The investigation against Van TV began with a complaint filed by a person named G.D with the Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office in Ankara in 2016. In addition to Van TV, he filed complaints about IMC TV, K24 TV, Hayat TV, Denge TV, MED Nuçe TV, Sterk TV, Newroz TV and Ronahi TV in his petition. He denounced these media outlets for “spreading propaganda for a terrorist organization” and “fabricated news”. These media outlets would all later be closed down on July 27, 2016 by Decree Law No. 668, under the state of emergency.
Upon this petition of complaint, the Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office initiated an investigation against the managers and employees of Van TV. Radio and Television Supreme Council’s (RTÜK) Monitoring and Evaluation Department completed its examination of the television channel’s broadcasts and the prosecution prepared the indictment based on this examination.
In the indictment, TV employees Serdar Altan, Gülsün Altan, Kadir Cesur, Koçali Özipek, Nahide Aslan, Sibel Özcan as well as the parent company’s shareholders Gürcan Bayrakçı and Nedim Dalga figured as defendants. The employees and shareholders were charged with “spreading propaganda for a terrorist organization” as per Anti-Terror Law, Article 7/2. The prosecutor stated that the crime was committed through the press, and requested -as per the second clause of the same article- that the sentence be aggravated by half. Furthermore, he requested that the sentences of all defendants apart from Gülsün Altan and Sibel Özcan be increased further as per Turkish Penal Code, Article 53, clause 1, concerning “continuously committing a crime”.
Based on the report sent by RTÜK, the prosecutor cited as evidence three news stories broadcast in the bulletins of Nahide Aslan’s news program “Gün Ortası” (Midday) on the dates February 19, 2016, March 16, 2016, May 14, 2016; one news story broadcast on Gülsün Altan’s program “Ana Haber” (Evening News) on March 20, 2016; three news stories broadcast on Kadir Cesur’s news bulletin dubbed “Gün Doğumu” (Daybreak) on March 16, 2016, March 21, 2016 and April 8, 2016; and one news story broadcast on July 27, 2015 on Sibel Özcan’s news bulletin “Ana Haber” (Evening News). Four of these stories covered developments regarding the curfews, while the others featured as guests Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) MPs, who made remarks regarding current events.
On the basis of these news stories, the journalists presenting these programs were accused of “spreading propaganda for a terrorist organization”. The prosecutor argued that Serdar Altan and Koçali Özipek, as well as the parent company’s shareholders were responsible for the content of the broadcasts, and demanded prison sentences.
Prison sentences ranging from 2 years, 1 month to 13 years, 1 month were requested.
The indictment provided the summaries of the journalists’ statements taken during the investigation. Then came the prosecutor’s assessment of the journalists’ actions. In the assessment part, it was stated that the journalists acted like the “spokespersons of the organization”; published news that defended and legitimized the actions and members of PKK / KCK terrorist organization, its symbols, and top leader; and upheld the organization’s ideology.
As for the managers and other officers, it was stated that “It is impossible for them to be not informed about the broadcasts for which they were responsible as managers, shareholders or managing editors” and they were thus held responsible for the content of the news stories.
The indictment was accepted by Van 4. High Criminal Court and a lawsuit was filed. The first hearing of the case was held on October 17, 2018.
While some defendants presented their defenses at this hearing, the court ruled at the end of the hearing that the journalists be kept exempt from attending the trial. The next hearing was held on February 13, 2019. At the hearing, the lawyers suggested that the 6 CDs containing Van TV’s broadcasts be sent to the court for examination, and the court accepted this request. The trial was adjourned till March 20, 2019.
At the third hearing, the defense lawyers requested that the CDs be given to them for examination. At the end of the hearing, the court ruled that the CDs containing the broadcasts providing the ground for accusations be sent to a panel of two expert witnesses for examination. The lawyers claimed that imposing legal sanctions on the managers went against the principle of the individuality of crime and punishment, and requested that the case be referred to the Constitutional Court; however, this demand was rejected by the court.
The next hearing was held on July 10, 2019. Lawyers asked for additional time to examine the report prepared by the committee of expert witnesses. This request by the lawyers was accepted, and the next hearing was scheduled for October 25, 2019. The court also ordered that file be sent to the public prosecutor’s office for the preparation of the opinion as to the accusations.
The trial was supposed to continue with the seventh hearing on May 7th, 2020. However, the hearing was postponed due to the measures against the coronavirus pandemic.
The eighth hearing of the trial took place on September 15th, 2020. None of the defendant journalists attended the hearing. Journalist Koçali Özipek was represented at the hearing by his lawyer Berken Özipek. It was seen that a member of the panel of judges and the hearing prosecutor had changed.
Although only one journalist was represented by a lawyer, the hearing prosecutor reiterated his previous judicial opinion as to the accusations. The charges leveled against and the sentences requested for the journalists were the same with the indictment.
In the judicial opinion -as was the case in the indictment- journalists Sibel Eres and Gülsün Altan were charged with “spreading propaganda for a terror organization” as per Anti-Terror Law, Article 7/2. However, in the judicial opinion -as was the case in the indictment- the prosecutor claimed that the journalists had committed this offense “via the media”, and thus requested that the sentences be increased by half as per Article 7/2, clause 2. As such, Eres and Altan each face a total of one year, six months to seven years, six months in prison.
In the judicial opinion, journalists Serdar Altan, Nahide Aslan, Koçali Özipek and Kadir Cesur were also charged with “spreading propaganda for a terror organization” as per Anti-Terror Law, Article 7/2. In the judicial opinion the prosecutor again claimed that the journalists had committed this offense “via the media”, requesting that their sentences be increased by half as per Article 7/2, clause 2. Furthermore, he claimed that they committed the crime not only “via the media” but also “in a continuous manner”, thus demanding another increase of one fourth to one third as per Turkish Penal Code Article 43. As such, each of these four journalists faces a total of one year, ten months, 15 days to 13 years, one month, 15 days in prison.
Lawyer Berken Özipek recalled the interim verdict reached in the fifth hearing of the proceedings. Lawyer Özipek stated that the law article concerning the “spreading propaganda for a terror organization” had been revised to exclude publications for the purposes of journalism and criticism out of its scope. He reminded the court that the case file had been returned to the prosecutor’s office for the drafting of the judicial opinion accordingly. Özipek stated that the judicial opinion and indictment were nonetheless exactly the same.
The trial was adjourned for the defendants to draft their defense pleas against the judicial opinion.
The trial will resume with the ninth hearing on January 29th, 2021.
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