Democratic Society Congree (DTK) was founded in October 2007 by a wide range of non governmental organisations and political parties in order to find solutions to the Kurdish problem. Many investigations and lawsuits were opened regarding DTK’s activities after 2015. Journalists and politicians were among the people who were tried. Ayşegül Doğan was one of the journalists who faced an investigation.
The indictment against Doğan was completed on May 23, 2018.
The indictment claimed that Democratic Society Congress (DTK) “Was the 3rd leg of Abdullah Öcalan’s four-leg-paradigm and functioned as a so-called founding parliament”. It was claimed that DTK “was founded by the orders of Abdullah Öcalan, to realise the strategy of democratic autonomy”. Notes she took regarding the interviews she made with Öcalan’s attorneys were lined to support these accusations.
6-page-long part regarding Doğan of the 86-page-long indictment started at page 70. On this part, were recordings of four phone calls Doğan made.
It was claimed the on a phone call dated July 15, 2011, Doğan, to a person called G., “had said that the news regarding Abdullah Öcalan’s situatiın must be formulated carefully”.
It was claimed that, another recording showed that Doğan, “expostulated, to a person calling from DTK, about not being invited as a journalist to DTK’s workshop on murders by unknown assailants and missing persons”.
It was claimed that another phone call, dated May 8, 2012, showed that Doğan “was invited to the meeting called ’Democratic Autonomy Workshop’ organised by DTK, as a moderator”.
It was claimed that the fourth phone call in the indictment showed that Doğan, “had talked to a deputy advisor about the people who were going to attend the meeting, that was going to be organised with the name ‘Erbil Kurdish Women’s Conference’”.
It was stated that Doğan, was a permanent parliamentary member of DTK and had worked at different commissions of DTK.
The indictment accused Doğan of “establishing or managing an armed terror organisation” according to the article 314/1 of the Turkish Penal Code and article 5 of the Anti-Terror Law. She was requested to be sentenced to, from 15 years to 22 years and 6 months of imprisonment.
Trial of Doğan started with the first hearing at Diyarbakır 9th Assize Court on November 21, 2018. Doğan presented her defence argument at the first hearing.
She said that she went by the Democratic Society Congress, solely with the purpose of making news. She stated that the subject matter phone calls were acts of journalism.
Second hearing of the case was held on April 3, 2019. Doğan was not present at this hearing. The sound samples taken from Doğan were ruled to be sent to the Forensic Medicine Institute in order to match them with the phone call records, used as evidence against her in the case file.
Third hearing of the case was held on September 11, 2019. Doğan was not present at this hearing too. Her attorney Ahmet Özmen, stated that Doğan was not present at the hearing due to having undergone a surgery. It was seen that the report regarding the sound samples, requested from the Forensic Medicine Institute during the previous hearing, was not yet sent.
Fourth hearing of the case was held on December 25, 2019. Doğan stated that she was “elected in her absence” as a Permanent Parliamentary Member of the Democratic Society Congress and had not done anything as a permanent member. She repeated that she was elected in her absence as a Permanent Parliamentary Member of the DTK and had not done anything as a permanent member. Doğan’s attorney Emel Ataktürk, requested the court to send a formal letter to the Supreme Board of Radio and Television, to request the footage where Doğan is seen participating in a meeting of governing Justice and Development Party (AKP).
Court ruled to send a formal letter to the Directorate of Communications of the Presidency in order to ask if Doğan was a member of the press and to notify the court about the dates when her, if any, press cards were valid. Case files were ruled to be sent to the prosecution in order to prepare an opinion as to the accusations.
Fifth hearing of the case was to be held on March 18, 2020. However the hearing was postponed to June 10, 2020 due to the measures taken against “coronavirus” pandemic in Turkey. Sixth hearing of the case, too, was postponed on the same grounds.
The seventh hearing of the trial was held on October 7th, 2020. Two members of the panel of judges had changed. The sued journalist Ayşegül Doğan did not attend the hearing, and was represented at the hearing by her lawyers Ahmet Özmen and Mehmet Emin Aktar.
The hearing prosecutor presented his judicial opinion as to the accusations.
The judicial opinion changed the charge leveled against Doğan. The judicial opinion demanded that Doğan be sentenced as per Turkish Penal Code 314/2 and Anti-Terror Law 5, namely “membership of an armed terror organization”.
In the indictment, Doğan had been charged with “establishing and leading an armed terror organization”. As a result, the prison sentence requested by the prosecutor for Doğan fell from a sentence of 15 years to 22 years six months, to a sentence of seven years six months to 15 years.
Doğan’s lawyer requested additional time for their plea against the judicial opinion.
