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Trial of journalists who reported on torture in Van is adjourned until October

Van – The trial where five journalists are charged with “membership in a terrorist organization” due to the reporting on two citizens being tortured by security officials resumed today; court ruled for the continuation of the judicial measures imposed upon the journalists and adjourned the hearing until October 21. 

Second hearing of the trial against Mesopotamia Agency (MA) reporters Adnan Bilen, Zeynep Durgut and Cemil Uğur, Jinnews reporter Şehriban Abi and journalist Nazan Sala who are charged with “membership in a terrorist organization” was held today at Van 5th High Criminal Court. 

Bilen, Uğur, Abi and Sala were arrested on October 9, 2020 following their reporting on the torture of Osman Şiban and Servet Turgut by security officials; and later released at their first hearing which was held on April 2, 2021.

Bilen and Uğur were present in the hearing alongside their lawyers, whereas Abi, Sala and Durgut submitted their excuse to the court. Hearing was monitored by the Media and Law Studies Association (MLSA) as well as many journalists.

“We are paying the price of revealing the truth”

Bilen began his defense by reminding the court that he had submitted his detailed statement at the first hearing: “Over 50 journalists were tried in Turkey in the past five days. Revealing the truth in this country comes at a price, we continue to pay it.”

“We reported on the truth. The news report was based on witnesses’ statements, not ours. Moreover, phone records are considered as elements of crime. What we did was news reporting, and this is a case against journalism. On the one hand journalists involved with politicians and the mafia are overlooked; on the other hand those who report on the truth are in courts. This must come to an end,” said Uğur and requested the lifting of the judicial control measures alongside his acquittal.

“They informed you and the public on torture”

Lawyer Erselan Aktan presented his defense statement after Uğur and Bilen: “My clients are reporters. Journalism brings into force the public’s right to information. What brought this incident before you, is news reporting. However the prosecutors did not raise a single question on the matter.”

“Prosecutor discusses the fact that the agency does not make tabloid news,” said Aktan and noted that there are several similar expressions in the indictment, which cannot be considered proper legal terminology. 

Aktan continued: “The prosecution does not inquire torture, but inquires the journalists. This news report was not investigated, in fact this was a criminal complaint. The real criminals are concealed whereas those who reported on the crime are being prosecuted.”

Aktan requested the acquittal of the journalists and lifting of the judicial control measures over them.

“Elements of crime are absent in the case-file, oppositional journalists remain under threat”

Lawyer Ekin Yeter spoke briefly after Aktan and demanded acquittal of all defendants and the lifting of the judicial control measures over them: “The elements of crime are absent in the case-file. Oppositional journalists remain under threat, which prevents our freedom to be informed as individuals. Almost all news reports of the agency are questioned in this trial.”

“Our request of release was stalled off deliberately to be brought before the judge who ruled for their arrest”

Following Yeter’s statement, Lawyer Murat Timur took the stand and began his defense by saying “Prosecution has completely messed up this proceeding.”

“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs was asked ‘why did you keep these journalists behind bars for six months.’ Our requests of release were stalled off deliberately to be brought before the judge who ruled for their arrest. Unlawful evidence was added to the case-file. On that note, we have filed lawsuits claiming for damages.”

Addressing the panel of judges, Timur said, “You should at once get rid of this file. You have to rule for acquittal. Since this is a temporary panel, I do not know if it is possible to issue a ruling; however the final opinion must immediately be submitted and an acquittal decision must be issued.

Following the defense statements, the court recessed for a short while and announced its interim decision. The court reduced journalist Durgut’s frequency of providing a signature to once a month and did not lift the judicial measures upon other defendants who are also required to provide a monthly signature and are banned from international travel. The panel of judges ruled to request the documents from an ongoing investigation against Sala in Ankara and adjourned the hearing until October 21.