Case Monitoring

The court refused to release imprisoned journalist Sezgin Kartal


At the first hearing of the trial of journalist Kartal, who was arrested on January 13, the court rejected his lawyers release requests separately on the grounds that there is concrete evidence showing strong suspicion of crime and that judicial control measures would be insufficient, and decided to continue their detention.

Karşı Mahalle reporter Sezgin Karta who was taken into custody after his home was raided by the police on the morning of January 10 Working Journalists’ Day was arrested over the suspicion of “membership in a terrorist organization” after three days of detention. In the indictment prepared on January 24, 2023, a photograph dated September 26, 2014, allegedly found on a computer seized during a house search conducted as part of another investigation by the Adana Public Prosecutor’s Office regarding another person, is presented as evidence against journalist Kartal.

The prosecutor, who also included historical traffic search records in the indictment, claims that Kartal, who was within the boundaries of Istanbul until January 1, 2014, went to the Suruç district of Şanlıurfa two days before the date when the photo in question was allegedly taken, and alleges that Kartal went to the region where the photo was taken and participated in armed terrorist organization activities. While the indictment does not state that the photo in question was taken during the day, the prosecutor claims that the distance between Kobanê and Suruç on Google Maps is 10 kilometers, and this is proof that Kartal participated in armed terrorist organization activities.

The police, citing the ban by the Kağıthane District Governorate, detained many people who wanted to make a press statement in front of the courthouse prior to the hearing.

The prosecutor: Police is here for our safety

The first hearing of the trial of journalist Kartal, who is being tried on charges of “membership in a terrorist organization” and represented by MLSA, was held in Istanbul 22nd Heavy Penal Court.

Kartal, who is being held in Marmara High Security Prison, was brought to the courtroom under the escort of gendarmerie. Journalist Ibrahim Karakaş, who will be heard as a witness, participated in the hearing via SEGBIS from Adana Type F High Security Prison where he is being held. Kartal’s lawyers Merve Kurhan and Nimet Acar were also present in the courtroom.

After the identification of the parties and the reading of the indictment, journalist Kartal began his defense. When asked by the presiding judge, “Do you know the witness? Have you been to Syria?”, Kartal replied that he did not know the witness and had not been to Syria.

Lawyers said that there are security personnel in the courtroom but outside the courtroom Kartal’s family and journalists who wanted to follow the trial were still waiting. The prosecutor responded to the lawyers, saying, “For our safety.” Lawyer Kurhan pointed out that there are already gendarmes in the courtroom.

Kartal: If I am a member of a terrorist organization, why was my statement not taken for so many years?

Continuing his defense as the audience was allowed into the courtroom, Kartal said, “Being stuck between four walls during an earthquake and not being able to do anything was a great pain.”

Describing his journalistic activities, Kartal continued, “All of my news articles are focused on the truth. The day I was taken into custody, January 10th, was both my birthday, the anniversary of the Karşı Mahalle website where I worked, and also the Working Journalists’ Day. Until now, I have never made propaganda for a terrorist organization. One of the convictions against me in the Istanbul 13th Heavy Penal Court was for an article written by someone else during the time I was editor-in-chief.”

Kartal also commented on the allegations in the indictment, saying, “My social media accounts have been examined. There is no statement praising any organization in the open-source investigation. If I am a member of an armed organization, then why was a detention order not issued for me for so many years?”

When the prosecutor asked Kartal, “Why did you feel the need to go to Southeast in September, did you cross to Cerablus?” Kartal answered, “I went to report on the tent camps that people had set up on the border.”

Witness Karakaş, who said that he does not know Kartal, said, “I was an employee of Özgür Gündem newspaper. I have never been to Syria and conducted journalistic activities in Istanbul. I do not know who took the photo, where, and when.”

In his opinion, the prosecutor requested the continuation of Kartal’s detention on the grounds of “strong suspicion of crime.”.

‘The original footage is not in the case file’

Starting her defense by saying “Although the prosecution has submitted a motion for continuation of my client’s detention, we request his release based on the reasons we will present shortly,” attorney Kurhan said, “My client has followed mainly social events and workers’ strikes. He has lived his life as an openly active journalist in Istanbul for many years. He has never hidden anywhere and has led an open life. It is claimed that the armed person in the footage allegedly taken in the Kobane region on September 26, 2014 is my client. The relevant footage was found in the digital search of the house of a person named Ibrahim Karakaş, who does not know my client and has no relation to him. Karakaş has been heard as a witness and stated that he did not know the defendant. First of all, the original footage is not in the case file. At least we could not reach the originals. Therefore, it is not possible to conduct a healthy analysis of the footage.”

‘The evidence is based on interpretation’

Kurhan stated, “Despite the accusatory evidence of the prosecution, which is based on interpretation and does not represent concrete reality, the material and spiritual conditions of membership in an organization, as determined by the 9th, 16th, and 3rd Penal Chambers of the Court of Cassation, are not present in this case. For example, my client is not accused of using a code name, and there is no clue to suggest that he received military or ideological training. In this case, it is not in line with the normal course of life for a journalist to join an organization and become a professional armed militant in one day, participate in an armed demonstration with an uncovered face, and then return to normal life in Turkey. Such behavior violates the secrecy rule of an armed organization.”

Kurhan stated that the detention should be ended and requested the release of his client, who is a journalist, with some judicial control measures if needed.

After a five-minute break, the court, in a session closed to the press and public, rejected the release request, citing the presence of strong evidence of suspicion of the crime and insufficiency of judicial control measures, and decided to continue Kartal’s detention.

The presiding judge, by writing a letter of request to the General Directorate of Security, requested to know if there were any suitable identification photographs of Kartal between 2013-2016, and if so, to send the original photos to the court. The judge also decided to send the file to the special criminal bureau for the preparation of a new report regarding the photographs and adjourned the trial until June 22.

*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).