Cumhuriyet’s Seyhan Avşar and Sözcü’s Necdet Önemli are charged with “making officials involved in the fight against terrorism a target” over news report about Sözcü trial prosecutor

CANSU PİŞKİN, İSTANBUL

Seyhan Avşar, a reporter for Cumhuriyet daily, and Necdet Önemli, the responsible managing editor of Sözcü newspaper, appeared before the 29th High Criminal Court of Istanbul on 9 January 2020 for the first hearing of their trial on the charge of “making those involved in the fight against terrorism a target.”

The case stems from a news report dated 6 March 2019, published in Cumhuriyet titled “Sözcü savcısı sabıkalı çıktı” (Sözcü prosecutor has criminal record).

P24 monitored the hearing, which began approximately an hour later than scheduled. Avşar and her lawyers were in attendance at the hearing, where Önemli did not attend. The hearing was also monitored by CHP Deputy Sezgin Tanrıkulu and Reporters Without Borders (RSF) Turkey representative Erol Önderoğlu.

Addressing court, Avşar’s lawyer Hüseyin Boğatekin pointed out that the allegations in the indictment do not constitute as crime according to the rulings of the Supreme Court and the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR). He requested Avşar’s immediate acquittal. “My client simply published a document which is available to the public,” Boğatekin said.

Avşar’s other lawyer Buket Yazıcı told that the charges were pressed after the expiry of the four month statute of limitations in Turkey’s Press Law and asked the court to dismiss the case.

Taking into consideration the severity of the charge faced by the defendants, the court rejected both requests.

Avşar explained that her report was on nothing other than an already finalized Supreme Court ruling. “The message to us journalists here is: we can sue you over your reports, you can be tried, but you cannot report on a prosecutor who committed a crime. Even though wherever in the world one may be, the ruling on a prosecutor who has been tried over such a claim and found guilty is newsworthy and should be reported on,” she said.

Avşar said after the report was published, a pro-government paper had already written that she might be tried even though, at the time, an investigation had not been launched against her. Avşar requested to be acquitted.

Buket Yazıcı said, “Two indictments were submitted against my client. She was not informed of either one of them. The first one was for insult, the second one was for exposing an identity. Cem Küçük [pro-government journalist] had previously written in praise of this prosecutor. Due to the principle of fairness in the Constitution, I want to now file a criminal complaint against Cem Küçük.”

Addressing the court lastly was Önemli’s lawyer İsmail Yılmaz, who pointed out that the prosecutor mentioned in the news report was responsible for press cases, not terrorism. “How is it that when Cem Küçük called the prosecutor a hero he was not accused of exposing an identity while our friends are found guilty of it when they report on it?” asked Yılmaz. He requested the immediate acquittal of Önemli.

The prosecutor requested Önemli to be heard at the next session. 

Announcing its interim decision at the end of the hearing, the court ruled for Önemli to give his statement at the next hearing and for a memo to be written to the 1st Osmaniye High Criminal Court, asking for a copy of the file on public prosecutor Asım Ekren and adjourned the trial until 21 May 2020.

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