The SVIS that has been put into effect for “easing and expediting judgments” are causing the violations of the right to fair trial. Well then, for what reasons is the SVIS used? Why do not the arrestees defend themselves using the SVIS? What is happening during the trials? Defendants, their families and lawyers have talked about the SVIS.
The Sound and Video Information System (SVIS –SEGBIS in Turkish) is the electronic system on the National Judiciary Information System (NJIS –UYAP in Turkish) by which sounds and videos are simultaneously transmitted, recorded and stored. It is claimed that by the use of the SVIS that was put into effect in by the Ministry of Justice, in the year 2013, for “easing and expediting the judgments”, time and money would be saved.
Selahattin Demirtaş, the former co-chairman of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP), being held in the Edirne F Type Prison, has been enforced to use the SVIS even though he has demanded to be present in the court. Refusing to attend the hearing with the SVIS, Demirtaş, stating that his rights to defense and fair trial had been violated by the court, demanded recusation but his demand was rejected.
Figen Yüksekdağ, the former co-chairman of the PDP, being held in the Kandıra F Type Number 1 Prison, did not attend the hearing with the SVIS. The court adjudicated that she would be enforced to use the SVIS in the next trial.
‘KEEP DEFENDANT AWAY FROM THE TRIAL PROCESS’
Underlining the defendant’s right to reject the SVIS, attorney Ezgi Çakır, in her statement to halagazeteceyiz.net, said: “The SVIS has the characteristics of the violation of the fundamental right to fair trial. Even though the defendant demand to appear in court and the code regulates the due to bring the defendant before the court, this has been revoked by the statutory decrees, it has been decreed that the defendant who wanted not to use the SVIS was acknowledged as using the right to remain silent, and this has been legislated. At the beginning the SVIS was put effect as a regulation for the good of defendant. It was told that if the defendant had been ill, if the weather conditions had been inappropriate, the SVIS would have ruled out ‘the conditions that could create disadvantageous results for defendant’. On the contrary, it is now working against defendant; it has become to keep defendant away from the trial process.
‘THE SVIS IS CONTINUATION OF ISOLATION’
Being held at İzmir Şakran Prison, Sultan Gökçek, a member of the Grup Yorum, , during a trial with the SVIS, said that they had been assaulted by the guardians and tried to strangle with straps by them. After her words the SVIS connection was immediately cut.
21 year old student Alişan Taburoğlu, being held at Burhaniye T Type Prison, without any appearance in the court, without any defending himself, was sentenced to 21 year imprisonment.
Helin Bölek, another member of Grup Yorum, who has given utterance from the Silivri Number 9 Prison, emphasized that the issue was not about being opponent to everything; it was to prevent it from becoming widespread. Stating that if the SVIS became widespread, arbitrary judgments would increase, Bölek asserted that there were three reasons for their rejection to defend themselves in this way and said that:
“First of all, the SVIS is the continuation of isolation. Here, we are being exposed to isolation and kept at cells for three or one person. So they do not let us outside of the prison. We can see neither the panel of judges nor our attorneys and people at the court halls. So continues isolation at the court hall. Secondly, we have the right to appear at the court hall, but the SVIS precludes that. Let alone examining our behaviors, gestures and attitudes (even though they are effective in the judgments), with the SVIS, we cannot see even the face of the person. We are being deprived of opportunity to tell about ourselves. The third one is the hindrance of our right of defense. That is to say, if the judge does not want to hear our defenses, the SVIS is shut down, and it is over. In that case, we cannot defend ourselves. If we are in the court hall, we can continue discussing and somehow persist in defense, defend our justness, in SVIS on the other hand, if it does not suit their book, if they do not want to hear our defenses, they push a button, shutdown the system, and our right of defense is hindered. That’s why we reject to defend ourselves with the SVIS.”
‘NO RELIABLE DEFENSE IS POSSIBLE WITH THE SVIS’
Grup Yorum’s member Helin Hölek’s mother, Aygül Bilgi has stated that no reliable defense was possible with the trials using the SVIS and added: “The system of teleconference is being tried, but it is somehow failing. Arrestees from different prisons are not simultaneously able to connect to the system and watch the court as it is. After a defense is completed, that person is switched off and another one is connected to the system. The first one is not able to hear what is spoken next. That’s why, no reliable defense is possible. There could occur problems in the SVIS, sound and video could be of poor quality, the utterances could not be understood. Moreover there is no emotional interaction as in the case of direct conversations.”
‘THERE SHOULD BE NO COST CALCULATION IN JUSTICE’
The SVIS which is used for the reasons such as the costly transfer of prisoners from different cities and lack of enough personnel and vehicles for the transfers is bought from abroad. It has setup, update and repair costs beside the purchase.
