Defendants handed down a total of 14 years and 3 months in prison for “disseminating propaganda for a terrorist group” 

CANSU PİŞKİN, İSTANBUL

The court announced its verdict at the end of the 11th hearing in the trial of 13 defendants accused of “conducting propaganda for a terrorist organization” for participating in the “substitute editor-in-chief” campaign to show solidarity with the Özgür Gündem newspaper, which was closed down in 2016.

The final hearing of the trial took place on 3 April at the 14th High Criminal Court of Istanbul.

The court convicted journalists Hüseyin Aykol, Faruk Eren, Ertuğrul Mavioğlu, Fehim Işık, Celal Başlangıç, Öncü Akgül, İhsan Çaralan, Celalettin Can and Dilşah Kocakaya of the “propaganda” charge and sentenced them to a total of 14 years and 3 months in prison. The court deferred the sentences of six defendants while Akyol, Can and Kocakaya’s sentences were not deferred.

In addition to P24, the hearing was monitored by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) Turkey representative Erol Önderoğlu, HDP deputy Ahmet Şık and writer Nevzat Onaran.

Faruk Eren was the only defendant in attendance at the hearing. Other defendants were represented by lawyers Özcan Kılıç, Devrim Avcı, Ruken Gülağacı, Rozerin Seda Kip, Fikret İlkiz, Yeşinil Yeşilyurt, Ekin Güneş Saygılı and Yıldız İmrek.

‘There is neither legal nor criminal liability’

The prosecutor repeated his final opinion submitted during the seventh hearing and requested the defendants to be sentenced.

The lawyer representing Fehim Işık and Hüseyin Akyol stated that the substitute editor-in-chief campaign was initiated in order to show solidarity with Özgür Gündem against the pressure the newspaper was put under. Emphasizing the fact that the campaign was a symbolic act, unrelated to any standard procedure and done voluntarily, Kılıç said, “It is against the principle of individual criminal responsibility to hold these individuals responsible for an article written by a third person. I request acquittal.”

Devrim Avcı, who is one of Çaralan’s lawyers, stated that according to Article 11/3 of Turkey’s Press Law, his client has no criminal or legal liability. Yıldız İmrek, who also represented Çaralan, said: “Punishment cannot be imposed through assumption and comparison. For procedural reasons, it is not possible to punish my client.”

Lawyers Ruken Gülağacı, Rozerin Seda Kip, Yeşinil Yeşilyurt, Fikret İlkiz and Ekin Güneş Saygılı took turns to speak and asserted that the defendants’ acts were in the context of freedom of the press and freedom of expression. The lawyers repeated that the defendants had no criminal liability according to Press Law and requested their acquittal.

‘We defend our profession and the freedom of press’

Addressing the court during the hearing, Faruk Eren said that in the face of the pressure Özgür Gündem faced until its closure, a number of journalists, intellectuals, artists and scientists became substitute editors-in-chief for a day in protest of the pressure the newspaper faced and in support of freedom of the press and freedom of expression.

Eren continued: “I have been a journalist for more than 30 years. I knew that if we couldn’t manage to protect Özgür Gündem we would not be able to defend freedom of expression and freedom of the press. This is why I became one of the first substitute editors-in-chief. Sadly, we failed. Özgür Gündem no longer exists. In reality, we were defending our profession, our honor and press freedom. My request is for you to also defend your profession, justice and the rule of law.”

Celalettin Can’s sentence not deferred

Following the completion of the defense statements, the court went on to issue its verdict in which it found nine defendants guilty of the “propaganda” charge.

The newspaper’s former Co-Editor-in-Chief Hüseyin Akyol was sentenced to 3 years and 9 months in prison for “successively disseminating propaganda for a terrorist organization.” Aykol’s co-defendants Faruk Eren, Ertuğrul Mavioğlu, Fehim Işık, Celal Başlangıç, Öncü Akgül, İhsan Çaralan and Celalettin Can were each sentenced to a prison term of 1 year and 3 months. All sentences except the one imposed on Celalettin Can were deferred.

The court acquitted Mehmet Şirin Taşdemir, Ömer Ağın, Veysel Kemer and Yüksel Oğuz, who were on trial for the letters they sent to Özgür Gündem from prison, which the newspaper had published. The court also convicted Dilşah Kocakaya of the “propaganda” charge and imposed on Kocakaya a 15-month sentence.

The sentences will be reviewed by an appellate court.