Journalist Nazlan Ertan is acquitted at the first hearing of the copy/pasted terrorism case

Journalist Nazlan Ertan is acquitted at the first hearing of the copy/pasted terrorism case
Journalist Nazlan Ertan who stood trial for retweeting a tweet shared by human rights defender Eren Keskin who commented on a development in the Deniz Poyraz Case, is acquitted at the first hearing. The first hearing of the trial in which journalist Nazlan Ertan whom MLSA represents in the court, faced “identifying officials on anti-terror duties as targets” and “insulting a public official” charges was held in the İzmir 21st High Criminal Court.  Nazlan Ertan attended the hearing together with her lawyers Veysel Ok and Merve Kurhan. Numerous journalists, lawyers and representatives of NGOs, including the representative of the International Press Institute (IPI) and the Foreign Media Association (FMA) monitored the hearing.

‘It is a journalist’s duty to reflect different opinions’

Ertan began her arguments by sharing with the court that she has been a journalist for 35 years who worked at different national and international organizations. Ertan stated that she followed the Deniz Poyraz Case as a journalist and that she noted different views and comments about the case either by bookmarking or retweeting them: “On 17 April 2022, without making any comments I retweeted Eren Keskin’s tweet in which she said ‘Not even grief is respected, the call for justice of Deniz Poyraz’s father is considered propaganda’ referring to the case brought against Deniz Poyraz’s father and in which he is acquitted, because I thought it was a newsworthy statement coming from a prominent human rights lawyer.” Emphasizing that no one was directly or indirectly mentioned in that tweet, Ertan said that the tweet which Keskin quoted also had no such intention and that it was an opinion of a party to the case. Stating that she shares many different views on her social media account, Ertan said “It is a journalist’s duty to reflect different opinions.” Ertan shared with the court that she saw the name of the complainant prosecutor for the first in the indictment against her. Emphasizing that she had no intention to identify someone as a target or insult them, Ertan requested to be acquitted. Ertan concluded her arguments by requesting the court to remove the international travel ban imposed upon her on the grounds that it is disproportionate. Ertan stated that the ban prevented her from continuing her work and shared with the court that she could not attend a conference in which she was to present. Presenting his final opinion as to the accusations at the first hearing, the prosecutor requested journalist Ertan to be sentenced.

‘The prosecutor did not even bother to cite my client’s actual tweet’

Taking the floor after Ertan, lawyer Veysel Ok began his arguments by saying that the prosecutor filed a lawsuit against Ertan without conducting an effective investigation, without writing a personalized indictment and furthermore by using a copy/pasted indictment. Lawyer Ok shared with the court that Ertan actually retweeted a tweet by the Co-Chair of the Human Rights Association (IHD) Eren Keskin and emphasized that the tweet cited in the indictment as evidence for the charges leveled against Ertan is not the actual tweet shared by his client: “Only if the police and prosecutor just glanced through my client’s social media account, they could have realized that my client did not retweet the tweet by the Deniz Poyraz Case account. Moreover, neither that tweet shared on 17 April 2022 nor the tweet of human rights defender Eren Keskin are against the law and therefore cannot be cited as criminal evidence. Mr. Prosecutor who caused my client to be briefly detained and who caused my client’s freedom of movement to be violated, apparently did not even bother to cite my client’s actual tweet!” Arguing that the indictment against journalist Ertan cannot be considered a legal document, lawyer Ok stated that the real motivation of this lawsuit which was initiated with an indictment that was prepared unlawfully and dishonestly is to put Ertan’s journalism on trial: “It must be asserted that no prosecutor or judge can question a journalist’s way of working and a journalist’s sharing of news. Those who tried to do so in the past do not have a pleasant place in the public memory.”

‘A tweet about a popular case cannot be considered as identifying someone as a target’

Lawyer Ok pointed out that the concept of “a public official on anti-terror duties” in the Article 6/1 of the Anti-Terror Law is against the principle of legality and argued that it must be interpreted narrowly. Lawyer Ok argued that a person cannot be considered “on anti-terror duties” merely for making statements against terrorist organizations or for prosecuting individuals on terrorism charges. Arguing that the tweet cited by the prosecutor in his copy/pasted indictment should be considered not as identifying someone as a target but as a freedom of expression and dissemination of thought, lawyer Ok stated that all popular, public cases are newsworthy: “The Deniz Poyraz Case in which Onur Gencer who killed Deniz Poyraz on 17 June 2021 at the İzmir Office of the Peoples’ Democratic Party, was tried attracted public interest. Many individuals including members of the parliament attended the hearings, many lawyers took part in the proceedings and numerous press statements were made before each hearing. There were many news reports about the case and the details of the case are well known by the public. Imparting information regarding the case by my client who is a journalist cannot be considered as pointing someone as a target. It must be considered within the context of freedom of expression.”

