Lieutenant General Musa Çitil, Deputy Commander of the Gendarmerie General Command filed a criminal complaint at the Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office of Diyarbakır on 18 May 2016 against eight people, six of whom were journalists, who shared a news report under the headline “Name of the siege is ‘Bayrak 12’, and it is led by Musa Çitil” during Çitil’s term as the Gendarmerie Regional Commander of Diyarbakır on their social media accounts regarding the curfew orders and military operations at the Sur district of Diyarbakır.
The news report was initially communicated on 6 February 2016 by Dicle News Agency (DİHA), which was later shut down by a Statutory Decree.
DİHA was closed by a Statutory Decree that was put into effect as part of the State of Emergency declared following the military coup attempt on 15 July 2016. During the state of emergency period, the government shut down many media outlets by statutory decrees that were put into effect without the parliament’s approval.
Çitil asserted in his report to the authorities that “acts of propaganda were being carried out over social media accounts, and he was being presented as a potential target due to the operations he had taken part in”.
An investigation was launched over the complaint concerning Ömer Çelik, the former editor-in-chief of DİHA, DİHA correspondents Çağdaş Kaplan, Hamza Gündüz, Selman Çiçek, journalist Abdulvahap Taş, the editor-in-chief of now-closed Özgür Gündem newspaper, İnan Kızılkaya, who shared the news report on the newspaper’s official website, and the newspaper’s publisher. The investigation also included a suspect with the initials S.G.
Another investigation was launched over Çitil’s complaint concerning DİHA correspondent Yasin Kobulan along with eight people, six of whom were journalists. Kobulan gave his testimony in Istanbul, where he resided, for the investigation launched in Diyarbakır. However, the investigation file was merged with another investigation file that was launched by the Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office of Istanbul on charges of “terrorist organisation propaganda”. Kobulan’s trial was conducted by the 30th High Criminal Court of Istanbul, which also included Çitil’s report to the authorities. While Kobulan was charged with “consecutive terrorist organisation propaganda” on 8 March 2019, he was charged with “consecutive terrorist organisation propaganda by means of the media” at the end of the trial. Kobulan was sentenced to one year, six months and 22 days of imprisonment. The announcement of the verdict was deferred.
The investigation launched by the Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office of Diyarbakır concerning eight people, six of whom were journalists, was completed on 31 May 2018. The journalists were charged with “presenting individuals who served in counterterrorism as potential targets”. The prosecution demanded that the journalists be sentenced to imprisonment of between one year and three years.
Selman Çiçek, correspondent for DİHA, was charged with “terrorist organisation propaganda” over several social media outputs including the said news report in addition to the charge of “presenting individuals who served in counterterrorism as potential targets”. The prosecutor demanded that Çiçek be sentenced to imprisonment of between one year and five years. However, the prosecution demanded that Çiçek’s sentence be increased by up to three-quarters on the grounds that the charge “terrorist organisation propaganda was committed consecutively” according to the indictment. As a result of the increases to the demanded sentence, the prosecution demanded that Çiçek be sentenced to imprisonment of between two years, three months and 11 years, nine months in total.
The trial of eight people, six of whom were journalists, commenced with the first hearing at the 9th High Criminal Court of Diyarbakır on 3 October 2018. Among the journalists on trial, only Çağdaş Kaplan was detained during the trial process rather than the investigation process. An arrest warrant was issued for Kaplan for not attending the first hearing. Kaplan was detained in Istanbul on the evening of 6 October 2018. He was released after a day of custody procedures.
The second hearing of the trial took place on 13 January 2019. Çitil filed another criminal complaint on 9 January 2019 before the trial’s second hearing took place. Çitil presented his complaint petition to the 2nd High Criminal Court of Aydın. He was serving in Aydın when the trial of the journalists commenced.
The new complaint petition consisted of 40 pages. 38 pages of the report covered what happened during the first hearing of the trial. In his second petition, Çitil stated that the 9th High Criminal Court of Diyarbakır, which oversaw the trial, had requested him to present the complaints and evidence against the defendants.
In the complaint petition, Çitil stated that the journalists had claimed “they had been reporting news within the scope of freedom of the press” in their testimonies during the investigation and their defensive statements at the first hearing of the trial. In his complaint petition, Çitil asserted the following claims in response to the journalists’ defensive statements:
“However, considering the timing of the statements and the fact that they continue, it is a fact that they insist on supporting and propagandising for the separatist terrorist organisation by sharing my name and photograph, smearing the successful operations carried out by the members of the Gendarmerie General Command, particularly myself, and other security forces against the terrorist organisation by preparing unrealistic news and casting and sharing aspersions, and intimidating the successful personnel.”
Çitil stated that his complaint on behalf of both himself and Gendarmerie General Command against the defendants remained in place. He also demanded to be allowed to participate in the prosecution process. He demanded that “the defendants be sentenced as severely as possible”.
The court accepted Çitil’s request to participate in the prosecution process on the grounds of “his possibility of having been harmed by the offence”.
The third hearing of the trial took place on 8 May 2019. The court ruled to wait for the realisation of an arrest warrant on a defendant, who was not a journalist.
The fourth hearing of the trial took place on 2 October 2019. The prosecutor for the hearing presented the opinion of the prosecution as to the accusations at this hearing. The opinion of the prosecution charged the journalists with “presenting Musa Çitil as a potential target by sharing certain information and images”. Charges against the journalists in the opinion of the prosecution remained the same. The journalists were charged with “presenting individuals who served in counterterrorism as potential targets” as stated in the indictment.
The opinion of the prosecution demanded that Selman Çiçek be sentenced on charges of “consecutive terrorist organisation propaganda by means of the media”. However, the indictment charged Çiçek with “consecutive terrorist organisation propaganda”. The opinion of the prosecution therefore demanded that Çiçek’s sentence be increased by half.
The fifth hearing of the trial took place on 18 December 2019. The prosecutor for the hearing repeated the opinion of the prosecution presented at the last hearing.
However, the court ruled that all defendants be acquitted of all charges.
The Appeals Process
The prosecutor’s office launched an appeal against the ruling. The file was transferred to the court of appeals. The examination of the court of appeals concerning the ruling is underway.
Press in Arrest is a database, monitoring, documentation and collective memory study of Press Research Association.
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