Freedom of expression and press lawyer Veysel Ok appeared before a Turkish Court on 9 May on charges of “insulting the judicial organs of the state” over statements he made in a 2015 interview.
Ok stands accused on the basis of a statement he made during an interview with the now-shuttered newspaper “Özgür Düsünce” on December 25, 2015. The lawyer had criticized the judiciary for not being independent and stated that the Turkish judiciary “came in a single color” and spoke “with one voice”.
The complaint that led to the case was launched by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s office. The reporter who conducted the interview, Cihan Acar, is also a defendant in the same trial.
In the session on Wednesday heard by the 37. Criminal Court of First Instance at Istanbul’s Caglayan Courthouse, Cihan Özgüneş Güngör, a lawyer for Veysel Ok, said the statute of limitations on starting a press case had expired in the case of her client’s trial. She also argued that her client’s criticism of the judiciary fell within the scope of freedom of expression, guaranteed by law.
She asked for acquittal first and if not, that the case be dropped on procedural violations.
The court adjourned the trial until 4 July for the case files to be reviewed further by the judge before a final verdict is made.
The case was launched following a complaint from President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s office filed on 29 December 2015. The indictment was filed in August 2016, but the court did not accept the indictment until more than a year later when Ok started representing several journalists arrested following the coup attempt last year.
Request for intervention
In the second hearing of the trial, a legal representative for Erdoğan had requested a leave to intervene on behalf of the president. However, the court didn’t grant the leave on the grounds that Erdoğan had not been “directly harmed” by the lawyer’s statement.
Ok’s original statement
In the interview, Ok said: “Previously, judges could hold varying opinions. 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 the 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 government press.”
Ok, who has been working in the field of freedom of the press for more than a decade, has defended some of Turkey’s most prominent journalists alongside Yücel, including Ahmet and Mehmet Altan, Sahin Alpay and Cengiz Candar.
Turkish Criminal Code 301, which criminalizes “insulting Turkishness, state organs, or the judiciary,” has historically been used extensively to harass journalists and writers. The Armenian-Turkish journalist Hrant Dink was in court for insulting Turkishness before he was assassinated in 2007. Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk and former Cumhuriyet editor-in-chief Aydin Engin were also charged on the basis of Article 301.