How and why documentarist Sibel Tekin was arrested?

How and why documentarist Sibel Tekin was arrested?
On 15 December 2022 around 06.45, documentarist Sibel Tekin was shooting footage in Ankara’s Tuzluçayır for her documentary Karanlıkta başlayan hayat [The life which begins in darkness] which is about people having to go to work before the break of day because of daylight saving. Two days ago, Tekin went to Kızılay to shoot some footage for her documentary. 19 hours after she finished shooting in Tuzluçayır and at 01.40 am on 16 December 2022, Tekin’s house was raided by the police and she was taken into custody. During the raid, police confiscated Tekin’s computers, CDs and HDDs which contained documentary archives, a camera and some books. At the request of the Ankara Provincial Security Directorate, the custody period was extended for another 24 hours so that the police could examine the confiscated material. Tekin was transferred to the courthouse the next day and without even taking her statement, a prosecutor referred to a judgeship and requested that Tekin be arrested. On 17 December 2022 at 5.20 pm, the Ankara 8th Criminal Judgeship of Peace arrested Tekin over a suspicion of “membership in a terrorist organization.”

Tip-off: The footage of correction officers and a police checkpoint was shot

The Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office presented the tip-off which alerted the police that someone recorded the footage of the service bus carrying correction officers and a police checkpoint, as the basis for the custody and arrest warrant issued against Tekin. The tip-off reads: “Our department has been alerted that on 15/12/2022, a 40 years old woman with a bob haircut who was about 1, 55-1,60 centimeters long, who was wearing a dark colored hoodie, sweatpants and who was carrying a backpack recorded the footage of correction officers of the Sincan Type-F High Security Prison as they were waiting for their buses at around 06.45 and 06.55 am and the footage of a police checkpoint nearby.” “Interpreting” that the person described in the tip-off was Sibel Tekin, the Counter-Terrorism Bureau of the Ankara Provincial Security Directorate took Sibel Tekin into custody from her house around 01.40 on 16 December 2022 following the order of the prosecutor on duty.

She was asked if she faced lawsuits before: No criminal investigation and no lawsuit

On 16 December 2022, the custody period of Tekin was extended for another 24 hours. During the interrogation at the Counter-Terrorism Bureau on 17 December 2022, Tekin was asked if she was taken into custody before and if there is any ongoing criminal and administrative investigation against her. Tekin replied to these questions by saying that she was once taken into custody over the suspicion of “defying the Law no. 2911 on Demonstrations and Assemblies” while she was shooting footage and all the judicial control measures imposed upon her have long been removed. Tekin shared that in 2015 she was tried together with the protestors of a demonstration which she was covering and that the court deferred the announcement of the verdict in that case. Tekin also stated that she stood trial in a 2018 case which was brought against her on the grounds of her social media posts and she has been acquitted in that case. Tekin also said that there is no ongoing administrative investigation against her.

‘I shot footage of people going to work, taking the bus’

During the interrogation, Tekin was asked why she shot the footage mentioned in the tip-off and how she chose the locations for shooting. Tekin replied: “I did not shoot the footage of a police car or correction officers. Since 2020, I have been shooting footage for a documentary about the hardships caused by daylight saving. I had to stop because of the pandemic but this winter, I started shooting again and I shot footage of people going to work and taking the bus.”

She went to Tuzluçayır after leaving her house, shot footage of workers before going to work 

Stating that she shot footage of people going to work early in the morning and schools that were already open, Tekin replied to the tip-off which was recorded in the minutes of the interrogation as “witness statement”: “It is probable that other images might have been caught by my camera while I was shooting footage of schools that were open early in the morning. I arrived at Tuzluçayır on December 15th around 06.45 am and got out of the car in front of Abidin Aktaş and started shooting footage of crowds and cars coming from the direction of Nato Yolu. I continued by shooting traffic lights, buses and service buses. I also shot footage of crowds of people.” “As the day started to break, I thought to myself that I shot enough footage and walked towards Cebeci while continuing to shoot. I took the Ankaray from Dikimevi station and got off at Kızılay and then took the subway to where I work.”

She shot footage in Kızılay two days ago and was going to shoot footage of workers in OSTİM

During the interrogation, Tekin was asked where else she shot footage for the documentary and how she chose these locations. Emphasizing that she plans according to the subject of the documentary, Tekin replied:  “Two days ago I left my house early in the morning and took the bus to Kızılay to shoot some footage for this documentary. I stored the footage I shot in a folder titled ‘Kış Saati [Winter Time]’ which is in the black Seagate HDD. Law enforcement officers confiscated this HDD while they searched my home. I choose locations where life starts early. I chose Tuzluçayır because I know my way around there and because life starts early there. There is no other special reason for it. I was going to shoot some footage in OSTİM where there are many factories.”

Tekin who was asked ‘from where do you take your orders to produce this documentary?’ is producing documentary films since 1998

Sibel Tekin, who is a member of the Association of Documentary Filmmakers in Turkey, P24 Independent Journalism Platform, International Federation of Journalists and who has been teaching documentary filmmaking since 2007 was asked “From whom did you take orders to shoot the documentary?” Tekin answered this question by stressing that she has long been producing documentaries and stated that “As I have explained above, I have been shooting this footage since 2020 for a documentary about the hardships caused by daylight saving and I have not been ordered by anyone to do so.”