‘The tweet must be judged within its context’

Lawyer Ok argued that the international travel ban imposed on Ertan who also holds a French citizenship on the grounds of a copy/pasted indictment constitutes a violation of Articles 5 and 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights as such a judicial control measure is only a substitute to arrest. Lawyer Ok requested the tweet in question to be judged within its context: “When the tweet in question is read, it can be seen that there is no intention of identifying someone as a target or insulting someone. It is an imparting of information, a criticism about a case of a political murder committed with racist motivations against the third biggest political party in Turkey and in the third biggest city of Turkey. The tweet does not contain any organization, does not name a prosecutor or specify a court. There is only an opinion about the proceedings.”  Presenting to the court the relevant judgments of high courts which the prosecutor failed to cite in the indictment, lawyer Ok argued: “Expressing an opinion which might be different than Mr. Prosecutor’s conception of reality cannot be considered a crime. Reporting, tweeting, retweeting cannot be considered a crime. It is exercising one’s freedom of expression. These expressions might disturb others but must nonetheless be considered within the context of freedom of expression.” Lawyer Ok concluded his arguments by requesting the acquittal of journalist Ertan.

‘There is no evidence in the indictment favoring my client’

Lawyer Merve Kurhan emphasized that the indictment was prepared without proper investigation. Lawyer Kurhan argued, “If the prosecutor bothered to cite evidence in favor of my client, it could have been established that my client followed the case from the beginning as a journalist. The tweet in question was shared for this purpose as well.” Lawyer Kurhan concluded her arguments by requesting Ertan’s acquittal. 

Journalist Ertan acquitted

The court announced its verdict after a brief recess. Reasoning that the elements of the offenses Ertan was charged with did not occur, the court acquitted the journalist. The court also ruled to remove the international travel ban imposed upon the journalist. 

The indictment

The prosecutor cites a tweet shared on the social media account called “Deniz Poyraz Davası [Deniz Poyraz Case]” on 17 April 2022 which was retweeted by Ertan as evidence for the charges. Even though he ignores the fact Ertan did not share the cited tweet, the prosecutor claims that by sharing the tweet in which it was stated “The prosecutor who failed to conduct an effective investigation so that the attack and the murder could be brought to light, who allowed the evidence to be spoiled and who prevented all those responsible to be brought to justice…”, Ertan openly insulted the complainant prosecutor C.U. because of his duties and requests Ertan to be sentenced for “insulting a public official because of his duties.” The prosecutor also claims that by sharing the tweet in which it was stated “... the prosecutor filed a lawsuit against Deniz Poyraz’s grieving father [Abdulillah Poyraz] over propaganda charges”, Ertan pointed complainant prosecutor C.U. as a target for terrorist organizations. Despite the fact that the indictment is against journalist Ertan, the prosecutor states that “It has been understood that Abdulillah Poyraz who identified the Terror Crimes Investigation Bureau prosecutor assigned to the investigation file as target for terrorist organizations, has committed the offense of identifying officials on anti-terrorist duties as a target.” The prosecutor includes this argument in the indictment against Ertan despite the fact that he states in the beginning of the indictment that Abdulillah Poyraz was charged with “making propaganda for a terrorist organization” and was acquitted in that case. The prosecutor who indicted journalist Ertan also separately indicted at least 40 people, including journalist Rabia Çetin, reporter Derya Saadet, the Co-Chair of the Human Rights Association (İHD) Eren Keskin, the Chair of the Human Rights Agenda Association (İHGD) Özlem Yılmaz  the District Executives of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), human rights defenders and lawyers with “identifying officials on anti-terror duties as targets (Article 6/1 of the Anti- Terror Law)” and “insulting a public official (Article 125/3a-4 of the Turkish Penal Code)” by using copy/pasted indictments.  The İzmir 21st High Criminal Court which accepted the indictment filed on 2 November 2022 in eight days, decided to impose an international travel ban on journalist Ertan who also holds a French citizenship. On 16 December 2022, Ertan’s lawyers appealed against the international travel ban. On 28 December 2022, the İzmir 22nd High Criminal Court to which the appeal was filed, ruled to reject the appeal on the grounds that the judicial control measure imposed upon the journalist “is not against the procedure and the law.” *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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