"Özgür Gündem Newspaper Writers and Co-Editorial Directors" Trial

The Istanbul 8th Criminal Court of Peace “temporarily” shut down the newspaper Özgür Gündem on August 16, 2016. Previously, in order to support the newspaper in the face of mounting pressure, the “Editor-in-chief on Watch” campaign had been launched on May 3, 2016, whereby prominent individuals took turns as the editor-in-chief of the newspaper. The campaign had become necessary after lawsuits were filed against the newspaper’s co-editors-in-chief Eren Keskin and Hüseyin Aykol, and its managing editor İnan Kızılkaya.

The campaign ended on August 7, 2016. Özgür Gündem was permanently shut down by Decree Law no. 675 on October 29, 2016.

Eren Keskin, the co-executive editor of the now-closed Özgür Gündem newspaper, and Reyhan Çapan, the managing editor-in-chief of the newspaper, were included in several investigations launched on the newspaper’s writers and co-executive editors.

16 indictments were prepared concerning Keskin and Çapan. Meanwhile, three indictments were prepared concerning Hüseyin Aykol, the co-executive director of the newspaper.

One indictment each was prepared concerning Ayşe Berktay, Nuray Özdoğan, Celalettin Can, Ayşe Batumlu and Filiz Koçali, writers for the newspaper.

Keskin and Çapan were included as defendants in all indictments prepared concerning Aykol and other writers.

A total of 16 indictments were merged. The indictments were prepared by two separate prosecutors working at the Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office of Istanbul.

The indictments charged Eren Keskin and Reyhan Çapan over the news items and articles published in the newspaper’s issues published between November 2015 and March 2016.

Meanwhile, Hüseyin Aykol was charged over his news items and articles published in the newspaper’s issues in November 2015, January 2016 and March 2016.

The newspaper’s writers Nuray Özdoğan was charged over her article with the headline, Cizre: Direnişin Kadim Kenti [Cizre: The Ancient City of Resistance], Ayşe Berktay over her article with the headline, Barışı ve Huzuru İrademize Sahip Çıkarak Kuracağız [We Will Build Peace and Harmony by Protecting Our Will], Reyhan Hacıoğlu with her articles with the headlines, Mirabellerden Arinlere: Erkek Şiddetine Karşı Özsavunmaya [From the Mirabal Sisters to Arins: Self-Defence Against Male Violence] and İnsanlığın Umudu YPJ [YPJ: Humanity’s Hope], Filiz Koçali over her article with the headline, Korkun Bizden Bahar Geliyor [Be Afraid of Us: Spring is Coming], Celalettin Can over his article with the headline, Gün Direnme, Hakkını Kullanma Günü [The Day Has Come To Resist and Use Your Rights] and Ayşe Batumlu was charged over her article with the headline, O Küllerden Yeniden Doğacak Özgür Kadınlar [Those Free Women Who Will Be Reborn From Their Ashes].

The merged indictments charged the newspaper’s managers and writers over the news items and articles that were cited as evidence with “legitimising and praising the acts and activities of the PKK/KCK terrorist organisation members”, “depicting security officers as people who randomly kill people and disturb the peace”, “publicly praising and inciting violence, rebellion, armed attacks and pressure against security officers and all persons and groups who do not share their opinion.”

The indictments asserted that “the publishing of this content cannot be evaluated to fall within the scope of freedom of thought and expression or freedom of the press”.

The indictments charged Eren Keskin, Hüseyin Aykol and Reyhan Çapan, along with Celalettin Can, Filiz Koçali and Ayşe Batumlu, with “terrorist organisation propaganda”, “publicly inciting people to commit crime” and “praising offences and offenders”. In total, the prosecution demanded that the three journalists be separately sentenced to imprisonment of between 18 months and 12 years.

The indictments charged Ayşe Berktay, Reyhan Hacıoğlu and Nuray Özdoğan with “terrorist organisation propaganda”. The prosecution demanded that the three journalists be separately sentenced to imprisonment of between one year and five years.

The 16 separate indictments concerning the co-executive editors, managers and writers of the newspaper were merged and accepted by the 14th High Criminal Court of Istanbul.

The trial commenced with the first hearing at the 14th High Criminal Court of Istanbul on 26 May 2016.

Reyhan Çapan stated that the articles and news items should be evaluated within the scope of freedom of the press and freedom of expression, and rejected the charges. Çapan did not accept the delaying of the pronouncement of a possible judgment.

In her defensive statement at the first hearing, Eren Keskin stated that she had voluntarily served as the executive editor of Özgür Gündem newspaper for three years. She stated that she did not think the content of the articles and news reports included propaganda material, and that they only expressed their opinions. Keskin rejected the delaying of the pronouncement of a possible judgment.

