This week, the hearings of numerous freedom of expression trials will be held. Below is the list of these hearings:
March 21st, Tuesday
The eighth hearing of the trial in which journalist Sonya Bayık faces “defying the Law no. 2911 on Assemblies and Demonstrations” charge will be held in the Batman 1st Criminal Court of First Instance, at 09.55. Bayık was detained in 2019 while following an event at Hasankeyf and was subsequently released. The indictment cites the decision taken by Hasankeyf District Governorship on 12 July 2019 which effectively banned all protests, meetings and similar activities within the district at that time. At the second hearing, Bayık’s file along with two other defendants was separated from the case file of 28 defendants.
The first hearing of the retrial in which journalist Mehmet Güleş faces “making propaganda for a terrorist” organization charge will be held in the Elazığ 2nd High Criminal Court, at 10.10. Güleş who was a student and a reporter of the since-shuttered Dicle News Agency (DIHA) at the time was arrested on 7 December 2016 in Elazığ. The Elazığ Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office indicted the journalist on 22 December 2016 with “membership in a terrorist organization” and “making propaganda for a terrorist organization.” The prosecutor presented Güleş’s employment at DIHA, his phone conversations with news sources and colleagues, the events he covered and 20 social media posts allegedly shared by Güleş between 2013-2016 as evidence against the journalist. Arguing that Güleş’s statements should not be taken into consideration, the prosecutor claimed that “it has been understood that [Güleş] has the mentality of a member of the organization and that he carried out the orders given in line with the so-called KCK Agreement” and requested Güleş to be sentenced. At the hearing held on 3 May 2017, the Elazığ 2nd High Criminal Court sentenced Güleş to 6 years and 3 months in prison for “membership in a terrorist organization” and to 3 years 1 month 15 days for “making propaganda for a terrorist organization.” On 12 July 2017, the 4th Penal Chamber of the Gaziantep District Court of Appeals upheld the prison sentences imposed upon Güleş. Reviewing the appeal against the district court’s judgment, the 16th Penal Chamber of the Court of Cassation rejected the appeal against the prison sentence over the propaganda charge on the grounds that it was finalized with the judgment of the district court. The 16th Penal Chamber also ruled to approve the prison sentence over the membership charge. On 17 October 2019, the parliament approved the first package of the Judicial Reform and thereby opened the way for prison sentences less than 5 years to be also brought before the Court of Cassation. Reviewing the appeal against the prison sentence imposed upon Güleş over the propaganda charge, the 3rd Penal Chamber of the Court of Cassation ruled to overturn the conviction. The 3rd Penal Chamber reasoned that the prison sentence imposed upon Güleş was increased without proper reason and against the conscience and that the date of the offense was written incorrectly by both the first degree court and the district court. Journalist Güleş was released from prison on 13 August 2021 after serving the time of the prison sentence imposed for “membership in a terrorist organization.”
The 13th hearing of the trial in which the imprisoned former Co-Chair of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) Selahattin Demirtaş faces “defying the Law no. 2911 on Demonstrations and Assemblies” charge will be held in the Batman 2nd Criminal Court of First Instance, at 14.00. The indictment was prepared by the Organized Crimes Investigation Bureau of the Batman Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office in 2019. In the indictment, the prosecutor presents the impromptu rally of Selahattin Demirtaş during the Newroz celebrations which were planned to take place on 20 March 2016 but was banned by the Batman Governor’s Office as evidence against Demirtaş. In addition to the ban decision of the governor’s office, the prosecutor also presents the incidents which took place before Demirtaş came to the city and the slogans allegedly chanted during his speech as evidence against the politician and requests Demirtaş to be sentenced up to 3 years in prison for “organizing, leading illegal demonstrations and marches or taking part in illegal demonstrations and marches.” At the ninth hearing of the trial held on 18 October 2022, the prosecutor presented his final opinion as to the accusations and requested imprisonment of Demirtaş for up to 3 years. At the same hearing, Demirtaş provided his arguments against the final opinion and stated that the prosecutor offered no justification for his request for imprisonment.
