Journalists on trial: ‘Journailsm is not a crime’

The first hearing of the proceedings at the Ankara Criminal Court no.15, against eleven including journalists Sibel Hürtaş and Hayri Demir, with charges regarding the defendants’ social media sharings, started with censor measures. Many journalists and the families of the defendants were not allowed to attend the trial and the chief judge’s remark that “it is the judge’s decision how the proceedings will be conducted and who will be allowed to attend” marked the first hearing of the trial.

Hâlâ Gazeteciyiz

The first hearing of the trial of eleven defendants including this site’s editor in chief Sibel Hürtaş and also Hayri Demir, who have been waiting for trial without arrest regarding social media sharings, was marked with censoring. The trial took place at a courtroom that does not carry the concerned court’s amblem or plaque. Only a few journalists were allowed to attend the hearing. Among those who were not admitted to the courtroom were most of the defendants’ families and vast majority of the journalists. The chief judge perseveringly rejected most of the demands regarding hearing attendance and virtually exhibited “It is what I shall say” attitude. At the end of hours long hearing three detained defendants were released and the next hearing was scheduled for November 22nd.

THE PANEL OF JUDGES ATTENDED LATE

The hearing was announced to be held at 9 am. However the panel of judges showed up at 9:30 and were let in the courtroom with the announcement “Yield! The judges are in.” The hearing took place in a civil courtroom and was not carrying any approprate plaque or amblem. Still, the attendance was extraordinary.

NOT ALLOWED TO THE COURTROOM

Sema Kılıçer on behalf of the Delegation of the EU to Turkey, Erol Önderoğlu, Reporters without Borders (RSF) representitive to Turkey, Sinan Tataroğlu the chairman of the Ankara chapter of the Union of Journalists of Turkey (TGS), Şükran Doğan vice chairman of the Labor  Party (EMEP), Human Rights Association’s (İHD) board members, and families and students were ready at the justice palace. Only a few, five to ten people were allowed into the courtroom and thus the hearing started with the discussion regarding the court attendance. The chief judge responded to İHD chairman and attorney Öztürk Türkdoğan’s objections and critique of the procedure by saying “it is the judge’s decision how the proceedings will be conducted and who will be allowed to attend” and drew reaction. In face of insistant demands the judge rejected to allow unseated audiance to the courtroom. Many journalists struggled to follow the hearing at the open entrance and take notes. The judge’s decision not to allow the families of the students who have been under arrest for nine months only for their social media sharings get considerable reaction from the crowd.

‘THE PROSECUTION FAILED TO GATHER EVIDENCE FOR THE BENEFIT OF THE DEFENDANTS’

Our editor in chief and the Ankara Representative of Artı TV Sibel Hürtaş argued that the two of the evidences in the indictment are only the tweeting of the news she had previously reported. Hürtaş, asserting that what she has been doing was journalism at international standards, argued that the prosecutor was obliged to gather evidence for the benefit of as well as against the defendants and that this obligation had not been fulfilled. Hürtaş defended that as journalists, they had adhered to the principle of impartiality. She said that they had reported about the Afrin operation only after they gathered opinion from all concerned sides and argued that the prosecutor chose to select certain tweets and presented a biased picture. Following a description of impartiality Hürtaş was also critical about the fact that the indictment included a picture of her one-year-old son as an evidence. She said her son was carrying a sign at the commemorating of the colleague Hırant Dink and that she did not understand why this was a criminal act. She told the court that she was alone with her two children on the day the police raided her home and that she could not call anybody because her phone was confiscated. Her two children locked themselves in a room with fear and she was not even allowed to go and calm them. Hürtaş stated that she had been a judicial correspondent for more than ten years and she had never seen such a charge and indictment. Hürtaş continued: “I don’t know what I am accused of. Is it because I reported news or is it because I retweeted the news I have reported. It is hard to comprehend”. Hürtaş asserted that the journalists also use social media as another medium and that tweets or retweets did not account to actually supporting that opinions or ideas. Emphasizing that what she is doing is journalism Hürtaş concluded her defence with the statement: “Journalism is not a crime.”

SIX DAYS OF JAIL FOR ONE LETTER

Mezapotamya News Agency correspondent Hayri Demir, stating that he has been put to trial for the tweets he shared and was facing ten years of jail, argued, “the concerned tweets of mine are of 111 words amounting to 700 characters. For 700 letters the prosecutor demands 3 thousand 780 days of imprisonment. That makes almost 6 days of jail for one letter,” and he asked, “is journalism such a ‘severe crime’?”

Demir also emphasized the fact that the concerning tweets were dated before the Afrin operation and hence it is impossible for them to be against the operation and presented to the court evidence showing similar news had been published and broadcasted by various newspapers and TV channels. Demir, arguing that what he did was in accordance with his responsibilities to his occupation as well as the society, said, “I am a journalist and journalism is not a crime.”

‘YOU ARE DEPRIVING ME OF MY DREAMS’

Student, Lezgin Tekay, having been under arrest for nine months for his social media sharings said what he wanted was “peace”. Tekay stated, “Because I know the war brings about nothing but death and destruction I was very sorry about my country. I don’t want my country to get drowned in the Middle Eastern swamp. I want to be someone bringing a message of peace to my country”. He told to the court that he was not home when the police raided, however as soon as he had the call from his father he voluntarily went to the police to testify, but still he has been kept under arrest for nine months on account of the possibility of him running. Tekay, explaining that he had not been able to attend the school said, “my right to education has been denied. You are punishing me by depriving me of my dreams. I demand the decision of release and acquittal.”

‘WHERE IS THE CRIME IN ASKING FOR PEACE?’

The defendant Saim Serin who has been under arrest, explaining that he was a construction worker said, “I am 40 and have a child. My daughter was an honor student before I was arrested but now is failing her classes. She is experiencing a trauma because I am not around.” Serin, asserting that what he did was just to demand peace and share his demand on social media said, “Where is the crime in asking for peace? Whoever you are you should react to people being killed.”

Muhammet Bariş Ceyhan, who has been under arrest and been kept in Kayseri Penitentiary attended the hearing via SVIS (Sound and Video Information System; SEGBIS in Turkish). He said that he had shared picture of a child who had been killed in Afrin and had done so because he didn’t want children to die. Ceyhan, asserting that people should not feel any different for a child killed in Afrin, Palestine, İzmir or Şırnak argued that the children should be governing the world. He had explained that he had been receiving optometric vision therapy, however the treatment was hindered because of his imprisonment and hence he lost vision in one eye and already started to experience troubles with the other. Ceyhan demanded the decision of release and acquittal.

THREE WERE RULED TO BE RELEASE

Time to time tensions rose during the hearing. The prosecutor demanded the release of the arrested defendants on the condition of foreign travel ban. The panel of judges acted accordingly with the prosecutor’s opinion and ruled conditionally to release the defendants Saim Serin, Lezgin Tekay and Muhammet Barış Ceyhan. The court also ruled for the continuation of the travel ban on the defendants on trial without arrest, Sibel Hürtaş and Hayri Demir, however lifted the condition for obligation for periodic reporting.

The next hearing will be held on November 22nd, 10:40 AM.

Translation: Benan Eres