Berktay made her defensive statement at the first hearing of the trial. She rejected the charges. Stating that she wrote about the events taking place in Diyarbakır’s Silvan district in her article, Berktay said the following:

“I expressed my opinions about actions carried out to intimidate, engage in racist propaganda and suppress, and the operations carried out by the law enforcement officers in the area. I wrote my article within the scope of freedom of thought. I work for the sake of revealing the truth. I believe peace and harmony will take shape in a just atmosphere of dialogue, not by violence or suppression.”

Berktay rejected the delaying of the pronouncement of a possible judgment. Berktay presented to the court the reports prepared by the Peoples’ Democratic Party and Mazlum-Der [The Association for Human Rights and Solidarity for the Oppressed] that contained accounts of previous events in the Eastern Anatolia and the South-Eastern Anatolia regions of Turkey.

Meanwhile, Nuray Özdoğan stated that the she wrote her article, which formed the basis of the accusations through the impressions she gained on the trip she took to Şırnak’s Cizre district with the Özgürlükçü Hukukçular Derneği [Association of Lawyers for Freedom]. Stating that they visited households in Cizre, “We took statements from the family of a person who was killed by a sniper and made a record of it ”. Stating that there was no false statement in her article, Özdoğan said: “I stand behind the reports I wrote” and demanded her acquittal. She rejected the delaying of the pronouncement of a possible judgment.

Reyhan Hacıoğlu also made her first defensive statement in this hearing. She rejected the charges. She stated that her article was about violence against women, that it contained no criminal element and it should be evaluated within the scope of freedom of expression.

Hacıoğlu rejected the delaying of the pronouncement of a possible judgment

The court ruled that an order be issued for Hüseyin Aykol, who resided in Ankara, to give his defensive statement in Ankara.

Ayşe Batumlu’s defensive statement was received through an order sent by means of the 14th High Criminal Court of Istanbul to the 2nd High Criminal Court of Bursa, where Batumlu resided. In her defensive statement, Batumlu stated that she emphasised the struggle against gender inequality in the article which formed the basis of the accusations. She stated that the article did not contain references to any organisations, name of any organisation or a section which legitimised or incited any violent or coercive activities of an illegal organisation.

The second hearing of the trial took place on 29 September 2016. Hüseyin Aykol rejected the charges and stated that he lived in Ankara, but the newspaper was published in Istanbul. Stating that the responsibility belongs to the newspaper’s managing editor-in-chief, Aykol said: “I do not accept the said charges as I do not hold any [official] titles [at the newspaper]”. Aykol demanded to be exempted from the hearings, meaning he requested his mandatory attendance to hearings was lifted. Aykol demanded the delaying of the pronouncement of a possible judgment.

The court ruled that Hüseyin Aykol and Nuray Özdoğan be exempted from the hearings, meaning their mandatory attendance to the hearings was lifted.

The third hearing of the trial took place on 13 October 2016. The prosecutor for the hearing demanded that the case file be sent to the prosecutor’s office for the opinion of the prosecution as to the accusations to be prepared. The demand was accepted and the hearing was adjourned.

Can gave his defensive statement on 19 October 2016 before his case file was merged with the present case file. He stated that he expressed his opinions in his article. Can said the following in his defensive statement:

“I was a member of the ‘Committee of Wise Men’. I was actually present at their meetings. I was one of the leaders of the Peace Process. I witnessed violence inflicted upon all, be they families or children. I prepared a report on the experiences of people and I presented it to the government. I am concerned about the death of civilians. The conflict between the PKK and the military in the mountains is beyond my knowledge. It’s none of my business. I do not have the means to investigate that area. I wrote about situations related to these matters.”

“The Committee of Wise Men”, which was mentioned in Can’s defensive statement, was a group consisting of artists, intellectuals and members of the civil society that was formed by the Justice and Development Party during the “democratisation” and “peace” processes intended to resolve the “Kurdish issue”. The group held meetings in all regions of Turkey, and presented their reports to the government.

Can accepted the delaying of the pronouncement of a possible judgment.

The fourth hearing of the trial took place on 1 December 2016. The panel of judges had changed at this hearing. The prosecutor for the hearing demanded that the indictments concerning Reyhan Çapan, managing editor-in-chief of the newspaper, which were previously completed, and contained the same allegations with the present case file to be merged. Çapan’s attorney Sercan Korkmaz demanded additional time to prepare defensive statements against the indictments, the merger of which was demanded. The demand was accepted, and the hearing was adjourned.

The fifth hearing of the trial took place on 9 March 2017. The panel of judges had changed once again. The court ruled to wait for the merging of the defendants’ case files to be completed. The hearing was adjourned.

The sixth hearing of the trial took place on 28 June 2017. The prosecutor for the hearing demanded that the case file be sent to the prosecutor’s office for the opinion of the prosecution as to the accusations to be prepared. The demand was accepted and the hearing was adjourned.