March 22nd, Wednesday
The second hearing of the trial in which journalists Nebiye Arı, Hilal Işık, journalist Yağmur Kaya whom MLSA represents in the court and 45 activists face “defying the Law no.2911 on Demonstrations and Assemblies” charge will be held in the Ankara 15th Criminal Court of First Instance, at 11.00. The indictment, which was prepared by prosecutor Mehmet Arslan and which was filed on 27 May 2022 presents the fact that journalists and 45 activists were taken into police custody on 12 December 2021 while trying to go to Ankara in order to cover and support the protests of the “Barınamıyoruz Hareketi [We cannot Find Shelter Movement]”, the slogans they allegedly shouted while they were being taken into police custody and the social media posts by the Barınamıyoruz Hareketi as evidence for the charges. The prosecutor claims that the journalists and the activists “failed to disperse despite being warned” despite the fact that the journalists and the activists were taken into custody after they were forced off their bus. Additionally, two activists have also been charged with “insulting a public official because of the performance of their public duty” for which the statements of the complainant police officers are cited as evidence. On 5 May 2022, the Ankara 15th Criminal Court of First Instance returned the indictment against the journalists and the activists on the grounds that the injured parties of “insulting a public official” charges, are not specified in the indictment. Another indictment prepared by prosecutor Arslan in which he indicted 8 women with “defying the Law no.2911 on Demonstrations and Assemblies” was also returned by the Ankara 53th Criminal Court of First Instance on the same day it was presented to the court. Referring to the additional charges (“prevention of public duty”) brought against some women, the court returned that indictment on the grounds that “the police officers who were allegedly subjected to use of force and therefore may be considered as the injured party are not listed in the indictment” and that “it was not specified in the indictment which suspect used force against which police officer.” At the first hearing of the trial of journalists Nebiye Arı, Hilal Işık, Yağmur Kaya and 45 activists held on 23 November 2022, the court decided to wait for the return of 47 writs issued so that the statements of those defendants who live outside Ankara can be taken and to ask from the Ankara Governor’s Office a copy of the ban decision.
The seventh hearing of “the Özgürlükçü Demokrasi” retrial in which journalists İhsan Yaşar, İshak Yasul, Mehmet Ali Çelebi, Mizgin Fendik, Pınar Tarlak, Reyhan Hacıoğlu and Hicran Urun face “membership in a terrorist organization”, “printing or publishing the leaflets and declarations of terrorist organizations”, “inciting the public to hatred and hostility”, “making propaganda for a terrorist organization” and “praising an offense and offender” charges will be held in the İstanbul 23rd High Criminal Court, at 11.10. On its decision dated 5 March 2021, the 27th Penal Chamber of the İstanbul Regional Court of Appeals had overturned the acquittals of Mizgin Fendik and Pınar Tarlak and the convictions of other journalists on the grounds that the sentences they received were “inadequate.” Presenting his final opinion at the hearing held on 7 April 2022, the prosecutor requested that Mizgin Fendik be acquitted; that Hicran Urun, Mehmet Ali Çelebi, Reyhan Hacıoğlu, İshak Yasul and Pınar Tarlak be sentenced for “membership in a terrorist organization”, “making propaganda for a terrorist organization” and “printing or publishing the leaflets and declarations of terrorist organizations.” At the fifth hearing of the trial held on 15 September 2022, the court decided to give additional time for Hicran Urun, Mehmet Ali Çelebi, Reyhan Hacıoğlu ve İshak Yasul to defend themselves against “aiding and abetting and organization willingly and knowingly without belonging to its hierarchical structure.” At the sixth hearing of the trial held on 21 December 2022, the court decided to continue the international travel bans imposed upon three defendants and to ask for an expert’s opinion to determine whether “the Özgürlükçü Demokrasi daily carried out its activities for the benefit of the terrorist organization.”
The second hearing of the trial in which the former executive editor of bianet Nazan Özcan faces “insult” and “libel” charges upon complaint by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s former lawyer Mustafa Doğan İnal will be held in the İstanbul 34th Criminal Court of First Instance, at 11.30. Prosecutor Türkşad Kunthan Uçuk who had also indicted journalist Sedef Kabaş and pop star Gülşen cites the news article titled “Erdoğan'ın avukatının rüşvet iddialarını haberleştiren gazetecilere dava [Lawsuit against journalists who reported the allegations of bribery about Erdoğan’s lawyer]” which was published in bianet on 7 December 2021 as evidence against Özcan. Citing the news article about the lawsuit brought against İleri Haber’s former editor-in-chief Doğan Ergün and İleri Haber’s current editor-in-chief İzel Sezer by Mustafa Doğan İnal after the journalists reported about the bribery allegations about İnal, the prosecutor claims that İnal Özcan “openly insulted” and “defamed via the press” and requests that Özcan be sentenced. At the first hearing of the trial held on 8 December 2022, the court decided to accept the intervention request of İnal and to give additional time for his lawyer to present his detailed arguments. The court also decided to ask for the file of the case in which journalists Doğan Ergün and İzel Sezer stand trial upon complaint by İnal.
The eighth hearing of the trial in which 52 students of Boğaziçi University face “defying the Law no. 2911 on Assemblies and Demonstrations” and “deprivation of liberty” charges will be held in the İstanbul 49th Criminal Court of First Instance, at 13.30. The indictment presents the social media posts with the tag #bundansonrasıbizde and the slogans the students shouted as evidence against them. At the sixth hearing of the trial held on 4 July 2022, the court gave additional time for defense lawyers to submit their written arguments and their evidence to the case file and to have their witness ready at the next hearing. At the seventh hearing of the trial held on 12 December 2022, the court decided to send the case file to an expert so that the footage of the incident can be examined.
