Etkin News Agency (ETHA) editor Semiha Şahin was arrested in Istanbul on 13 April 2018 during a midnight police raid on her home.
Şahin was placed in pre-trial detention by a court alongside ETHA reporter Pınar Gayıp, and two others.
After waiting for 10 hours for their statements to be taken, all four were referred to a Criminal Judgeship of Peace without being given the opportunity to give their statements to a prosecutor. The prosecution requested their detention on the charges of “membership in a terrorist group” and “conducting propaganda for a terrorist group.” Following the completion of all four statements, the judgeship jailed Şahin on both “membership in a terrorist organization” and “conducting propaganda for a terrorist organization” charges, Gayıp on “membership in a terrorist group” charge, and Pehlivan and İmre on the “propaganda” charge.
Semiha Şahin and her co-defendants appeared before the 23rd High Criminal Court of Istanbul on 10 September 2018 for the first courtroom hearing of her trial after spending five months in pre-trial detention.
Şahin said they were facing charges of membership in a terrorist organization for working with ETHA. “Freedom of information is a universal right,” Şahin said. “But [the indictment] considers ETHA as an illegal organization; the agency’s employees are being incriminated and its news reports are being presented as incriminating evidence. This is why I argue that this is not a legal, but a political trial.”
In her defense statement, Şahin also noted that ETHA’s report about their detention was being held as evidence against them in the case file. “During our time in police custody we engaged in a hunger strike to protest the house raid arrests carried out by police officers that also included special operation forces. This was also used as an evidence against us in the indictment,” she added.
Evidence against Şahin in the case file also include several social media posts which she said had been picked out of her more than 7,000 tweets. “We are considered as ‘usual suspects’ and arrested when it’s opportune. How can there be a fair trial with such an approach?” she asked.
Şahin’s lawyer Özcan Karakoç pointed out that the rallies and commemorations both journalists attended around three or four years ago were being presented as evidence in the case. He asked: “If my client committed a crime by attending those demonstrations 3-4 years ago, why didn’t the police department report it to the prosecution then? How come these demonstrations are presented as evidence 3-4 years later, without any previous warning, without police dispersal and without arrest?”
Following the completion of the defense statements, the prosecutor demanded the continuation of the detention of all four defendants, arguing that the case file was still incomplete.
Issuing an interim ruling in line with the prosecutor’s request, the court ruled to keep Şahin and her three co-defendants in pre-trial detention and set 5 December 2018 as the date for the next hearing in the case.
The second hearing took place on 5 December at the 23rd High Criminal Court of Istanbul.
Addressing the court for their defense statements during the hearing, both Şahin and Gayıp denied the accusations and said that this case was an attempt at criminalizing journalism.
Şahin told the court that she had been jailed for the past eight months because of being a journalist and because of her political identity. She said she deemed the continuation of her detention a punishment imposed on journalism.
Şahin’s lawyer Karakoç told the court that four Facebook posts and two Twitter posts by his client were the grounds for the accusation. Noting that the said posts were from the years 2014, 2015 and 2016, the lawyer added that Şahin did not undergo any investigation at the time of these posts. Karakoç requested Şahin’s release.
The prosecution then requested that all jailed defendants in the case be remanded in detention.
In its interim ruling, the court released Pehlivan and İmre under judicial control measures while keeping Şahin and Gayıp behind bars. The court also ruled to hand over the case file to the prosecutor for the drafting of their final opinion and adjourned the trial until 30 January 2019.
The third hearing of the trial took place on 30 January at the 23rd High Criminal Court of Istanbul. Early in the hearing, the prosecution submitted their final opinion of the case, seeking prison terms for both Şahin and Gayıp on the charges of “membership in a terrorist group” and “disseminating propaganda for a terrorist group.” The prosecution also demanded that both journalists be remanded in prison.
Addressing the court after the prosecution, Şahin rejected the accusations and requested her acquittal.
In its interim ruling, the court ruled to keep Şahin and Gayıp behind bars and adjourned the trial until 27 March 2019 for the final defense statements in response to the prosecution’s final opinion to be prepared.
After spending a total of 11 months in pre-trial detention, Şahin appeared before the 23rd High Criminal Court of Istanbul along with Gayıp on 27 March for the fourth hearing of their trial.
Şahin’s lawyer Karakoç addressed the court, asserting that the prosecution’s final opinion was technically unacceptable and that the case file was not yet ready for the judgment phase. Karakoç added that witness testimonies were also ignored. Karakoç requested Şahin’s release pending trial.
Şahin and Gayıp also addressed the court and requested to be released.
The prosecution said they reiterated their final opinion of the case, submitted to the court in the previous hearing, and requested the continuation of both journalists’ detention.
The court ruled in line with the prosecutor’s requests and ordered the continuation of Şahin and Gayıp’s detention on remand, as well as rejecting the lawyers’ requests for the expansion of the investigation. The trial was adjourned until 13 June 2019.
Semiha Şahin remains behind bars at the Bakırköy Women’s Prison in Istanbul.