British journalist Craig Shaw’s article “President Erdoğan’s family in secret offshore ship deal” was published in “theblacksea.eu” webpage on May 26, 2017. The article had said that “Through offshore companies in the Isle of Man and Malta, the Erdoğans secretly own an oil tanker worth millions of dollars called the Agdash”.
Chairman of People’s Republican Party (CHP) Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, on November 28, 2017, at the his party’s weekly meeting at the Turkish Grand Assembly, claimed that: Erdoğan’s brother, son, brother in law, father-in-law and principal clerk had deposited 15 million USD at bank account opened in the Isle of Man. Kılıçdaroğlu, had shared the documents, which he claimed that were about money transfer and included swift codes, with the public.
Craig Shaw’s article was about these allegations as well. Shaw, in his article, had stated that among the files, unveiled in May 2017, commonly known as “The Malta Files” which revealed the international money transfers of politicians and businesspeople from different counties of the world, were information regarding companies of Erdoğan’s family. The Malta Files was a publication of the journalists’ web called European Investigative Collaborations (EIC), founded by press associations such as TheBlackSea.eu, Der Spiegel, Le Soir, Mediapart, NRC, El Mundo, Dagens Nyheter, Expresso, L’esspresso, Falter and Politiken.
Evrensel editor-in-chief Fatih Polat, in his column on May 28, 2017, published Craig Shaw’s article as is. Polat, in addition to Shaw’s article, only titled the article “What do the addressees say about these allegations regarding Erdoğan’s family?”.
After the article was published, attorneys of President Tayyip Erdoğan, made an official complaint against the article at the prosecutor’s office. Following the complaint, Bakırköy Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office launched an investigation against Fatih Polat for “publicly insulting the President”.
The indictment against Polat was completed on October 24, 2018.
Major part of the 6-page-indictment was the subject matter article. The sentence “Our questions regarding the matter to the above mentioned, were not answered” from Craig Shaw’s article and the question “That is the news. What do the addressees say about these allegations?” were also mentioned in the indictment.
The indictment claimed that Polat had “accused President of the Republic of Turkey Recep Tayyio Erdoğan, without and hard evidence, of receiving benefits such as money, goods or property form Azerbaijani businessman Mübariz Mansimov, in exchange for public opportunities”.
The indictment claimed that “it does not matter if the articles of insult and regarding nature are quoted from a different article”. It was claimed that “those who publish the allegations as is are as if they have committed the calumny or insult”. It was claimed that the article “had not shown any hard evidence”.
The indictment accused Polat of “insulting the President” according to the article 299/1 of the Turkish Penal Code. The indictment claimed that “the crime of insulting the President was committed publicly”. On that ground, it was requested that the requested sentence of Polat was to be increased by one sixth according to the article 299/2 of the Turkish Penal Code. Therefore in total, Polat was facing from one year two moths to four years eight months of imprisonment. Polat was also requested to be “bereaved of specific rights” according to the article 53 Turkish Penal Code.
The indictment against Polat was accepted by Istanbul Bakırköy 31st Criminal Court of First Instance.
Trial of Polat started at Bakırköy 31st Criminal Court of First Instance with the first hearing held on February 7, 2019.
Fatih Polat, in his defence statement at this hearing, said “The article I quoted in my column is news and does not include any insult. The title of my column too, is a question that does not include an insult”. Polat then added:
“Many things changed about journalism in the history of press over the centuries. However the truth is a lesson to us, as it was in the past and as it will be in the future. Journalism starts with asking questions. When you stop asking questions you stop journalism too. I will continue to ask questions.”
Second hearing of the case was held on May 14, 2019. Plat’s attorney Devrim Avcı Özkurt presented the court the expert report, prepared by Article 19, and the documents that shows that the webpage “theblacksea.eu” and Craig Shaw’s article was accessible from Turkey. She stated that Craig Shaw’s article, which caused Fatih Polat to be accused, was nominated to 2018 European Press Award and England Journalism Award.
Article 19 is an international independent human rights association that acts to defend and support the freedom of expression and freedom of information.
Presiding judge ruled to send an official request to Turkish Journalists’ Association and the Union of Turkish Journalists to ask whether the “theblacksea.eu” webpage, where the subject matter article was published, was a legitimate journalistic webpage and Craig Shaw was a journalist.
Third hearing of the case was held on September 17, 2019. Journalism associations had confirmed that the webpage “theblacksea.eu” was a legitimate news page and Shaw was a journalist.
Yargılamanın üçüncü duruşması, 17 Eylül 2019’de görüldü. Gazetecilik kuruluşlarının, “theblacksea eu” internet sitesinin yasal bir haber sitesi ve Shaw’un gazeteci olduğunu bildirdiği aktarıldı.
Fourth and decisive hearing of the case was held on November 14, 2019. Polat’s attorney Devrim Avcı Özkurt, reminded that the subject matter article was of Craig Shaw and was published at “theblacksea.eu”. She stated that the only sentence that belonged to Fatih Polat was “What do the addressees say about these allegations?”
The court ruled for Polat’s acquittal. The decision stated that quoting Craig Shaw’s article without adding any comments in Evrensel Daily’s webpage “was in the scope of the freedom of information”.
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