No journalists released in the second hearing of the Cumhuriyet trial as ECtHR grants UN special rapporteur leave to intervene
Second hearing of the Cumhuriyet trial, where six out of 20 defendants are imprisoned, was heard on September 11, at the Istanbul 27 High Criminal Court in Silivri, near Istanbul.
The court, which made an interim ruling at the end of the session, decided that Editor-in-Chief Murat Sabuncu, President of the Cumhuriyet Executive Board lawyer Akın Atalay, columnist and publications advisor Kadri Gürsel, Cumhuriyet reporter Ahmet Şık, accountant Emre İper and Ahmet Kemal Aydoğdu – a teacher unrelated to Cumhuriyet who is accused on the basis of his tweets, remain under arrest.
The interim decision was in keeping with the prosecutor’s request, who had asked for continued imprisonment of the suspects on the grounds that the suspects might “obscure evidence” and are a “flight risk.”
The trial was adjourned until September 25. The next hearing will be heard at the Çağlayan Courtroom in central Istanbul. The presiding judge said remaining witnesses will be heard in the next trial, after which the court will be able to make a “sounder decision.”
Emre İper, an accountant for Cumhuriyet who was arrested on April 19 on charges of using ByLock – a secret communications app allegedly used by the Fethullah Gülen network – delivered his defense statement for the first time. Rejecting the allegation that he used ByLock, İper also denied the accusation of “membership in a terrorist organization” directed against him.
“I would rather be held for an entire lifetime without any questioning than be held on FETÖ charges for just a single day,” he said. FETÖ – an acronym for Fetullahist Terrorist Organization – is the name used for the Fethullah Gülen network by Turkish authorities. “I would like my acquittal from this shameful accusation,” he said.
Witnesses whose testimony were included in the indictment delivered statements in the next phase of the trial. The session lasted until late hours of the evening. Former Editor-in-Chief of the newspaper İbrahim Yıldız, its current news coordinator Aykut Küçükkaya, former Cumhuriyet Foundation board member Nevzat Tüfekçioğlu, Cumhuriyet reporter Miyase İlknur, former Cumhuriyet Foundation Nail İnal, Cumhuriyet columnist Şükran Soner, Cumhuriyet Foundation’s former accountant and executive Mustafa Pamukoğlu and former Cumhuriyet Foundation executive İnan Kıraç were heard as witnesses.
Some of the witnesses did not testify against the defendants, saying that they had voiced criticism of how the foundation was managed, but did not agree with the terror charges leveled at the defendants.
Former Cumhuriyet Foundation executive İnan Kıraç said: “In my testimony, I said ‘I used to read Cumhuriyet, but I don’t read it anymore and I don’t approve of its editorial policy.’ However, what I meant wasn’t that the newspaper had connections to terrorist groups. What I meant is that they strayed away from the path laid down by İlhan Selçuk and Uğur Mumcu.”
Miyase İlknur referred to herself as a “forced witness,” saying she hadn’t wanted to testify. She said as a reporter who is not part of the management team at the newspaper, any information she has could only be based on hearsay and her own comments.
“I am under arrest because I am a critical journalist”
Journalist Kadri Gürsel, who spoke in the hearing, said his defense statement was ignored by the authorities, asserting that his right to a fair trial had been violated.
He also denied claims that he had talked to people who used ByLock. He said most of these accusations stemmed from calls or SMS messages received from ByLock users, whose calls had gone unanswered.
Phone records also show, Gürsel said, that the last ByLock user who called him had phoned him 6.5 months prior to his employment at Cumhuriyet.
“I think I might be the only person under arrest in these media trials who was locked up for having been contacted by people who used ByLock.”
“The reason why I am being tried here is not because ByLock users contact me; it is because I am a critical journalist. I am being tried for my thoughts and journalistic activities. My only wish is a fair trial.”
“I have a clean conscience regardless of what decision comes out of this trial,” he said.
Sabuncu: Trial a dark stain
Murat Sabuncu said he had spent 10.5 months out of the 12 months he served as editor-in-chief in prison. He said the expert witness of the prosecution had never worked as a journalist and whose age was the same as the number of years he worked as a journalist.
“This trial will go down in the history of free speech as a dark stain,” he said, adding: “We will continue to defend free speech for all journalists in Turkey, even if we spend more time in prison.”
Cumhuriyet reporter Ahmet Şık said: “I was arrested on charges of spreading propaganda for FETÖ, DHKP-C and the PKK, and later my case was merged with this trial. The public likely thought it was being taken for a fool because of the FETÖ allegation and so this charge was dropped and I was officially charged with propaganda of the PKK and the DHKP-C.”
Akın Atalay, who also spoke in the trial, said the case was a clear “picture of the democratic level Turkey was taken to.”
“It has been reported by several international organizations that work on press freedoms that we are one of the worst offenders in terms of stifling media freedom,” he said.
UN special rapporteur to intervene in ECHR cases of Turkish journalists
The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has granted David Kaye, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, leave to intervene in the cases of 10 imprisoned Turkish journalists including Ahmet and Mehmet Altan, Şahin Alpay, Nazlı Ilıcak, Deniz Yücel and Cumhurriyet journalists.
A notice from the court on Sept. 11 said Kaye’s application for a leave to intervene, filed on Aug. 30, was granted. The court asked for an opinion from the rapporteur that will be no longer than 10 pages by Oct. 23.
Prosecutor demands punishment for journalist Eryılmaz
Tuğrul Eryılmaz, a journalist who acted as an editor in chief for the shuttered Özgür Gündem daily as part of a solidarity campaign organized for the newspaper before its closure, appeared before a court on Sept. 12.
The prosecution asked for Eryılmaz to be sentenced on charges of “publishing criminal materials from terrorist organizations. “
The case is being heard by the 22th High Criminal Court of İstanbul.