Van – The fourth hearing of the trial where Mesopotamia Agency (MA) reporters Adnan Bilen, Cemil Uğur and Zeynep Durgut, Jinnews reporter Şehriban Abi and freelance journalist Nazan Sala face “membership in a terrorist organization” charge was held on January 6, at Van 5th High Criminal Court. The court’s acquitted the journalists of “membership” charges and sentenced Nazan Sala to 1 year 3 months in prison for “making propaganda for a terrorist organization” charge. The court’s deferred the announcement of the verdict for Sala.
The fourth hearing of the trial where Mesopotamia News Agency (MA) reporters Adnan Bilen and Cemil Uğur, Jinnews reporter Şehriban Abi and journalist Nazan Sala, who were arrested on October 9, 2020, following the news report on Osman Şiban and Servet Turgut who were tortured by soldiers and were thrown off a military helicopter; and MA reporter Zeynep Durgut faced “membership in a terrorist organization” charge was held today at Van 5th High Criminal Court.
Journalists Adnan Bilen, Nazan Sala and Cemil Uğur along with lawyers Erselan Aktan, Murat Timur, Barış Oflas, Veysi Atay, Naim Çalli and Ekin Yeter attended the today’s hearing while journalists Şehriban Abi and Zeynep Durgut who had submitted excuses to the court did not attend the hearing. In addition to MLSA, lawyer Ülkü Şahin of the Journalists Union of Turkey (TGS) monitored the hearing.
‘The decision to merge the case files was not made with legal motivations’
The hearing which started almost an hour late began with the identification of the defendants and their lawyers. After the identification, Nazan Sala took the floor to give her statement against the recent indictment prepared against her and which was merged with the main case file: “You must pay attention to the dates in the indictment. The thing I am accused of was in 2007. At that time, I was a freelance journalist in Van. Television channels including TRT called me to report from the region. I was doing my job as a journalist. I have no organic connections with the channel mentioned in the indictment. When you are a freelance journalist, television channels call you and ask you to report from the region. I reported not only on Roj TV, but on other channels as well.”
After Sala, her lawyer Ekin Yeter took the floor and stated: “The date of the alleged crime is 2007 and no statement was even taken in that investigation.[The prosecutor] goes to the past while my client is tried on this case. The [prosecution’s] aim is to expand the case file, but no content about the alleged crime is provided.”
After lawyer Yeter, Sala’s other lawyer Veysi Atay took the floor: “There was no prosecution in 15 years as Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office decided not to prosecute the case since there was no crime. But, all of a sudden, my client was indicted for this investigation and the case files were immediately merged. The claim is there, but there is no concrete evidence. The very fact that only her reporting on Roj TV was included in the indictment shows that there is no impartiality on the prosecution’s side. The decision to merge the case files was not made with legal motivations. The right to a fair trial is being violated here.”
After a short break, the prosecution presented its opinion. The prosecutor requested that journalists be acquitted of “membership” charges, but Sala be sentenced for “propaganda” charges.
‘This attitude puts all journalists at risk’
Sala took the floor once again to defend herself against the prosecutor’s opinion. Sala stated that the social media posts cited in the indictment as evidence against her are not hers, but she was only tagged and requested to be acquitted.
Lawyer Atay stated that they agree with the prosecutor’s request for acquittal and argued that Sala should also be acquitted for the propaganda charge: “There are no criminal elements in the posts cited. Furthermore, my client is only tagged in these posts. The news reports she had shared were already published in other outlets, and there were no court orders regarding these reports.”
After lawyer Atay, lawyer Yeter took the floor and argued that Sala should be acquitted for the propaganda charge as well: “The posts in question do not include my client’s opinions. The matter must be assessed from a legal point of view. Things which were not considered a crime a few years ago are now considered as crimes. Furthermore, my client is only tagged in these photos. A journalist must objectively inform the society, and it can be done on any matter. If this is considered a crime, such an attitude will put all journalists at risk.”
Lawyer Erselan Aktan was the last one to take the floor. Aktan argued that the prosecution’s request for acquittal is accurate but Sala should also be acquitted for the propaganda charge: “The social media posts which my client had shared and for which the prosecution requested punishment are all according to the criteria set forth by the Court of Cassation about journalism. The events which took place in Diyarbakır and Syria were of public concern in Turkey. Therefore, reporting on these events served greatly to the public interest. It seems like [the prosecution] presumes the intentions of my client here. We request acquittal of this charge as well.”
After hearing the statements against the opinion, the court announced its decision. Journalists are acquitted of “membership” charges. The court’s sentenced Sala to 1 year 3 months in prison for the “propaganda” charge and deferred the announcement of the verdict.