Özgürlükçü Demokrasi employee Pınar Tarlak released, editors and owner ordered to remain in pretrial detention at the end of first hearing

 

The trial into the owner and employees of the pro-Kurdish newspaper Özgürlükçü Demokrasi, which was raided by police and appointed a trustee in March before it was closed down in July through an emergency decree, got under way on 12 September in Istanbul.

In its interim decision at the end of the hearing, the 23rd High Criminal Court of Istanbul ordered that Pınar Tarlak, one of the six jailed defendants, be released, while ordering the continuation of the detention of the remaining five newspaper employees on trial and set 6 December 2018 as the date for the next hearing. 

The newspaper’s owner İhsan Yaşar and responsible managing editor İshak Yasul were jailed pending trial on 6 April on terrorism-related charges as part of the investigation into Özgürlükçü Demokrasi. The newspaper’s editors Mehmet Ali Çelebi, Reyhan Hacıoğlu and Hicran Urun, and bookkeeper and secretary Pınar Tarlak were jailed on 10 April.

They were indicted — alongside eight other Özgürlükçü Demokrasi employees — for “membership in a terrorist organization,” “conducting propaganda for a terrorist organization” and “printing or publishing terrorist group publications.” News stories featured in the newspaper constitute the grounds for the accusations in the indictment. The other suspects in the indictment are Davut Uçar, Ersin Çaksu, Fırat Benli, Günay Aksoy, Mizgin Fendik, Önder Elaldı, Ramazan Sola and Yılmaz Yıldız.

Jailed defendants Yaşar, Yasul, Tarlak, Hacıoğlu, Urun, and Çelebi, as well as Sola, who is not in detention, and the defence lawyers were in attendance at the first hearing on 12 September, which was monitored by P24.

Yaşar addressed the court first. He said in his statement that he was not a member of any political party or any other institution. When the chief judge asked Yaşar a question concerning several headline stories published in the newspaper, Yaşar told the court that as a rule, he did not intervene in the titles of news stories.

Following Yaşar’s statement, Yasul addressed the court. He said he considered the allegation in the indictment that “the newspaper published news stories upon instruction” to be an insult. Adding that the allegations against him in the indictment did not constitute a crime, Yasul requested for his release.

Editor Urun then addressed the court. “I am a journalist who holds an International Press Card,” Urun said, adding that she was also currently studying for a postgraduate degree in women’s studies and therefore the news stories she covered were mainly in that field. “Despite my field of interest being women and children, I am being held responsible for news stories outside my line of work,” Urun said.

About the news stories the chief judge inquired of all the defendants present in the courtroom, Urun said: “The headlines of those stories include the personal statements of the subjects in those stories. They are not the opinions or statements of an editor or the editor in chief. What the newspaper did was merely reporting on those statements. The indictment is made in its entirety of news stories, which shows that what is being put on trial here is journalism.”

Urun added that the Kurdish songs in her mp3 player were used as evidence against her in the indictment. She said the allegations were unlawful and requested for her acquittal.

Urun’s statement was followed by Tarlak, who told the court that she was a secretary and bookkeeper for the newspaper, and that she was indicted merely because she was registered as an employee there. Tarlak added that the indictment referred to a separate ongoing criminal case against her before a different court, violating her right to presumption of innocence. Tarlak requested for her release.

Ramazan Sola, the only defendant at the hearing who was not in pretrial detention, said he was a driver for the newspaper and his responsibility was to distribute the newspaper, adding that he had no information as to the news stories and requesting for his acquittal.

Editor Çelebi gave his statement next. “A free press is the voice of democracy,” Çelebi said, adding that the newspaper observed the universal principles of journalism.

Hacıoğlu, another jailed editor, spoke next. Speaking about excerpts from interviews she conducted for the newspaper that are held as evidence against her in the indictment, Hacıoğlu said: “As a rule, it is the journalist’s decision to whether or not publish [those statements]. But a journalist is not entitled to amend or twist the statements given to her.”

Hacıoğlu requested her acquittal as she completed her statement. 

After the completion of statements by the defendants in attendance, defense lawyer Özcan Kılıç addressed the court. He said he had been a lawyer for Özgürlükçü Demokrasi ever since the newspaper was founded. He said that before its closure, the newspaper had not even once been pulled off newsstands because of its news coverage. “I have been a lawyer for newspapers for years. A newspaper must first receive a notice requesting a correction or clarification through a notary public. The newspaper did not receive such a notice for the headlines mentioned [in this court]. None of those news stories were denied.”

Adding that the “membership in a terrorist organization” charge in the indictment was a far-fetched allegation, Kılıç requested for the jailed defendants to be released and the lifting of the arrest warrants against those who were not present at the hearing.

Following the completion of all defense lawyers’ statements, the prosecutor requested the continuation of the detention of defendants on remand.

The court announced its interim decision after a brief recess, ruling for Pınar Tarlak’s release from pretrial detention and ordering the continuation of the detention of the newspaper’s editors and its owner. The court imposed an international travel ban on Tarlak. It also decided to await the execution of the arrest warrants against six other suspects in the case file and adjourned the trial until 6 December.