BATMAN – Şerife Oruç, a reporter for Dicle News Agency closed last year by a State of Emergency decree, will remain under detention despite the prosecution failed to adduce any substantial evidence and key witnesses are still expected to appear in court. The 2nd Heavy Penal Court of the southeastern city of Batman ruled January 11 to further extend Oruç’s 18 months of detention on charges of “membership to a terrorist organization”.
The 22-year-old-reporter was arrested on July 3, 2016, in Batman where she was coming to visit relatives along with her cousin, Emrullah Oruç, and the driver of the car stopped by the police, Muzaffer Tunç. All three face up to 15 years in prison. The next hearing of the trial will be held on March 7.
Accusations brought by the prosecution are inconsistent and inadequate for justifying long detention, lawyers have said. They also criticized law enforcement officers for failing to bring two key witnesses to the court for many months.
“The only reason for keeping Şerife Oruç under detention is the failure to find those witnesses. Extending her detention due to reasons that are beyond her control is contrary to the right to a fair trial,” Şerife Oruç’s lawyer Mesut Aydın told P24. “We are dealing with a fabricated case. In my opinion, once [police] saw she was an opposition journalist after she was caught, they decided the keep her,” he added.
Şerife Oruç’s second lawyer Şeyhmus Bayhan said the first indictment, which was refused by the court, didn’t even contain witness testimonies. Those were taken months after Şerife Oruç’s arrest and included in a second indictment, approved on April 28, 2017. “(Prosecutors) can normally launch an investigation upon a suspicion. However, to proceed with a prosecution you need to present concrete evidence. Here, they do the opposite. First they place the suspect under detention, and then they create the evidence,” Bayhan said.
Arrested “10 minutes” after tip-off
According to the police, the car in which Oruç travelled to Batman was stopped only 10 minutes after a tip was received that it contained an explosive device. Oruç told the court that she intended to visit relatives in Batman on the Feast of Ramadan when she saw her cousin Emrullah by coincidence at the bus station in her hometown of Bismil, in Diyarbakır province. Both decided to hitchhike as buses were too crowded, she said. The car driven by Muzaffer Tunç picked them up from the road and was eventually pulled over by the police. No explosive device was found in the search.
“According to the police proceedings [filed] on July 4, 2016, the tip was received at 1:00 p.m. while the detentions were carried out at 1:10 p.m. Within the time frame the tip was received, preparations were made and the arrests took place, the proceedings say. All of that happened in 10 minutes,” Bayhan said.
The police officers have claimed to have chased the car before it was pulled over. The police reports also say both Şerife and Emrullah Oruç ran away to different directions after jumping out of the car. However, the testimonies of all three suspects, which have been taken separately and are consistent with each other, deny these allegations. The officers reached the car after it stopped and both Şerife and Emrullah Oruç got out of the car, they have told, adding that neither the car nor the two passengers were chased.
The police have failed to submit the footages to the court as demanded by lawyers, saying cameras had been unable to record because their memories were full.
Witness testimonies challenged by defence
Allegations of “membership to a terrorist organization” levelled against Şerife Oruç are based on the testimonies of two witnesses who claim having seen her during the clashes in Diyarbakır’s historic center of Sur. However, lawyers stress that the first indictment only contained a photo display identification and was rejected by the court. Testimonies were taken only afterwards, on March 2017, as the indictment was eventually accepted in the second submission on April 28, 2017, nearly 10 months after the arrests.
Şerife Oruç’s lawyer Mesut Aydın said one of the witnesses, Rifayi İpek, is mentally disabled and receives financial support for disability according to the interrogation proceedings – a fact that they have asked to be investigated. Meanwhile, the second witness, Ali Yaşar Ak, rejected during his own trial the testimonies he had given at the police department, Aydın said. Both were unable to appear in court, İpek allegedly not being found and Ak being in military service duty.
“For a year and a half this great state cannot reach two witnesses who came out from interrogation under their custody and this is being used as a justification for [Şerife Oruç’s] detention. They have been arrested during Feast of Ramadan on July 2016. Many public holidays have passed since, and those two witnesses are still to be reached,” Aydın said.
Lawyers have also contested the photo display identification at the police department, arguing that police officers used unlawfully Şerife Oruç’s picture given for her passport instead of one taken under custody or at the supposed crime scene.
“She couldn’t resist when she saw an aggrieved family”
The case is also an important one for journalists based in the region, and especially in Diyarbakır. Lezgin Akdeniz, a reporter for Mezopotamya Agency – the newest iteration of Dicle News Agency and Dihaber after both were shut down by decree – who has worked with Şerife Oruç, says the young journalist has endeavoured to inform the public on the expropriations and forced evictions in Diyarbakır’s Sur district. These expropriations that were ordered right after most of the historic neighbourhood was ruined by the clashes, have been regarded as a tool to drive out the inhabitants of the area to completely change its demography.
“She would work until midnight. She wouldn’t work according to a fixed time schedule. For instance, I remember that she worked one month without taking a day off,” Akdeniz told P24.
“Şerife was also very emotional. She couldn’t resist when she saw an aggrieved family. She would absolutely want to write about them.”
Şerife Oruç’s only intention was to report on the expropriations in Sur, Akdeniz said, adding that the only reason for her detention is her journalistic work.
Call to media
For their part, Şerife Oruç’s lawyers called to media to show more interest to the next hearing that will be held on March 7. Lawyers are also preparing to apply to Turkey’s Constitutional Court and the European Court of Human Rights for long detention. The hearing on January 11 was followed by a sole media outlet, Mezopotamya Agency. P24 was the only NGO that monitored the hearing in the courtroom.