Elif Akgül, İstanbul – The first hearing of 14 former employees of now-defunct pro-Kurdish newspaper Özgürlükçü Demokrasi took place at İstanbul 23. High Criminal Court today. Six of the defendants were in pre-trial detention. One, Pınar Tarlak, was released by the court. The other five remain detained.
Pınar Tarlak, Hicran Urun, Reyhan Hacıoğlu, İshak Yasul, İhsan Yaşar, Mehmet Ali Çelebi and Ramazan Solak were all present in the courtroom for the proceedings. Mizgin Fendik, Yılmaz Yıldız, Önder Elaldı, Günay Aksoy, Fırat Benli, Ersin Çaksu and Davut Uçar were absent. Relatives of the defendants, journalists, members of civil society and People’s Democratic Party MPs Ahmet Şık, Ali Kenanoğlu and Züleyha Gülüm were present to monitor the proceedings.
Today’s hearing revolved around the defense statements of grant holder Yaşar, editor-in-chief Yasul, editors Hacıoğlu and Urun, employee Tarlak, writer Çelebi and driver Solak. Presiding judge Ahmet Oğuz took an active role in the hearing, repeatedly inquiring whether the defendants ‘knew the rights and responsibilities of journalists’, what their ‘publishing policy’ is,’ where they gather information from’ and whether they ‘felt uncomfortable when they read the news story that describes the Turkish army as an occupier’.
Tarlak and Solak were the first to present their defense, and argued that they had never been involved in the content of stories published by the newspaper. Yaşar made a similar argument, explaining that he had chosen to purchase the newspaper to make a profit and had exercised no editorial control.
Former Editor-in-Chief Yasul provided a more substantive defense of the newspaper’s activities, explaining that ”A journalist is responsible for informing the public. They must stand on democratic and peaceful grounds whilst doing so.”
Urun criticized the evidence presented by the prosecution, noting that Kurdish songs from her MP3 player and a photo of her sitting at the newspaper’s meeting table had been presented as evidence of criminality. Hacıoğlu defended their actions by stating that ”We are not charged with corruption or theft here. We are being tried because we told the stories that were not told, because we reported the truth. Hacıoğlu went on to say that “A journalist’s job is not to confirm and approve the practices of the ruling power. Judiciary is the conscience of a country, press is the morality. If one is lost, the other one will be lost as well. We did our jobs in order to prevent social decay, of course there is a cost. We have been paying that cost for 5 months. I request my acquittal, journalism is not a crime.”
Having heard the defendant’s defense statements, prosecutor Fatih Gündüz requested that all six defendants currently in pre-trial detention remain there. The court ruled to release Tarlak from detention, subject to a judicial control order, but kept the 5 other detainees imprisoned. The hearing was then adjourned until December 6.
Updated: December 5 2018