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Trial where Sözcü staff is accused of FETÖ membership adjourned until September

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İstanbul – Eighth hearing of the trial where executives and staff of Sözcü newspaper face terror-related charges was held at İstanbul 37th High Criminal Court today. Defendants Emin Çölaşan, Necati Doğru, Metin Yılmaz, Yücel Arı, Mediha Olgun, and Gökmen Ulu presented their final defense statements during today’s hearing. Some of the other defendants and their lawyers are granted additional time for their final statements. The court accepted this request and adjourned the trial until September 4th. Lawyers’ request for case dismissal will be considered during next hearing while the verdict is deliberated.

As part of the case, Sözcü newspaper’s owner Burak Akbay, reporter Gökmen Ulu, former web editor Mediha Olgun, Chief Financial Officer Yonca Yücekaleli, Editor-in-Chief Metin Yılmaz, chief web editor Mustafa Çetin, web news editor Yücel Arı, writers Necati Doğru and Emin Çölaşan are accused of aiding FETÖ (Fethullahist Terrorist Organization) on the basis of news reports published in the paper.

Among those who monitored the hearing in solidarity with Sözcü were Republican People’s Party (CHP) MP’s Bülent Tezcan, Mahmut Tanal, Sezgin Tanrıkulu; İYİ Party Vice President Aytun Çıray and veteran journalist Uğur Dündar.

Here are the highlights of the defense statements presented by Sözcü journalists.

Columnist Emin Çölaşan took the floor first for his defense statement and said the following: “Accusations about us aiding FETÖ are hung up in the air. All claims have been debunked. I haven’t committed any crime. I request my acquittal.” Çölaşan’s lawyer Mehmet Özdemir stated: “We will present our detailed final statement in the next hearing. All the other accusations against these journalists are baseless per the Turkish Press Law.”

Doğru: This trial is a lapse in judgement

In his defense statement, columnist Necati Doğru stated: “The prosecutors wrote in the previous indictment that I have willingly and knowingly aided FETÖ without being a member. There are 3 articles that I am accused of. People stop me on the streets and say, ‘This is a lapse of reason. Our judiciary is injured by this trial. It’s a lapse in judgement to claim that a journalist like you is accused of knowingly aiding FETÖ.

I’ve been a dissident journalists for 44 years. That’s why I’ve been to the courthouse many times. I’ve had many lawsuits filed against me for articles that I wrote. But I’ve never attended my trial hearings in an anxious state. I used to think, ‘the prosecutors must have produced a truthful indictment.’ This indictment directly accuses me, arguing that I have intentionally committed crimes. How did I intentionally vindicate FETÖ? Did these FETÖ members read my articles and thought to themselves, ‘This Necati guy wrote these and vindicated us, let’s go ahead and attempt a coup’?  

There is no proof that I have willingly and knowingly aided FETÖ. There are only 3 pieces of evidence that are presented against me: 3 articles. Most esteemed prosecutors come up with the following plot: This Necati Doğru knew about FETÖ and knew that they would attempt a coup, that’s why he wrote those articles to justify this attempt.

There is no proof. There are only words in these articles. For instance, the phrase ‘nylon (artificial) coup.’ In this article, I wrote nylon coup plotters.’ I’ve seen 3 coups in this country. Then I take a look at this one and say, ‘how can this be a coup? These are fake coups, empty vessels…’ Me justifying FETO is out of the question.  

I stand before you because I’m not a servant for the government. I cannot serve anyone who wants to seize power either. My world view has nothing to do with FETO. I demand my acquittal.”

Yılmaz: We are professional journalists. We don’t pick sides. We are no one’s ‘yes-man’ 

Editor-in-Chief Metin Yılmaz stated: “We took the news reports and published them. The first indictment included some witnesses. There were six witnesses that testified for us. The prosecutor’s final opinion states that witnesses against us were also heard; however, I haven’t seen those witnesses at all. Where were they? We are professional journalists. We don’t pick sides. We are against all rulers. We are no one’s ‘yes-man’. I’ve never had anything to do with FETÖ, never will. In order to aid them, I should be their sympathizer. They’ve invited me to their events countless times. I’ve never attended any of their events or dinners. These are just news reports that we published, this has nothing to do with aiding and abetting.

Web news editor Yücel Arı stated: “I thought about what kind of a statement to write. Am I afraid? Why should I have any fear? I have no other option than trusting the Turkish judiciary. What crime have I committed? I haven’t done anything that requires writing a defense statement for; that’s why I decided not to prepare anything.”

Web editor Mediha Olgun stated: “What do I have to do with FETÖ? I’m fed up with this whole process. I really want this trial to end. I am against all coups. I condemn coups and coup sympathizers. I demand my acquittal.” Olgun’s lawyer Can Çelik requested additional time for his defense.

Ulu: Journalists’ work cannot be criminalized

Sözcü reporter Gökmen Ulu said: “I am faced with an accusation that is against reason, logic, and law. This is not an indictment, this is just pure slander. A journalist’s work cannot be criminalized. A journalist can only be criticized if they’re not doing their job property. Any step that a political leader takes has news value. I stand behind this news report that I wrote, just like all the others that I have worked on because journalism is not a crime.

On the night of 15 July 2016, when I learned about the coup attempt from the TV like everyone else, I was in Marmaris as a coincidence. I immediately went to the resort where Erdğan was staying. I was the first journalist who broadcasted Erdoğan’s statements to the world. I was where I was supposed to be as a journalist that night.”

Lawyers Celal Ülgen and İsmail Yılmaz requested additional time for their final defense statements. Yılmaz also mentioned the new judiciary reform that Erdoğan revealed last week, arguing that that the court should wait until these proposed reforms become law.

The court granted extra time to lawyers and defendants for their final defense statements and noted that this would be the last time that additional time is given. The court ruled for the continuation of the ongoing arrest warrant on behalf of defendant Burak Akbay and decided that the request for case dismissal will be considered during next hearing while the verdict is deliberated. The trial is adjourned until September 4th.