The seventh hearing of the trial took place on 26 October 2017. The prosecutor for the hearing presented the opinion of the prosecution as to the accusations in this hearing.

The opinion of the prosecution demanded that Eren Keskin and Hüseyin Aykol, co-executive editors of the newspaper, and Reyhan Çapan, the managing editor-in-chief of the newspaper, be sentenced to imprisonment on the charge of “consecutive terrorist organisation propaganda by means of the media”.

The opinion of the prosecution demanded that Ayşe Berktay, Reyhan Hacıoğlu, Nuray Özdoğan, Celalettin Can and Ayşe Batumlu be acquitted on the grounds of “holding no liability under the Press Law.”

The opinion of the prosecution demanded that the trial case concerning Filiz Koçali be separated on the grounds that the arrest warrant concerning her was not fulfilled.

The eighth hearing of the trial took place on 15 March 2018. Attorney Özcan Kılıç demanded another additional time to prepare defensive statements due to the case file being extensive. The demand was accepted and the hearing was adjourned.

The ninth hearing of the trial took place on 7 May 2018. Eren Keskin made the following defensive statement at the hearing:

“I am an advocate of human rights. I am the co-chairperson of the Human Rights Association. Özgür Gündem newspaper was repeatedly shut down and its managers were assassinated. I requested my name to be written on the newspaper’s publication record in 2013. However, I did not actually participate in its activities. To date, I was sentenced to imprisonment and judiciary fines. I am currently being tried at the 23rd High Criminal Court of Istanbul facing a life sentence.”

Attorney Özcan Kılıç once again demanded additional time to prepare defensive statements due to the file being extensive. The demand was accepted and the hearing was adjourned.

The tenth hearing of the trial took place on 9 July 2018. Eren Keskin made the following defensive statement at the hearing:

“I have never seen any weapons in my life except the weapons carried by the police. However, I am being prosecuted on the allegations that I am a terrorist. I was previously sentenced to imprisonment of 12 and a half years. I know that this court will sentence me too. It is obvious that the judiciary is not independent. History will be the judge of those who now govern Turkey. I will continue applying to the European Court of Human Rights.”

Attorney Özcan Kılıç stated that the content which formed the basis of the accusations “fell within the scope of freedom of expression in accordance with rulings of the European Court of Human Rights and the Constitutional Court”. Stating that these rulings were binding, attorney Kılıç demanded his client’s acquittal.

The eleventh hearing of the trial took place on 9 October 2018. Attorney Özcan Kılıç demanded that the case file concerning Eren Keskin, the co-executive editor of the newspaper be merged with the case file of the trial being carried out at the 23rd High Criminal Court of Istanbul. The hearing was adjourned to receive the opinion of the 23rd High Criminal Court of Istanbul on the case merger request. The court also demanded the publication and copyright records of the now-closed Özgür Gündem newspaper from the Press Crimes Investigation Bureau of the Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office of Istanbul.

The twelfth hearing of the trial took place on 28 March 2019. It was announced that the Investigation Bureau of the Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office of Istanbul had sent the previously requested documents. The hearing was adjourned to receive the opinion of the 23rd High Criminal Court of Istanbul on the case merger request.

The thirteenth hearing of the trial took place on 8 May 2019. The panel of judges had changed once again. It was announced that the 23rd High Criminal Court of Istanbul had rejected the request to merge the case file concerning Eren Keskin. Attorney Özcan Kılıç demanded additional time to prepare the final defensive statements. The demand was accepted, and the hearing was adjourned.

The fourteenth hearing of the trial took place on 21 May 2019.

Eren Keskin and Reyhan Çapar were sentenced to imprisonment of three years and nine months for the crime of “consecutive terrorist organisation propaganda by means of the media”. The sentence concerning Çapan was not postponed; the pronouncement of the judgment was not delayed.

Hüseyin Aykol was sentenced to imprisonment of 25 months for the crime of “consecutive terrorist organisation propaganda by means of the media”. The sentence concerning Aykol was not postponed; the pronouncement of the judgement was not delayed.

The court of appeals’ examination on the rulings concerning Keskin, Aykol and Çapan is underway.

Ayşe Batumlu and Reyhan Hacıoğlu were sentenced to imprisonment of 15 months for the crime of “consecutive terrorist organisation propaganda by means of the media”. The pronouncement of the judgment was not delayed, but the sentence was postponed. However, the prosecutor’s office demanded that the two journalists be acquitted in the opinion of the prosecution as to the accusations.

The court ruled that Celalettin Can, Nuray Özdoğan, and Ayşe Berktay be acquitted.

The court ruled that the case file concerning Filiz Koçali be separated.

Contact: pressinarrest@gmail.com

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