İstanbul – The trial of since shut Taraf newspaper’s former administrators Ahmet Altan, Yasemin Çongar and Yıldıray Oğur, reporter Mehmet Baransu, and Aktüel reporter Tuncay Opçin was held at İstanbul 13rd High Criminal Court on July 11 and 12, 2019. The defendants face “disclosing information or documents that, due to their nature, must be kept confidential for reasons relating to the security, or domestic or foreign political interests of the State” charges for Taraf’s reporting on “operation Balyoz,” an alleged Turkish secularist coup plan.
Mehmet Baransu, detained for the past 4 years and 4 months at Silivri Prison for “obtaining, disclosing and destroying information linked to the safety of the state” charges in relation to the “Egemen Harekât Planı” (Plan for Operation Sovereign), was the only defendant present at the eighteenth session of the trial. Other defendants are exempted from hearings.
Lawyers of Altan, Çongar and Oğur attended the hearing, as well as Dursun Çiçek, Suat Aytın and Hüseyn Hançer, all three of whom had been tried and acquitted in the Balyoz (Sledgehammer) trial about the alleged Turkish secularist military coup plan dating back to 2003. The retired soldiers who had requested on the first day to be co-plaintiffs in the case and had also been tried and acquitted in the Balyoz case, including Ahmet Yavuz, who also participated in the trial. Baransu’s spouse was also present on both days.
The trial resumed with Baransu’s defense statement, which he could not complete in the previous hearing. Baransu defended himself during both days of the hearing, indicating that he did not know the person who had delivered him the documents linked to the news article inside a suitcase and CDs, but that the person in question had told him that he was part of the 1st Legion Commandship. He added that he guessed the person to be retired and that he was in his 50s, tanned, with a lesion on his face. Baransu explained that he had been handed over the CDs containing the documents in a cafe in Kadıköy, that a portion of these documents had been investigated by the newspaper, that the news had been written after the verification by audio recordings of the non classified information contained in these documents and that he had later handed over the documents to the prosecution.
Baransu indicated that during this period his newborn child’s health problems had taken over a lot of his time and that he did not have the chance to come to Taraf’s offices too frequently. Baransu stated that the documents had been investigated by Yıldıray Oğur, Kurtuluş Tayiz, Markar Esayan and Ahmet Altan, while the news reports were published with the signatures of Yıldıray Oğur, Yasemin Çongar and himself.
In relation to the statement made as part of the claim against him by his former spouse Esra Konur that “he used to come to the hospital together with Tuncay Opçin”, Baransu indicated that Opçin had in fact come to wish him a prompt recovery and said, “This woman is going to come here and her lies are going to be exposed. She told me ‘I will take my revenge from you’, but I would have never imagined that she would be so treacherous.” Esra Konur, Baransu’s former spouse, has previously indicated in a statement to the prosecution that the documents found by the police in the search of their house belonged to Baransu.
‘Either you are a fake hero, or there is indeed a coup plan’
When Baransu mentioned contradictions present in the indictment, Presiding Judge Ali Günay suggested he file a criminal complaint in that matter and said, “From the period when you took these documents onwards, you were introduced before the people as a hero. During that period the coup attempt was being planned. Either you are a fake hero, or there is indeed a coup plan.”
Reminding the court that there had been numerous martyrs in his family, Mehmet Baransu reacted by saying: “It is not anyone’s place to call me a terrorist.”
During the hearing Baransu was repeatedly interrupted by those requesting to take part in the trial as claimants, leading to disagreements.
Baransu indicated that the newspaper had suspected the person who had delivered the documents might be lying and therefore had not published everything. “We have not published anything in the newspaper about the case in Kayseri called ‘the hypnose case’ concerning Ahmet Zeki Üçok”, Baransu stated. Presiding Judge Ali Günay said “If only you had. Perhaps July 15th would have not happened. That place is where the military base was founded. You would have reached the civil imams.”
Continuing with his defense statement, Baransu said in relation to the public prosecutor who had asked where he had found the audio recordings included in his book Karargah “I suspect they have a mental deficiency.”
At that stage Hüseyin Hançer, sitting in the claimants row, intervened with the following reaction: “He is insulting this country’s prosecutors and judges. We ourselves have been judged by judges and prosecutors in darker times but have never uttered such words.”
In relation to having gone to the Turkish Olympics, Baransu said “I went to the Turkish Olympics out of obligation. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was also present at the Turkish Olympics. They didn’t allow journalists who did not have a yellow press card to attend events that Erdoğan was at. I was one of the few people at Taraf to possess the press card, which is why I went.”
Reminding the Court that he had been in detention for the past four and a half years, Baransu stated “I have served an exceeding amount of time. I am actually owed a debt. I now want to collect my due. In any case, I am also detained due to the case in Mersin.”
Dursun Çiçek argued, “In Balyoz there are the CDs, the case, and the documents. These do not say who I have received the “Action Plan Against Reactionary Forces,” and do not assist the judgement. He does not aim for the material truth to surface. He is defending himself under the order and instructions of a terrorist organisation. These cases set into motion the July 15th coup attempt. By dissolving us, the path of FETÖ was paved, and so taking this into attention we request the continuation of the detention and that he be condemned with the heaviest sentence possible.”
Yahya Engin, Baransu’s lawyer, indicated that a person cannot be tried twice for the same offence and that the fact that the case file had been sent to the Mersin court in relation to its aspect relating to “membership in a terrorist organisation” did not allow in this case the conditions allowing the continuation of detention to be constituted.
Ahmet Altan’s lawyer Figen Çalıguşu indicated that the trial’s subject matter was not the news reports about Balyoz but the “Egemen Harekât Planı” (Plan for Operation Sovereign), the original version of which had not been found, and requested that the claimants’ requests be rejected.
Baransu’s former spouse to be heard as a witness
Public prosecutor Bilgin Bakır requested the continuation of Baransu’s detention, and that SEGBİS footage of Baransu’s defense statement be transcribed and sent to the İstanbul Chief Prosecutor’s Office in order for necessary action to be taken in relation to the “defamation against a public officer due to his office” charges.
The Court, disclosing its decision, ordered the continuation of Mehmet Baransu’s detention. In addition, the Court decided for its reasoning to be carried out that the SEGBİS transcripts of Baransu’s defense be relayed to the İstanbul Chief Prosecutor’s Office and that Esra Konur (Baransu’s former spouse), Ömer Konur and Bülent Çakmak be heard as witnesses. The Court decided to distinguish the aspect relating to “membership in an armed terrorist organisation” charges so that Baransu’s case file be merged with another case that’s heard before the Mersin 2nd High Criminal Court.
The next hearing will be heard in three sessions between August 27th and 29th, 2019.