March 23rd, Thursday
The 13th hearing of the trial in which three journalists, including Osman Akın and Veysi Sarısözen face “making propaganda for a terrorist organization” charge will be held in the İstanbul 13th High Criminal Court, at 09.10. The indictment presents the news and articles published in Yeni Yaşam newspaper during when Osman Akın was the editor-in-chief as evidence against the journalists. The prosecutor claims that the newspaper published news and articles which “legitimize the violent and threatening actions of the terrorist organization.”
The fourth hearing of the trial in which columnist and expelled sociologist Veli Saçılık faces “insulting a public official” charges (on two accounts) upon complaint by the Minister of Interior Süleyman Soylu and the leader of the Nationalist Movement Party Devlet Bahçeli will be held in the Ankara 30th Criminal Court of First Instance, at 10.00. The indictment filed on 14 April 2022 presents a tweet in which Saçılık quoted a news article about Süleyman Soylu and shared on his personal account on 12 January 2020 and a social media post about Devlet Bahçeli which prosecutor Mehmet Aykut Cihangir claims that Saçılık had shared on his personal account on 15 January 2020 as evidence against Saçılık. The prosecutor claims that the statement Saçılık had given at the prosecutor’s office was intended “to get away with the crime committed” and that via the social media posts “offended the honor and dignity” of Süleyman Soylu and Devlet Bahçeli. On 8 June 2022, at the first hearing of the trial, the court accepted the intervention request of Süleyman Soylu on the grounds that “he may have been harmed by the offense committed.” At the second hearing of the trial held on 8 November 2022, the court accepted the intervention request of Devlet Bahçeli on the grounds that “he may have been harmed by the offense committed.” At the third hearing of the trial held on 22 December 2022, the prosecutor presented his final opinion as to the accusation and requested Saçılık to be sentenced for both accounts. The prosecutor who prepared the indictment against Saçılık is the same prosecutor who indicted Öztürk Türkdoğan, the Co-Chair of the Human Rights Association (İHD) for “insulting a public official” upon complaint by Süleyman Soylu. The Ankara 60th Criminal Court of First Instance had eventually acquitted Türkdoğan on the grounds that “his actions cited as evidence for the charges are not defined as a crime in the law.” It was also revealed that via copy/paste indictments, the prosecutor brought separate lawsuits against İHD Co-Chair Öztürk Türkdoğan and former members of the central executive committee of the Peoples’ Democratic Party among whom are also Veli Saçılık for “openly degrading the state of the Turkish Republic.”
The first hearing of the trial in which Evrensel daily’s proprietor Kürşat Yılmaz and managing editor Görkem Kınacı faces “insult” and “libel” charges upon complaint by Serhat Albayrak, the Deputy Board Chair of the Turkuvaz Media Group, will be held in the Istanbul 2nd Criminal Court of First Instance, at 11.50. In the indictment which was filed on 18 November 2022, the prosecutor presents the news article titled “Borsadaki rüşvet ağı Saray’a kadar uzandı [The bribery network in the stock market goes all the way up to the palace]” which was published on 29 August 2022 with the headline “Derin Sessizlik [Deep silence]” and the news article titled “Saray’a dayanan Peker ifşaları ‘cesur savcı’ ile temizlenemez [The Peker revelations which go all the way up to the Palace cannot be cleared by ‘a brave prosecutor’]” as evidence against the journalists. In the news articles, organized crime leader Sedat Peker’s revelations and allegations about high-level bureaucrats and corporate executives were shared with the public. Following the complaint by Serhat Albayrak, the Istanbul Anatolian 1st Criminal Judgeship ordered Evrensel to publish a rebuttal on 10 October 2022. The access to the news articles were also blocked following a complaint by Serhat Albayrak.
The third hearing of the trial in which Hanife Yıldız, the mother of 19-year old Murat Yıldız who was forcefully disappeared in İzmir on 23 February 1995, faces “insulting a public official” charge for referring to Minister of Interior Süleyman Soylu as “Süslü Sülo [Fancy Sülo]” will be held in the İstanbul 48th Criminal Court of First Instance, at 12.30.The prosecutor who indicted Yıldız 71 days after “the date of the crime”, presents Yıldız’s statements during a 17 May 2022 press statement by the İstanbul Branch of the Human Rights Association, Saturday Mothers/People and Human Rights Foundation of Turkey on the occasion of the Week of Disappearances. However, the prosecutor fails to specify which expressions are insulting to Soylu. Due to health issues, Yıldız could not attend the first hearing of the trial held on 17 November 2022. At the first hearing the court decided to give additional time for Yıldız’s lawyer and issued a warning that Yıldız will be brought before the court if she fails to attend the hearing. At the same hearing, it was also revealed that Kağıthane Police also intervenes in the case as “the injured party.” At the second hearing of the trial held on 26 January 2023, the court decided to send the case file to the prosecutor so that he can prepare his final opinion as to the accusations.
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