Judge sidesteps charges in the ‘demeanıng judiciary’ trial of media lawyer Veysel Ok, refers case to another court
Veysel Ok, a lawyer who specializes in the law surrounding freedom of expression and the media, made his tenth appearance in court on November 22. Charges of “insulting the judicial organs of the state” were made against Ok after he criticized the judiciary in an interview with now-closed newspaper “Özgür Düşünce” in December 2015. Ok had stated that Turkish judges “come in a single color” and speak “in one voice”.
Ok appeared before Sevda Karaahmetoğlu, a judge in the 37th Criminal Court of First Instance. Karaahmetoğlu ruled that Ok’s case was outside the jurisdiction of the court and referred it to the Second Criminal Court of First Instance, notıng that the Turkish Criminal Procedures Law (CMK) requires that all allegations of crimes by the press be dealt with by that court. Karaahmetoğlu also ruled that her verdict can be appealed.
Ok has specialized in freedom of expression and press freedom for more than a decade and has represented some of Turkey’s most prominent journalists, including Deniz Yücel, Ahmet and Mehmet Altan, Şahin Alpay and Cengiz Çandar.
“Previously, judges could hold varying opinions,” said Ok in the initial December 2015 interview. “There was a possibility of being tried by judges who valued freedoms. But now all members of the judiciary come in a single color. We see judges serving at the Criminal Judgeships of Peace. They are deaf to defense statements or objections. Where the loyalties of these judges lie is clear. Nothing changes the result… because the decisions are pre-ordered. Either those in power give orders to the judicial authorities before the investigation, or attack the defendant via the pro-government media.
Prior hearings have been marred by controversy. In Ok’s last hearing on July 4, Hakkı Yalçınkaya, head judge of the 37th Criminal Court of First Instance, unexpectedly recused himself over concerns about potential bias. Ok has previously represented journalist and novelist Ahmet Altan against charges brought by Yalçınkaya.
“This trial has no end,” Ok commented after this most recent hearing. “The judges keep avoiding issuing a ruling. Several times, the judge has changed in the hearing. This hearing was launched in relation to my practice as a lawyer and initiated by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. I think this has played a role in the way this trial has proceeded. Now it will go to a brand new court… we will see what attitude this court will have.”
Background of the Case
Ok was charged following a complaint by the office of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on December 29 2015. Although an indictment was filed in August 2016, the court did not accept the indictment until more than a year later, once Ok had begun representing several journalists arrested after the 2016 coup attempt.
Cihan Acar, the Özgür Düşünc reporter who conducted the December 2015 interview, is also a defendant in the case.
Early in the case, President Erdoğan’s personal legal representatives sought to intervene in support of the charges. The court rebuffed the attempt on the grounds that Erdoğan had not been “directly harmed” by Ok’s statements.
Article 301 of the Turkish Criminal Code criminalizes “insulting Turkishness, state organs, or the judiciary”. It has been extensively used to harass journalists and writers. Prior to his assassination in 2 007, Armeno-Turkish journalist Hrant Dink appeared in court for insulting Turkishness. Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk and former Cumhuriyet editor-in-chief Aydın Engin have also previously been charged for violating Article 301.
Updated: November 27 2018