Sözcü Newspaper columnist Çiğdem Toker published an article titled “İBB’den Vakıflara Hizmet Raporu” (“İstanbul Metropolitan Municipality Publishes Report on its Services to Foundations) on January 28th, 2019. In her article, Toker shared the details of the municipality’s report titled “Sivil Toplum Kuruluşları - Okul - Yurt Faaliyet Raporu” (Annual Report: Non-Governmental Organizations - Schools - Dormitories.)
According to the article, in the said report, the municipality provided a balance sheet of its cash and in-kind support up until the year 2018 to NGOs such as Ensar Foundation, Turkey Youth and Education Service Foundation (TÜRGEV), Turkish Youth Foundation (TÜGVA) and Turkish Technology Team Foundation (T3 Foundation), all known to be close to the government and some of which are managed by the President’s relatives.
Based on this report, Toker indicated in her article that “up until 2018, the municipality provided 74.3 million TL in support to TÜGVA, 51.6 million TL to TÜRGEV, 41.4 million TL to T3 Foundation, 29.8 million TL to Ensar Foundation.”
Toker added that the Archers Foundation -where President Tayyip Erdoğan’s son Bilal Erdoğan holds a managerial position- received 16.6 million TL of support from the municipality, and that “4.4 million TL of this total was paid in cash.”
Following the publication of the article, on February 12th, 2019, T3 Foundation’s lawyers Abdullah Demircan and Serkan Kaya submitted a petition of complaint to İstanbul Küçükçekmece Civil Court of First Instance.
The petition quoted Toker’s article about the payment of “4.4 million TL in cash to Archers Foundation”. However, the lawyers stated, “The journalist claims that İstanbul Metropolitan Municipality has made a donation in cash to our client. This claim is based on totally misleading allegations, and an analysis of the municipality’s ledgers will show that no such transaction has taken place”. That is, in their petition of complaint submitted to the court, the lawyers of T3 Foundation quoted a phrase from Toker’s article about the Archers Foundation, and not T3 Foundation, as an evidence for their claim for damages. The foundation suing Toker is managed by President Tayyip Erdoğan’s son-in-law; whereas the Archers Foundation -mistakenly mentioned in the petition of complaint- is run by Erdoğan’s son Bilal Erdoğan.
The petition also remarked, “It is necessary to question the patriotism of the journalist who penned this article and the editors who published her article.”
In the petition, it was claimed that Toker and Sözcü Newspaper “breached the limits of the freedom of journalism and press to publish false news and articles, thus humiliating Turkish Technology Team Foundation, its executives and activities, and the benefits it offers to the society at large” and that “the Foundation’s rights were violated, its honor and dignity were denigrated, and activities and reputation were belittled”.
In the petition, T3 Foundation demanded 80 thousand TL in moral compensation from Çiğdem Toker and the publishing company of Sözcü Newspaper.
In Turkey, civil courts of first instance are assigned to lawsuits for damages. Such lawsuits are based on a petition of complaint; the prosecutor does not draft an indictment and does not attend the hearings.
The petition of complaint submitted by T3 Foundation on February 12th, 2019 was accepted by Istanbul Küçükçekmece 3rd Civil Court of First Instance on February 14th, 2019, that is, two days later. Thus began the lawsuit for damages against Toker.
The trial began in June 2020 with the first hearing held at Istanbul Küçükçekmece 3rd Civil Court of First Instance. However, the hearing was postponed due to the measures against the coronavirus pandemic.
The second hearing of the trial has been scheduled for September 24th, 2020.
The fourth hearing took place on October 15th, 2020. The president of the court had not changed. The president of the court did not allow observers to enter the courtroom on the pretext of the coronavirus pandemic.
The court stated that the expert report requested earlier had been received. Toker attended the hearing with her lawyer Fahri Emeksiz.
In the hearing, Ömer Kökçam, founding manager of the complainant Turkish Technology Team Foundation (T3 Foundation) was heard as witness.
Kökçam stated that İstanbul Metropolitan Municipality (İBB) did not make any donations to their foundation: “We did not receive any assistance from İstanbul Metropolitan Municipality (İBB). We did everything on a voluntary basis. Finally, in March, we unilaterally terminated our protocol with İBB. We have returned all the equipment in the municipal facilities to İBB.” Indicting that T3 Foundation did not receive any donation or real estate from any public institution, Kökçam said “Mrs. Toker wrote about this in her column, and after reading it, we launched a lawsuit against this defamation, since it was based on a fabrication, and there were no official documents to that effect.”
Journalist Toker said, this supposedly “fabricated” news story was based on a document found in a municipal computer after the municipality changed hands in the local elections.
Toker added, “The complainant foundation is cited among the foundations supported by İBB. T3 is mentioned in this supposedly ‘fabricated’ document. However, nowhere in my article did I state that the foundation received cash or donations from İBB.”
Toker’s lawyer Emeksiz said that the supposed witness was in fact a party to the trial, not an impartial witness. He demanded that his statements be crossed out. Emeksiz stated that they wanted to invite witnesses, and requested time to draft a statement against the expert report submitted to court.
The court gave both parties two weeks to draft written statements against the witness statements. Furthermore, additional time was given to both parties for drafting a statement as regards the expert report. The court ruled that Toker’s lawyer’s request to invite a witnesses shall be evaluated at the next hearing.
The trial was adjourned until the fifth hearing on February 18th, 2021.
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