The lawyer also demanded the expansion of the prosecution. In this respect, lawyer Mehmet Emin Aktar stated that in the wiretapping recordings part of another indictment, it was written, “Ayşegül Doğan did not attend with her own consent. Somebody should tell her to resign from Democratic Society Congress (DTK)”. Lawyer Aktar requested that this indictment be demanded from the prosecutor’s office and attached to this file.
The court rejected lawyer Mehmet Emin Aktar’s request for the addition of the said piece of evidence to the current file. The court justified this decision with the argument that “the request will not add any novelty to the file”.
The lawyers’ request for additional time for the defense statement against the judicial opinion was accepted.
The eighth hearing of the trial was held on December 7th, 2020. It was observed that a member of the panel of judges had changed. Doğan did not attend the hearing, presenting an excuse due to the coronavirus pandemic. In the courtroom, Doğan was represented by her lawyers Ahmet Özmen, Mehmet Emin Aktar and Emel Ataktürk Sevimli.
The court rejected Doğan’s excuse as there was no medical report attached. The justification of this decision taken unanimously read, “the excuse presented by the accused has been rejected due to the progress in the trial, and the fair trial principle, which requires cases to be concluded in a reasonable duration”.
Lawyer Mehmet Emin Aktar stated that everyone was affected by the coronavirus pandemic, and that the court’s rejection of Doğan’s excuse, whereby she stated that she could not come from Istanbul due to the pandemic, was a violation of the right to a fair trial.
The hearing prosecutor reiterated the judicial opinion previously submitted by the prosecutor’s office. The prosecutor demanded the continuation of the overseas travel ban for Doğan, for whom he had requested a prison sentence for “membership of an armed terror organization”.
Doğan’s lawyer Emel Ataktürk stated that the section concerning Doğan in the indictment covered nine pages. She stated that evidence was collected via tapping phone calls, audio surveillance and technical surveillance, and that even this evidence confirmed that Doğan was not a permanent member of Democratic Society Congress (DTK).
Ataktürk remarked that, in another indictment, the following words were recorded: “Ayşegül Doğan did not participate by her own will. Somebody tell her to resign from DTK,” and that Doğan was mentioned in the list of those to be excluded from DTK. She added that Doğan never attended the activities of DTK’s Permanent Assembly; she was elected and excluded in her absence; she did attend four activities, but only as a journalist.
Ataktürk indicated that the wiretapping and investigations concerning Doğan were carried out in the years 2010-2014, but that no investigation was launched against DTK in this period. Ataktürk remarked that all the evidence in the file went against the law and Doğan’s phone was wiretapped for 784 days with permissions extended 112 times. She added, “The nine judges who signed these permissions were later dismissed from the profession, for ‘membership of FETÖ’. I believe that no one should be sentenced based on evidence collected illegally. How can an individual prove their innocence in the face of such accusations?” She demanded Doğan’s acquittal.
Lawyer Aktar said that evidence not collected in accordance with the law should be disregarded, and stated that the evidence in the file was collected between 2010 and 2014, but Doğan was declared a suspect on May 23rd, 2018. He stated that the wiretapping was initiated without complying with legal regulations, no investigation was brought against anyone during the wiretapping period, and wiretapping ended without a decision of non-prosecution. Aktar said:
“In the file, there were no suspect, no decision of non-prosecution was reached and the voice recordings were later set aside. As such, this is not a wiretapping effort to prevent crime, nor for intelligence purposes. This wiretapping was simply carried out for the benefit of their organization. However, this has eventually resulted in the current trial.”
Stating that DTK is a platform where various opinions are aired, and that DTK shares its opinions with parliamentary committees and attends official ceremonies, lawyer Aktar continued as follows:
“DTK is not an armed organization. Ayşegül Doğan is on trial here due to her opinions. There is not a single tangible evidence showing she is a member of an armed organization. She has no code name. What kind of an illegal organization would have an official website? What kind of an illegal organization would receive invitations from the Parliament? This case is built upon disregard. Those who make these claims commit a crime. According to the Constitution, no one can be put on trial for a crime which was not considered a crime at the time it was committed. This is called the principle of legality of crimes and punishments. Any prison sentence verdict would violate this principle.”
Lawyer Ahmet Özmen supported the defense speeches by stating that the evidence at hand did not suffice for a sentence for membership of a terror organization. He demanded Doğan’s acquittal.
The court announced its verdict.
Initially charged with “establishing or leading an armed terror organization” in the indictment, Doğan was eventually sentenced to seven years, six months in prison for “membership of an armed terror organization”. The sentence was reduced by one sixth, considering its “possible effects on Doğan’s future”.
As a result, Doğan was sentenced to six years, three months of imprisonment for “membership of an armed terror organization”. The sentence was not delayed and the announcement of the verdict was not deferred. The court also ruled that Doğan be deprived of certain rights as per Turkish Penal Code, Article 53.
The court also ruled to maintain Doğan’s overseas travel ban. All the verdicts were reached with unanimity.
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