Silivri, İstanbul – 21 defendants appeared in İstanbul 26. High Criminal Court on terrorism charges for participating in the publication of the now-defunct pro-Kurdish newspaper Özgürlükçü Demokrasi. Kasım Zengin, the owner of Gün Printing House, lamented their presence in court and explained that “The employees of the newspaper prepare the daily, and deliver it to us. We do not check the content. What we do is to print those pages to make a living. Then we deliver the documents we publish to the Public Prosecution’s Office.”
The 20 other defendants are all employees of Gün Printing House and have been charged with ‘membership in a terrorist organization’, ‘terrorist propaganda’ and ‘committing a crime on behalf of a terrorist organization without being a member’. Gün has been the subject of intense judicial scrutiny. A previous court decision transferred ownership of Gün to the Savings Deposit Insurance Fund of Turkey.
11 of the defendants were present in court – Kasım Zengin, Cemal Tunç, Erdoğan Zamur, İhsan Sinmiş, İrfan Karaca, Kazım Göçer, Mahmut Abay, Mehmet Emin Sürmeli, Musa Kaya, Mürsel Demir and Polat Arslan. Another defendant, Uğur Selman Kelekçiler, is receiving medical treatment at Bakırköy Psychiatric Hospital and was unable to attend.
After noting that defendants had made their defense statements in the previous hearing, the presiding judge, Judge Kemal Selçuk Yalçın, invited the defendants to “Say if there is anything new you want to say, without repeating yourself.” Zamur quickly took advantage of the opportunity. “I want to ask why I am still in jail. I request to be released.”
Zengin subsequently took the floor. After explaining the function of a printing house, Zengin went on to note the exceptional nature of the proceedings. “This is a first in history, where the whole employees of a printing house get arrested.”
Abay followed on and provided additional defense testimony. He was repeatedly interrupted by the presiding judge with warnings. “I am warning you one more time. State your requests speedily or you will go back to your seat. If you continue to waste our time, I will shut down the microphone, or take you out.”
Göçer then rose to note that “I was allegedly publishing a Kurdish grammar book. I don’t even speak Kurdish. Moreover, that book was not pulled off or banned.”
The statements of the defendants were followed by arguments from lawyers for the defense. One defense lawyer, Özcan Kılıç, noted that “People have been forced to state ‘I am a Turk, and I stand with the government’, in legal proceedings in the last two years. This is what this trial is about,” which caused the presiding judge to issue a warning for criticizing an interim ruling of the court. Kılıç went on to explain that “I am the lawyer of the printing house. You listened to the lawyers of all the defendants, even the ones released pending trial. Did my statements make you feel uncomfortable?” His arguments cut it fine. The presiding judge was quick to respond by saying that “This is my last warning. Make your requests or I will take you out of the courtroom.”
Kılıç concluded by noting that publishing Özgürlükçü Demokrasi was not a criminal act. “The newspaper’s proceeding is still ongoing. It is not a weapon, therefore it is not right to approach it as an illegal entity. These people have been forced to state that they are not Kurds.”
İlknur Alcan, lawyer for Uğur Selman Kelekçiler, then rose to request compassionate treatment of her client. She explained that “He has been diagnosed with 45% schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. He thinks that he is a prophet.”
The prosecution requested the continued detention of all the defendants, arguing that they posed enough of a threat that a judicial control order would be insufficient. The court ruled to release Demir, Arslan and Göçer, but kept Tunç, Zamur, Sinmiş, Karaca, Zengin, Abay, Sümeli and Kaya in detention. The hearing was then adjourned until January 14.
Updated: December 5 2018