people who either used ByLock, a chat application allegedly used by the members of the Fethullah Gülen network, called “FETÖ” by Turkish authorities and deemed a terrorist group or people who were being investigated in “FETÖ” related probes, Gürsel said he had had mutual interactions with only eight of these individuals, adding that a journalist can talk with anyone as this is what the profession necessitates.
In his defense statement, Cumhuriyet’s Executive President Akın Atalay responded to the allegation that newspaper’s editorial policy changed radically after the year 2013. Stating that the editorial policy hadn’t changed, Atalay also added that courtrooms cannot possibly be a venue for a discussion on editorial policy changes. “Prosecutors do not have the right or the authority to evaluate, detect or measure editorial policy and level accusations based on those.”
In his defense statement, Musa Kart denied all the accusations against him saying that calling a tour company for booking a holiday had been included in the indictment as “affiliation with a terrorist organization.” He said, “I remained in Silivri Prison in a cell with a view of concrete, while I was hoping to spend three days in a room in Bodrum with a view of the sea. What I’ve been through is not something you can simply call a booking error!
Murat Sabuncu, Bülent Utku, Güray Öz, Önder Çelik and Mustafa Kemal Güngör made their defense statements on the second day of the trial.
Sabuncu, who was scheduled to testify on the first day of the trial, however was unable to do so as correctional officers at Silivri Prison seized his notes, spoke in the second day of the trial. He said: “The price of independent journalism in TUrkey is imprisonment, then wait for your indictment in a cell for five months and wait for an entire nine months for a chance to be able to defend oneself.”
Responding to one of the accusations regarding headlines used by the newspaper, Sabuncu said: “There is no need to explain the headline ‘Start of the witch hunt.’ Here we are, standing right in front of you.”
Sabuncu said he is occasionally asked what part of his ordeal has been the hardest. “They ask me was it being kept in the basement of the counterrorism unit, or being forced to take off my pants, as a 47-year-old father. The hardest for me, as a journalist, that I have to go over the headlines we have used. Those on trial here have been journalists for 28 to 60 years. I find it hardest to accept that people who work at a newspaper defending secularism and democracy such as Cumhuriyet are charged with FETÖ-related crimes. I am finding it very difficult to put forth the headlines of Cumhuriyet, and have to explain them.”
On the third day, Hakan Kara, Turhan Günay, Ahmet Şık, Ahmet Kemal Aydoğdu, Bülent Yener and Günseli Özaltay testified in court.
“I have been in prison for 267 days on the basis of four instances of communication records and because I was said to be an executive of the foundation.” Günay said the indictment lists him as a foundation executive, but he said he has never held such a position in his life.
Ahmet Şık, who also testified on day three, said: “You must have understood from what I’ve told you so far that this is not a defense statement or testimony.. “ He said, “The Turkish judiciary is today exactly what happens when you subtract rights, justice, conscience and merit from the the law. Our experience has shown clearly that calls for justice, rights, implementing the law and being human are inaudible to you. As such, I ask nothing of the court.”
On the fourth day of the sessions, Aydın Engin, Orhan Erinç and Hikmet Çetinkaya submitted their defense statements.
In a very brief statement, Engin said he had nothing to add, saying that earlier testimony had given the apt response to the indictment. “It makes me feel shame for the law and pain for my country that we were put on the defendant stand with such an indictment,” he said.
Çetinkaya said in the past, Fethullah Gülen was tried for setting up an organization. “Now I am being accused of FETÖ membership with the indictment of prosecutors who have forgotten the past.”
Erinç said he doesn’t understand why the newspaper’s editorial policy is being discussed inside a courtroom.
Two Özgürlükçü Demokrasi employees imprisoned
Two employees of the pro-Kurdish Özgürlükçü Demokrasi, Özkan Erdoğan and Serkan Erdoğan, were imprisoned pending trial, on July 28 and 29 respectively, on charges of “membership in a terrorist organization” and “conducting propaganda for a terrorist organization.”
Özkan Erdoğan was initially detained for being in possession of a magazine deemed “illegal” by the Turkish authorities.
Serkan Erdoğan, was detained in a home raid on the same night also in Mersin and later arrested by a Peace Judgeship on the same charges. Reports have said the two Özgürlükçü Demokrasi employees share an apartment, but they are no relation to each other in spite of the shared last name.
The number of journalists in prison has reached 162 following the releases of Cumhuriyet daily and the arrest of two journalists. For the full list, click here.
Journalists’ imprisonment enters 365 days
Some journalists who were jailed after the July 15 coup attempt of last year completed a full year in prison between the days July 25 and July 27.
Columnists who previously worked at newspapers linked with the Fethullah Gülen network, such as Şahin Alpay, Nazlı Ilıcak, Ahmet Turan Alkan and Ali Bulaç, were taken into police custody on different dates between July 25 and 27; exactly year ago.
Many of them, including 73-year-old Şahin Alpay, Ahmet Turan Alkan and Ali Bulaç, have yet to appear before a court.