The co-chairman of the Human Right Association Öztürk Türkdoğan has called attention to the software and hardware costs of setting this system in court houses and rendered: “If it is set up on the internet infrastructure, the reliability of the system will be at stake. It can be claimed that the transfer of any arrestee or prisoner by the gendarme, using a prison vehicle, and after the defense and other processes, transfer the arrestee or prisoner back to the prison is costly. However, in our opinion, there should be no cost calculation in the interest of justice. The SVIS method was put into effect for exceptional cases, but it has become widespread, a general rule. In this way, the judgments are just formal and they serve to hinder reveal of truth.”
‘THE SVIS IS ADMITTANCE OF UNLAWFULNESS’
The People’s Law Office members, 18 attorneys have been being held in prisons in 7 different cities for about a year. It was adjudicated that since they were “in the prisons out of the jurisdiction area”, the arrestee attorneys would be tried with the SVIS in their first trial on September 10.
The PDP’s Ankara deputy Filiz Kerestecioğlu, in her parliamentary question delivered to the Turkish Parliamentary Speaker’s Office, to be responded by the Minister of Justice Abdülhamit Gül in written form asked: “Why is it insisted on the attitude not to take to court the arrestee attorneys the who have been waiting for trial almost for a year, in spite of their demand to be tried? Although the cases that necessitate the use of the SVIS are stated well in the written laws, what is the reason for insisting in this unlawful method especially in the opponents’ trials?”
Attorney Engin Gökoğlu who responded our questions from Tekirdağ T Type Number 2 Prison said that they want to defended themselves looking straight in the eyes of the judge who has been holding them for a year and added: “But the judges cannot execute the trials by looking at the attorneys’ faces who have been taken prisoner by themselves for a year. We will not accept the SVIS coercion. The period detention may get longer for this reason, but we want to hear both the decisions of acquittal and continuation of detention in the court halls, not in the SVIS rooms. If we accepted the SVIS, we would accept the this unlawfulness.”
Gökoğlu is asking the question “Why are not we being taken to the court hall?” and answering: “Because in the court halls we will be the judger not the judged attorneys, they are afraid of our defenses! It is unacceptable for us. They say that they can adjudge independent of the defendant’s being in the court. This is an assault to abolish the right to defense, and we will not allow it at any cost.
‘THE TRIAL WAS AT 13.30, WE COULD CONNECT AT 16.00’
Attorney Engin Gökoğlu’s wife and the Photograph and Cinema Employees’ (PCE-FOSEM in Turkish) staff Meral Yıldırım Gökoğlu was arrested on 24 July 2017 in the autograph session of Grup Yorum’s new album and remanded for 5 months. Attending her first hearing with the SVIS, Gökoğlu told what had been done to her:
“You are taken to very small room that has video camera and TV in the prison and you try to see the panel of judges from the screen in front of you. There are a few panels on the screen; you are baffled by them and cannot track the right one; besides you are not able to see anything clearly in those small panels. It is not obvious who are present in the court and whether your attorney is there. The connections are incessantly cut. Our trial was at 13.30, but we could connect to the court almost at 16.00, because three of all 3 SVIS room was occupied, we waited for them becoming free. When we connected, the trial was about to finish. We do not have any idea about what had been spoken before the connection, who had defended themselves. We were asked to defense ourselves under these circumstances and we, of course, said that we could not defend ourselves in that situation. During a speech to another person, you would like to have eye contact, but in the SVIS it is not possible. The judgers do not want to see you, it is not important whether you are present there or not, they can judge you anyway.”
Stating that the attorneys are being coerced to use the SVIS for the time being, because of their being out of town, Gökoğlu said: “However they were expelled from Silivri Prison to different prisons of the country, despite the fact that they were reluctant to transfer. They will of course reject to use the SVIS. In that case the trial and the period of detention may get longer. We, as their families, have worries for that situation, but if they accepted this method, the SVIS coercion would become perpetual. We, as families, are supporting them and will be at the court on September 10, at Bakırköy.”
‘THE USURPATION OF THE RIGHT OF DEFENSE’
Stating that in any trial where the defendant is absent, she will be deprived of the command of allegations against herself, and of the right to immediate access to evidences, attorney Ezgi Çakır claimed that the SVIS would mean the judgment without defendant and advocacy. Çakır continued as:
“The defendant sees the court only during her trial from a small screen. In the case that the connection is cut, the trial is going on; the process is becoming a judgment without the defendant. The defendant has the right to oppose the allegations against her, but this right is taken from her. The defendant cannot see any witness or evidence after her statement. Her attorney does not accompany her, she could not ask anything if she would like to; the right to effective access to trial is ignored. Briefly, the SVIS is the judgment without defendant and advocacy. The judgment without defendant is execution. In the cases, in which the defendants would like to be sentenced, especially in the political ones, with this kind of SVIS use, it is very easy to sentence the defendant.
Even in the most backward inquisitions, the right to attendance to the hearing that is based on the presence of the defendant was entitled. The most fundamental rights are violated for sake of the technological development.” Çakır argued that the SVIS was a system that usurps the right of defense under the name of high technology.