The footage was examined while it was still on the memory card, has not even been transferred to a computer

Tekin stated that during the house search police officers asked for her phone’s password, but she refused to give it up because it is her personal data. Tekin was asked if she sent the photos and the footage to anyone else. Tekin replied by saying “I have not sent the footage to anyone else. In fact, I didn't even have time to transfer it to my computer. All the footage is still on my camera’s memory card.” The following question posed to Tekin confirmed her statement that she could not even transfer the footage to her computer and that the police examined the footage while it was still on the camera’s memory card. Tekin was asked “During the examination of the footage which was found on the memory card attached to your camera, the footage or the photos of a police car and a school were discovered. Why did you take these?” Interpreting this fact together with the fact that Tekin was arrested over the suspicion of “membership in a terrorist organization”, legal experts pointed out that even the elements of the offense of “making propaganda for a terrorist organization” did not occur as Article 7/2 of the Law no. 3713 on the Fight Against Terrorism stipulates “dissemination” as one of the elements of said offense. 

She was asked about ‘the organization’ because of the content of a case in which she is acquitted

Tekin, who was asked about the posts of the social media account called “Seyri Sokak” was asked once again if she has been producing documentaries for the purposes and goals of the terrorist organization. Emphasizing that the said social media account does not belong to her and that she was acquitted in that case, Tekin replied: “I never took photos or filmed footage by acting in line with the purposes of an organization. As I have explained above, I shot footage for a documentary about the hardships of daylight saving. In no way have I on purpose shot the footage of service buses, people waiting for service buses or a police car. I was not aware of them.” “The social media account called Seyri Sokak is a collective’s page and I am part of the Seyri Sokak video collective. On that account everyone can share and during a previous investigation, I stated that I did not post those posts and I was acquitted in that case.”

‘Since October 10th, recording public memory has been my only field of interest’

During the interrogation, Tekin was accused of sharing posts about “the activities of terrorist organizations” and posts “containing comments and contents which were praising terrorist organizations” on her personal social media account and was asked to explain herself. Tekin replied to the accusations: “Since 10 October 2015, the massacre has been my only field of interest. These events have nothing to do with terrorist organizations. I have been recording all the [commemoration] events since 10 October 2015. Also since the Gezi protests in 2013, I have been recording all public events, street protests. The reason why I film these events is to record the public memory.”

Evrensel daily is among the publications confiscated

In addition to digital materials; nine printed materials including books, magazines and newspapers were confiscated during the house search. Among the printed material confiscated are Evrensel daily with the headline “Ölü işçiler diyarı [The land of dead workers]”, Atılım newspapers with the headlines “Soma’nın hesabını soracağız [We will make somebody account for Soma]” and “Genel grev, genel direniş [General strike, general resistance]”, Genç Hayat magazine with Erdal Eren on the front page, the book by journalist Arzu Demir titled Suruç’tan kalanların dilinden… Kobani’ye gitmek [From the mouths of those remained after Suruç … Going to Kobani] and magazines like Kaldıraç, Yürüyüş and Kadınların Kurtuluşu. Commenting on the confiscated printed materials, Tekin stated that “The only reason I have these publications in my home is because they were handed to me while I was covering protests as I have been doing since the Gezi protests in 2013. As far as I know, none of these publications were banned at the time I got them. They have been sitting in a corner in my house. I have no organizational purposes to have them in my house.”

Tekin’s lawyer: The patrolling police car did not prevent the filming

During the interrogation of her client by the police, lawyer Mehtap Sakinci pointed to a police patrol car seen in the footage and emphasized that police officers did not prevent Tekin from filming despite the fact that they were ten meters away from Tekin. Sakinci continued “In the footage shown to my client, a patrolling police car can be seen. It is a dilemma that my client was not prevented from filming despite the fact the police station which a police car was patrolling around was 5-10 meters away.” “On the other hand, it is not known which terrorist organization my client is accused of being affiliated with, considering the questions suggesting that she may be affiliated with numerous terrorist organizations.” Sakinci continued her arguments as follows:

‘All the questions posed are about documentary filmmaking activities’

“First of all, my client is a lecturer, filmmaker and a documentarist who dedicated her life to art and to the improvement of social awareness and public memory. Regarding the incident for which she is accused of, she has not acted maliciously or in pursuit of an organization motive. All the questions posed to my client are about her activities in the past as a filmmaker. We are of the opinion it is against the protocol and the law to consider my client as a suspect for having carried out ‘terror organization’ activities because of some footage taken under the circumstances of 9-10 years ago. There is no evidence, witness or indication to suggest her ‘membership in a terrorist organization’; whatever that organization may be.”

‘She has been laboring for the past 86 months so that October 10th is not forgotten’

Stating that Tekin has been recording the memory of the October 10th Massacre in 2015 which claimed the lives of 104 people and left behind more than 500 wounded, Sakinci argued “My client is someone who has been laboring for the past 86 months so that the bloodiest massacre in the history of the Republic of Turkey is shed light upon and not forgotten. For the past 7 years, her social media posts and documentary filmmaking have all been focused on this matter. It can be seen that my client’s only aim is to record the truths of this country so that their memory can be preserved. She has no other expectations than this.” 

Who is Sibel Tekin?

She graduated from Ankara University’s Faculty of Communications. She has been an independent documentary filmmaker since 1998. Between 2000 and 2007, she worked as an assistant and a film editor at The Turkish Radio and Television Corporation (TRT). Since 2007, she has been teaching video-editing, documentary filmmaking and video activism at Hacettepe University. Her documentaries met with the audiences at festivals and private previews. She has been filming street protests since the Gezi protests and produces documentaries about them. She is the cameraperson, editor and producer of the documentary titled “Ölüm ne yana düşer usta” which tells the story of Diyarbakır, Suruç and October 10th massacres. She also has a book published by NotaBene under the same title. *This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License. The work may be used and redistributed for non-commercial purposes with proper attribution to the Media and Law Studies Association (MLSA).

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