Prosecutor asks court to reject the appeal against original verdict. Court adjourns hearing until 15 May

PELİN BUZLUK, ANKARA

The first appeal hearing of Mezopotamya news agency reporter Seda Taşkın, sentenced to a total of 7.5 years in prison for “conducting propaganda for a terrorist organization” and “aiding a terrorist organization without being its member” was held on 20 March.

Seda Taşkın addressed the 6th Criminal Chamber of the Erzurum Regional Court of Justice from the 21st High Criminal Court of Ankara via the courtroom video-conferencing system SEGBİS.

P24 monitored the hearing at the 21st High Criminal Court of Ankara.

During the hearing, Taşkın and her lawyers said that despite lack of evidence of the accusations listed in the indictment, the trial court rendered its judgment in the case.

After hearing the defense statements, the prosecution submitted their final opinion, requesting the court to reject the appeal. Accepting the request for additional time for defense lawyers to prepare their statements against the prosecutor’s opinion, the court adjourned the trial until 15 May. 

In her defense statement, Taşkın, who remained in pre-trial detention for a year as part of the case, said that she is being tried for her journalistic work. She had travelled to Muş to report on a news story, she said, where she was arrested and an investigation was launched into her. “All through the trial I was subjected to intimidation and violence by the police. Beginning with the tip-off email, I think this is all a police performance.”

Taşkın pointed out the discrepancy in the reasoned judgment issued by the 2nd High Criminal Court of Muş in which the presence of dissident media was proclaimed as “evidence of democracy” yet she was convicted for being a dissident journalist. She said, “Out of all of my work, my arts and culture-related stories were disregarded. Instead some handpicked news reports form the basis of the claims.”

When asked why she did not use the name registered on her ID, Taşkın responded that she had always went by the name Seda and if necessary she’d prove it by inviting her ex school-teachers to the witness stand.

Taşkın concluded her defense with the words: “No matter what the decision here may be, I will continue to do journalism. I love my job.”

One of Taşkın’s lawyers, Gulan Çağın Kaleli, said that the 2nd High Criminal Court of Muş did not carry out a fair trial.

Even after it was determined that the tip-off message about Taşkın was sent from an email address with an extension used by the police department, the court repeatedly refused to investigate the identity of the sender. Kaleli said, “We turned in all the news stories of my client, who had traveled to the region to report on cultural news, yet none of these were taken into consideration.”

Kaleli continued: “She was first indicted for “membership in a terrorist group” but due to lack of evidence, she was convicted of “conducting propaganda for a terrorist organization.” There is no basis for these claims. My client’s work with Dicle news agency was presented as evidence but former executives of the news agency, Dicle Müftüoğlu and Zekeriya Güzüpek, who stood trial in a separate case, were acquitted based on lack of substantial evidence.

Kaleli presented the reasoned judgment of the court in the trial of Müftüoğlu and Güzüpek. Reminding the court that these rulings and arrests violated press freedom, she requested Taşkın’s acquittal.

Taşkın’s other lawyer Ebru Akkal also stressed that the allegations against her client were baseless. 

Like Taşkın, Akkal addressed the court via SEGBIS. She said: “A verdict of conviction cannot be made based on the evidence at hand. The rule of law is not wishful thinking.” She also complained about the attitude of police officers in the courtroom and said, “When we ask why they’re here, they tell us we’ll find out later outside.”

After hearing the defense and acquittal requests, the prosecutor requested that the court reject the appeal. Defense lawyers then requested for additional time to prepare their statements. Accepting the request, the court adjourned the trial until 15 May.

Taşkın was taken into custody in December 2017 as she was covering a news story in Muş and was held for four days on the grounds of “a significant tip-off.” On 23 January 2018 the prosecutor objected to her release and she was arrested in Ankara and sent to prison.

Throughout the lawsuit Taşkın recounted how she’d been forced while in custody to undergo a strip-search, beaten and intimidated by anti-terror units.

After four trials in Muş, on 10 October 2018, the court sentenced Taşkın to a total of 7.5 years in prison: 4 years and 2 months for “aiding a terrorist organization without being its member” and another 3 years and 4 months for “spreading propaganda for a terrorist organization.” 

Taşkın was released on 17 January 2019 from the Sincan Prison as per an interim ruling issued by the appellate court overseeing her case.