İstanbul – Fifth hearing of the trial where 14 employees of Özgürlükçü Demokrasi newspaper, among whom 3 are in detention, face “membership in a terrorist organization” and “terrorist propaganda” charges was held before the İstanbul 23rd High Criminal Court today. The newspaper has been shut and its assets were transferred to the Savings Deposit Insurance Fund (TMSF). Detained defendants Reyhan Hacıoğlu, Mehmet Ali Çelebi, İhsan Yaşar and defendants tried without detention Hicran Ürün, İshak Yasul, Pınar Tarlak, Ramazan Sola were present in the courtroom. Defendant Mizgin Fendik attended the hearing via SEGBİS video conference system.
Defendant Pınar Tarlak delivered her defence as to the accusations, in which she said the following: “Özgürlükçü Demokrasi is a taxpaying newspaper. The newspaper is distributed by Yay-Sat. I was had insurance and social benefits. I am being accused for having worked at that newspaper. I request that the digital evidence collected be turned over. I reject the claims against me. I request the judicial control measures to be revoked. I request my acquittal”. Delivering his defence after Tarlak, Ramazan Sola demanded his acquittal as well.
İhsan Yaşar: “My arrest is not legal”
The newspaper’s proprietor İhsan Yaşar recounted in his defence the process of acquisition of the newspaper. He argued, “I had insufficient knowledge of the newspaper’s content and its editorial line. As time passed, I realised that this was not a profitable investment. While I was thinking about handing the newspaper over to someone else, a trustee was appointed b the government. I developed health problems during my detention. I did not buy this newspaper in association without any terrorist organisation. I deny this claim. My family and I are being subjected to unjust treatment. My arrest is not legal. I request my detention be ended and that I be acquitted”.
Çelebi: “It is unlawful to view journalism as a crime”
Mehmet Ali Çelebi began his defence with these words: “Both free journalists and imprisoned journalists are searching for freedom with a torchlight. Justice is the antidote to othering and polarization.” In the rest of his defence, Çelebi went on to say: “The prosecution’s accusations and observations reflect a lack of humanity and of freedom of expression. I do not accept the imputed charges. The newspaper was subjected to the relevant laws and to the relevant bodies’ supervision before it was published. Not a single news article of mine can be presented as evidence against me. Justice and law must not be used in an arbitrary manner.”
Concerning the fact that Salih Müslim’s phone number was saved on his phone, Çelebi declared “Journalists can reach a person’s phone number very easily even if that person is at the end of the world. Besides, having a number saved on my phone does not mean that I have called this number.”
Çelebi finished by saying: “How come the magazine Tükenmez [Inexhaustible], issued legally, is included in the accusations? We have been detained for 15 months. Journalism is being criminalized. Condemning journalism, incarcerating journalists means putting shackles on democracy. I request the acquittal of justice. I request the acquittal of freedom of expression. İ request my release and my acquittal.”
Urun: “The Kurdish song I listened to presented as evidence against me”
Hicran Urun, who is tried without detention, said the following as part of her defence: “The elements pointed to as evidence in the accusations are legal elements: a photograph taken of me working at my desk and a Kurdish song I had on my MP3 player. It is our journalistic activities that are being tried here. An editorial line is being tried for being opposed to the government. There is no concrete evidence to prove membership in a terrorist organization. It is being said that we are harming the country’s dignity with our journalistic activities. It is these trials that harm its dignity, that thwart it. I request that my travel ban be lifted, that my digital materials be turned over and that I be acquitted.”
İshak Yasul, tried without detention, began his defence by saluting the family members, journalists and lawyers present in the audience, then said: “There is no concrete proof in the written accusations. A journalist’s fundamental duty is to criticize the government’s policies. We see today that we were right in criticizing these policies. I request my acquittal.”
Hacıoğlu: “I receive instructions only from my conscience”
Highlights from detained defendant Reyhan Hacıoğlu’s defence are the following: “For the past 15 months I have tried at every hearing to defend the idea that all I have done is journalism. Digital materials collected from the house where I was taken into custody do not belong to me. Those materials are presented as belonging to me nonetheless. We are journalists who live and breathe the news that we deliver. No terror organization has members working with social security. The only membership I have is to DİSK Basın-İş (Confederation of Progressive Trade Unions of Turkey – Union of Press Workers). If the news we write disturb those in power, then we know that we have done our job right.
Raping women and stealing from people have become our national values. Us, the journalists who denounce these acts, have been the ones who are labeled as terrorists.
It is being claimed that we have received instructions from an organization. First of all, I take this as an insult to myself and to my profession. If there is any place from which I receive instructions, that is my conscience.
We stand behind each news story that we write. We have a responsibility to the society. In response, our freedom has been stolen from us for the past 15 months.
I became a journalist so that the pain I have suffered would not be experienced by this nation’s children.
The history of free press is filled with unsolved murders.
Those who are accused are not those hiding the truth but those trying to uncover it.
What I have done is journalism only. I request my release and my acquittal.”
Mizgin Fendik, who attended the hearing via SEGBİS and is tried without detention, said the following in her defence: “Journalism is not a crime. All I have done is distribute the newspaper. It gives me honour me to be tried along with my friends who used to work there. How can working for a newspaper that is distributed all over Turkey be considered a crime? I request my acquittal”.
After the defendants completed their statements, lawyer Özcan Kılıç took the floor and stated the following: “The basis of this case rests on news articles. If Turkey was at war with another country we would debate these news articles here, but this is not a war.”
İhsan Yaşar’s lawyer Serhat Çakmak argued, “There exists no concrete evidence recognized by our criminal law.”
Pınar Tarlak’s lawyer Meral Hanbayat stated: “We are very far from discussing the real problem here. This trial is a conjunctural trial. There is a claim that my client is the staff manager. It is clear that this claim is not correct. I request her acquittal.”
Court ruled to release detained defendants
After hearing the defence statements, the public prosecutor was asked for his remarks and affirmed that he reiterated his previous remarks. Defendants were asked for final statements. Detained defendants requested their release and acquittal, other defendants their acquittal.
After the recess ordered in order for the Court to reach a verdict, the Presiding Judge ended the public hearing by saying “No press allowed” when the defendants and lawyers reentered the courtroom, preventing journalists from entering.
The Court ordered the release of defendants Reyhan Hacıoğlu, Mehmet Ali Çelebi and İhsan Yaşar.
Hicran Urun, Reyhan Hacıoğlu and İshak Yasul were sentenced to 3 years 1 month and 15 days imprisonment for “aiding a terrorist organization without being a member.” Yasul was sentenced to an additional 1 year and 6 months for “terrorist propaganda” charges.
Mehmet Ali Çelebi was sentenced to 3 years and 9 months for “aiding a terrorist organization without being a member.” Given that Çelebi was convicted in another case, it is not expected that he be released from prison.
İhsan Yaşar was sentenced to 10 months for arms possessions. Yaşar will also have to pay a judicial fine of 500 Turkish Liras.
Pınar Tarlak, Ramazan Sola and Mizgin Fendik were acquitted of all charges.
Following the verdict, Reyhan Hacıoğlu and İhsan Yaşar were released from prison. They can appeal their sentences in the coming weeks. If their sentences are upheld, they will have to return to prison but it is unclear when their sentences would be enforced.