The judiciary investigation no. 2016/157051 was launched by Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office in 2016 when the Hacker group RedHack leaked e-mails by the then-Minister of Energy and Natural Resources Berat Albayrak. However the investigation was not about the issues revealed by the leaks, but rather against the journalists who covered the matter in news articles.
According to the information provided in the indictment drafted later, it was a tip-off e-mail sent to Istanbul Police Department on December 20, 2016 which prompted the prosecutor’s office to take action. According to this tip-off, “18-19 journalists sponsored by terrorist organizations” began to share the e-mails leaked by Redhack. As a result, six journalists were detained on December 25, 2016.
The journalists were kept in custody for 24 days, and among them, Birgün reporter Mahir Kanaat, DİHA news manager Ömer Çelik and editor of the news portal Diken, Tunca Öğreten were arrested by 8. Criminal Court of Peace. ETHA News Manager Derya Okatan, owner of Yolculuk newspaper Eray Saygın and DİHA reporter Metin Yoksu were released on condition of judicial control. The journalists who reported on Minister Albayrak’s e-mails leaked by the hacker group were charged with “membership of an armed terrorist organization ”, “committing a crime on behalf of the terrorist organization, without being its member”, “spreading propaganda for a terrorist organization”, “blocking or disrupting an information system, destroying or altering its data”.
Istanbul Public Prosecutor drafted the indictment against the journalists on June 23, 2017, and a lawsuit was filed with İstanbul 29. High Criminal Court. In the indictment, prosecutor mentioned the groups PKK/KCK, DHKP-C, MLKP, FETÖ/PDY and ISIS, arguing that these acted in union to denigrate the constitutional organs of the Turkish state and their representatives. The prosecutor claimed that the hacker group Redhack which had broken into Berat Albayrak’s e-mail account and then published his correspondence had links to DHKP-C. In the indictment, prosecutor also stated that Redhack had altered the e-mail correspondence by Albayrak before publishing it.
As regards the news stories published by journalists to uphold the public interest, the prosecutor stated that these stories were designed to “Defame the energy minister Berat Albayrak and the legitimate government of which he is a part”, “damage the national energy policy” and “create the perception that the government and Minister Albayrak have links to the terrorist organization ISIS.” The basis for these charges was the statements of the secret witness using the pseudonym “Çakı” presented to the Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office. According to the claims of the secret witness, Redhack had uploaded the correspondence by Berat Albayrak to two separate e-mail accounts, and shared the passwords of these accounts over Twitter to a group of journalists. And their purpose was to create a “perception”, the very fashionable judiciary buzzword of recent years. In addition, the prosecutor included in the indictment the journalists’ social media posts and telephone conversations with their colleagues arrested or released in other cases, such as Deniz Yücel, as evidence of “propaganda for a terrorist organization” and “links with a terrorist organization”.
In addition, prosecutor presented a police enquiry report concerning the anti-corruption operations of December 17/25 found among Birgün correspondent Mahir Kanaat’s belongings, as evidence of his membership to FETÖ. The first hearing of the case was held on October 24, 2017. Mahir Kanaat, Ömer Çelik and Tunca Öğreten appeared before court after 304 days in detention, and the panel of judges was chaired, the former judge of 8. Criminal Court of Peace who had ordered their arrest in the first place. Journalists presented their defense at the hearing.
ETHA News Manager Derya Okatan stated that she reported on the e-mail correspondence by Berat Albayrak leaked by Redhack and published on the Wikileaks web site for journalistic purposes, since public interest was at stake, and asked “Why did the minister discuss the secrets of the state in his personal e-mail account?”. Okatan pointed out that the investigation was launched 3 months after the e-mails were leaked, underlined the unlawful and inconsistent aspects of the prosecutor’s indictment, and emphasized the parallels between the indictment and some news articles published in pro-government media outlets.
Eray Sargın, the publisher of the daily Yolculuk, stated in his defense that the e-mails in question had news value and that all reporting on this issue fell within the scope of freedom of the press and freedom of expression.
DİHA correspondent Metin Yoksu stated in his defense that he was added to the Twitter group mentioned in the indictment against his will, and did not keep track of what was written in the group.
DİHA news director Ömer Çelik stated that he wanted to present his defense in his mother tongue, Kurdish, and that he was tortured at the time of his detention and then at the Diyarbakır Police Department. Afterwards, he was brought to Istanbul and was able to learn about the accusations only 24 days later.
Çelik stated, “Should we not see, write, or say that the king is naked?” In his speech, Çelik underlined the unlawfulness in Turkey, State of Emergency policies, and the pressure on the media, especially dissident and Kurdish media outlets.
News web site Diken’s editor Tunca Öğreten stated that he was accused of MLKP membership while being detained in his home, of DHKP-C membership at the police station, of Redhack membership at the prosecutor’s office, and of FETÖ membership at court. He indicated that in his news article he hadn’t commited any of the crimes attributed to him. Öğreten underlined that his news article did not mention the government’s energy policy nor establish a connection between ISIS and the energy minister, and that it was the prosecutor who made such a baseless association. Pointing to the absurdity of filing a lawsuit not about the topics which surfaced but against the news stories about the leak, Öğreten added that he was added to the group on Twitter against his will, left the group 2 days later and accessed the e-mails via the link shared on that group. In response to being accused in the indictment for following various Twitter accounts, he stated, “I follow leftist groups as well as ISIS-linked accounts on Twitter. Does that make me a jihadist Marxist?”.
Öğreten emphasized that there was indeed public interest in publishing news on these issues which were made the subject of the accusations, and demanded his release. Ömer Çelik, one of the detained journalists, was released at the first hearing, where the Minister of Energy and Natural Resources Berat Albayrak demanded to take part in the trial proceedings. The court ordered the continuation of Mahir Kanaat and Tunca Öğreten’s detention.
Kanaat and Öğreten were released at the second hearing held on December 6, 2017. The next hearings of the case, where no detained defendants were left, were held on April 3 and September 13, 2018. The court is expecting an expert report on the digital examination of the evidence. The court rejected the defense lawyers’ demand that the judicial controls of the journalists be discontinued and the confiscated computers be returned to their owners. The sixth hearing of the case was held on January 8, 2019.
The next hearing was scheduled for April 16, 2019. The 8. hearing of the case was held on September 24, 2019. The panel of judges ordered the return of the seized digital materials to their owners and adjourned the trial until February 6, 2020.
The trial will continue on June 25, 2020.