Sertaç Kayar - "Establishing and Leading an Armed Terrorist Organization" Trial

An investigation was launched against Sertaç Kayar, a reporter for Sputnik Turkey web site, on January 17, 2018, by the Public Proseuctor. The indicement claimed that during 2010-2012 when Sertaç Kayar worked for Dicle News Agency (DİHA) as reporter, he was a member of the 101-strong permanent assembly of Democratic Society Congress (DTK), carried out journalistic activities on their behalf, participated in 31 different protests on separate dates organized by PKK/KCK and was a leader of the organization.

The indictment alleged that “DTK is an organization that corresponds to the ‘four pillars paradigm’ of Abdullah Öcalan and supposedly functioned as a constitutent assembly”; “DTK was founded and structured upon the orders of Abdullah Öcalan so as to implement the group’s strategy of democratic autonomy”; “It is the legislative organ that acts like the parliament of KCK/TM and operates as an assembly”.

The accusation of “leadership of a terrorist organization” is based on wire-tapping by the police as regards the demo organized by DTK on July 14, 2011.

The prosecutor’s office claimed that Kayar, between the years 2012- 2013, participated in DTK meetings with a view to establishing democratic autonomy and an independent Kurdistan, and this was detected through intelligence activities carried out as per Law of Criminal Procedure, Articles 135 and 140.

It is claimed that Sertaç Kayar made calls to invite individuals to DTK meetings and informed them about the meeting agendas.

The indictment also cites a statement by the witness Menderes Öner received on November 29, 2011 at Istanbul Police Department, Anti-Terror Branch: “The following are members of PKK terror organizations’ print and visual media branches… Sertaç Kayar was the chief correspondent of Dicle News Agency in Diyarbakır…”.

After listing these allegations, the prosecutor’s office requested that Kayar be sentenced to prison “for leading an armed terrorist organization and for a duration above the lower imprisonment limit for this crime, in consideration of the continuity, intensity and diversity of his activities”.

The prosecutor requested a prison sentence of 10 to 15 years of prison for “leading an armed terrorist organization” as per Turkish Penal Code, Article 314/1, and then the increase of this sentence to 15 to 22,5 years as per Anti-Terror Law, Article 5.

The first hearing of the trial in which Kayar was tried without detention took place at Diyarbakır 10. High Criminal Court on November 21, 2018. Kayar attended the hearing along with his lawyer Şıvan Cemil Özen.

The lawyer Şıvan Cemil Özen stated that his client Sertaç Kayar penned a news story about the Fethullah Gülen sect in 2010 when he worked for Dicle News Agency, indicating how the sect leaked the answers to the KPSS exam. Özen indicated that an investigation was launched against Kayar for this story, and that the investigation had ended in a ruling of non-persecution. He requested that this ruling be included in his file, and stated that wire-tapping against Kayar began after this first investigation. Kayar stated that in the wire-tapping recording, there was talk about an individual named Sertaç, but no surname was mentioned.

Afterwards, the lawyer indicated that in the footage showing Sertaç Kayar going to the DTK meeting he had his camera case hanging on his arm, showing that he was there for journalistic purposes. The chairman of the panel of judges asked Sertaç Kayar if he knew Menderes Öner, and Kayar said that he did not remember him.

Lawyer Şıvan Cemil Özen demanded that Menderes Öner be heard as witness in court. At the end of the hearing, the court accepted the request that Menderes Öner be heard as witness.

The next hearing was scheduled for April 5, 2019. Kayar attended alongside his lawyer.

The hearing was postponed to June 26, 2019 as the statement of the witness Menderes Öner had not been taken. The same panel of judges took part in that hearing. It was indicated there that Menderes Öner’s statement was taken by Çorum High Criminal Court and that his statement had been added to the file. Şivan Özen, Kayar’s lawyer requested that the court demand information from Diyarbakır Public Prosecutor’s Office as to whether any information or document about Kayar was found during the search of the Democratic Society Congress (DTK). The chairman of the panel of judges requested the Diyarbakır Public Prosecutor’s Office to report whether any information or documents about the defendant were found during the search of the Democratic Society Congress (DTK).

The fifth hearing of the trial was held on December 4th, 2019. The panel of judges had changed. It was stated that the question sent to Diyarbakır Public Prosecutor’s Office as to whether the search at the Democratic Society Congress building revealed any information or document about Kayar had not been answered. The court ruled to await the response, and adjourned the hearing.

The sixth hearing of the trial was scheduled for April 1st, 2020. However, the hearing was postponed due to the measures against the coronavirus pandemic in Turkey.

The seventh hearing of the trial took place on October 9th, 2020. Kayar attended the hearing with his lawyer Şivan Cemil Özen. It was seen that one of the judges had changed.

In previous hearings, the court had decided to ask Diyarbakır Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office whether there were any documents related to journalist Sertaç Kayar in the digital materials and documents seized during the search at Democratic Society Congress (DTK) offices. The response of the prosecutor’s office had been received. The prosecutor’s office indicated that there was no information or document concerning journalist Kayar among the materials in question.

Şivan Cemil Özen, the lawyer of Kayar, stated that in another indictment drafted by Diyarbakır Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office, the name “Sertaç Okay” was mentioned in the DTK list. Özen stated that this individual who had the same first name with his client was elected as a delegate on a DTK list. Özen said, “In the accusations regarding my client, an individual named ‘Sertaç’ is mentioned as a DTK delegate. Yet my client’s surname is nowhere to be found on the said list.”

The hearing prosecutor presented his judicial opinion as to the accusations. The charge leveled against Kayar in the indictment had changed in the judicial opinion. While Kayar was charged with “establishing or leading an armed terror organization” in the former, he was charged with “membership of an armed terror organization” in the latter.

Kayar delivered his defense against the judicial opinion as to the accusations, saying “As seen in the photos, I always hold a camera in my hand. I’m not the Sertaç in question. Our ID numbers, places of birth, and parents’ names are different. Therefore, I demand my acquittal.”

The court ruled that the charge of “establishing or leading an armed terror organization” leveled against Kayar did not rest on concrete evidence. Kayar was acquitted. The entire panel of judges ruled against the judicial opinion of the prosecutor.

Press in Arrest is a database, monitoring, documentation and collective memory study of Press Research Association.
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