Lawyers for Altan brothers demanding further examination of evidence kicked out of courtroom; their request for a new judge rejected
The third session in the trial of journalist-writer Ahmet Altan, academic and columnist Mehmet Altan and journalist Nazlı Ilıcak and four others was heard by the Istanbul 26th High Criminal Court on November 13.
Four lawyers representing Altan brothers were ordered out of the courtroom by the presiding judge. In its interim ruling the court denied the lawyers their request for a new judge in the case. The panel of judges ruled to keep all six defendants behind bars.
Additionally, the court granted the Grand National Assembly of Turkey leave to intervene in the case as a co-plaintiff, while rejecting similar requests from opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) deputy Dursun Çiçek, lawyer Serdar Öztürk and former Navy captain Hasan Ataman Yıldırım. Defendant lawyers’ demand for the removal of restrictions on access to lawyers was also rejected. The trial was adjourned until December 11.
Journalist Nazlı Ilıcak, Zaman newspaper’s marketing director Yakup Şimşek, Zaman’s visual design editor Fevzi Yazıcı and Police Academy lecturer Şükrü Tuğrul Özşengül were brought to the courtroom from prison. Tibet Murat Sanlıman, the owner of an advertising agency which worked with Zaman in the past who is pending trial outside of prison, was also in attendance. Ahmet and Mehmet Altan connected to the courtroom via the judicial teleconferencing system SEGBIS.
Diplomats from the Swedish, Swiss, French, Belgian, Czech and Norwegian consulates, the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) President Pierre Haski and representatives from Article 19, PEN International and Norwegian PEN were in Çağlayan Courthouse, which houses the 26th High Criminal Court, to follow the hearing.
Start of proceedings
Kemal Selçuk Yalçın, the presiding judge, asked the prosecutor to submit his final opinion in the case. Altan brothers’ lawyer Ergin Cinmen demanded that the court first hears whether the defense has any requests for expansion of the investigation — meaning submission of evidence for the court to review. However, the presiding court did not let Cinmen speak and had him removed from the courtroom.
After a short interval, Figen Çalıkuşu, one of Altans’ lawyers, also argued that the court cannot ask for a final opinion before all the evidence is gathered; saying this was a violation of procedural rules. She was also removed from the courtroom for speaking without permission, after which she asked for a new judge to be assigned to the trial. After yet another interval, a similar episode occurred with lawyers Ferat Çağıl and Melike Polat, who wanted to voice demands for defense and emphasize that the proceedings cannot continue while the request for removal of the presiding judge is pending, but were thrown out of the courtroom for speaking without permission. The session was adjourned until after lunch.
The second half of the trial proceeded in the absence of the lawyers for Altans .
The prosecutor said he had just been assigned to the case, and had not had the time to prepare his statement, asking the court to keep the imprisoned defendants in pre-trial detention and for more time to prepare his final opinion.
Statements from defendants
Later on in the session, defendant Nazlı Ilıcak spoke, denying all accusations against her. “May God never put anybody in a situation where they are unduly accused. I have been against coups all my life. You can’t convince anyone that Nazlı Ilıcak supported a coup,” she said.
She also recalled a recent Supreme Court of Appeals ruling, which underlined that the presence of physical violence is a requirement for establishing coup crimes. She also stated that the decision clearly dismissed the concept of “non-physical violence,” which the high court described as being introduced solely to punish politicians after the coup d’état of 1960.
Ilıcak also asked, “Is it normal for the judges and prosecutors to be changed consistently in terms of procedural regulations?” She said rulings by the Supreme Court of Appeals made in other coup trials were very important, but said the defense had not had the opportunity to adequately speak about these decisions.
The 73-year old journalist stands accused of “having prior knowledge of the coup” on the basis of her remarks made on a television program aired one day before the 15 July 2016 coup attempt. She said, “So you are saying that me, Ahmet and Mehmet knew about a coup, which Hulusi Akar [the Chief of the General Staff] knew nothing about and we held a panel about this on its eve?”
She asked for her release citing her advanced age.
Yakup Şimşek, a marketing director for the shuttered Zaman daily, asked the court to hear employees who were involved in the preparation of a TV commercial for Zaman as witnesses. He stands accused in relation with this TV commercial, which authorities say gave messages about a coup plot. He asked the court to hear invoices for the TV commercial to prove that it was the advertising agency which prepared the commercial. He also asked for his request.
Retired Police Academy lecturer Şükrü Tuğrul Özşengül also denied participation in the coup. “I was struck as badly as I was when I had heard of my mother’s death, when I heard about the coup,” he told the court.
Yazıcı, who was a senior visual editor with Zaman said: “I am not a FETÖ member. I condemn this coup attempt which has stolen 15 months from me. I am innocent. I demand my request given that I have already served 15 months.”
Statements by the Altan brothers
Mehmet and Ahmet Altan also spoke in the afternoon. Mehmet Altan, speaking about the Parliament’s request for intervening in the case, said he had been summoned by the Parliamentary Commission to Investigate Coups in the past.
“The prosecutor who was assigned to drafting the indictment is continuing an operation to manage perceptions in a widely lawless manner; I don’t understand what this hostility is all about. Has the new prosecutor even read the indictment? If not, how can he possibly ask the court to continue pre-trial detention? Is there a crime such as ‘subliminal’ message in the law?” he asked, referring to the accusation leveled at himself and his brother that they supported the coup through “subliminal” messages they gave on television. He said he had been under arrest for 419 days with any solid evidence.
He also said many others in similar trials were released pending trial. “What is the reason for this double-standard for us?” he asked, also noting that theirs remains to be the only case where limitations on access to lawyers hadn’t been removed. “I am waiting for your ruling on our demand to reject the judge but I have to ask for my release as my lawyers aren’t present.”
Ahmet Altan, who offered a brief statement, said, “The UN, in its submission to the European Court of Human Rights, called this trial a ‘show’. When I was listening to the demands of the prosecutor just minutes ago, it occurred to me that he is an actor on this show too. How can a prosecutor who doesn’t know the details of the case can speak by rote like this? This is no law, this is no court. This is all I have to say.”
Later, lawyers for the other defendants spoke in the courtroom. Lawyers for Özşengül, Şimşek and Yazıcı also demanded that the court expand the investigation so as to hear new evidence in favor of the defendants. Özşengül’s lawyer criticized the judge’s removal of the Altan lawyers from the courtroom and demanded they be allowed back in.
The Altans and Ilıcak are accused of “attempting to overthrow the constitutional order, the government of the Republic of Turkey and the Grand National Assembly of Turkey,” for which the prosecutor asks for three consecutive aggravated life sentences and of “committing a crime on behalf of a terror organization while not being a member of it,” for which the prosecutor demands an additional 15 years. The other suspects face three aggravated life sentence on the same coup accusations, but they face an additional 15 years for “membership in a terrorist organization.” Sanlıman, who is on trial but not imprisoned, is accused of “aiding a terrorist organization.”
In the earlier stages of the trial there were 17 suspects, but the court ruled at the end of the second hearing to separate the investigation into 10 of the suspects, who are all at large.