A lawsuit was filed against Cumhuriyet newspaper reporter Alican Uludağ and ex-reporter Duygu Güvenç on July 27, 2018, for their news stories published in Cumhuriyet about the American pastor Andrew Brunson who detained in Turkey. In separate news stories, Uludağ and Güvenç wrote that Brunson’s subsequent release was based on political and diplomatic, rather than legal reasons.
The investigation initiated by the Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office claimed that the journalists “publicly defamed the state’s judicial organs.” The investigation file was sent to the Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office of Istanbul, where the Cumhuriyet is located.
In their statements at the prosecutor’s office, Uludağ and Güvenç indicated that they did not defame judiciary organs in their stories and did not have such intent, emphasizing that they simply exercised their rights of journalism and criticism.
Istanbul Public Prosecutor’s Office, drafted an indictment against the two journalists for allegedly “defaming the Turkish nation, Republic of Turkey and Turkish Grand National Assembly” as per Article 301 of Turkish Penal Code, upon the Ministry of Justice’s approval dated September 5, 2018. Sarıdere completed his indictment on October 1, 2018.
The trial continues at Istanbul 2nd Criminal Court of First Instance. The first hearing of the case was held on December 20, 2018. Alican Uludağ attended the hearing, presented his defense and pleaded not guilty.
The second hearing on April 4, 2019, and the third hearing on June 20, 2019, could not be held, since the judge, who presides over the case, was on leave. Duygu Güvenç presented her defense at the fourth hearing on October 10, 2019.
The sixth hearing of the case could not be held on 16 April 2020, as planned. The trial, postponed to 2 July 2020 due to Coronavirus pandemic measures.
The seventh hearing of the trial was held on July 2nd, 2020. Uludağ and his lawyer did not attend the hearing. The judge asked the lawyers whether they would opt for a deferment of the announcement of the verdict. Duygu Güvenç’s lawyer Abbas Yalçın accepted the deferment.
Güvenç’s lawyer Yalçın stated, ‘’I will defend news stories with news stories. My client did not coin the expression ‘hostage diplomacy’. It is in wide use since Deniz Yücel was arrested,’‘ and presented to the court news stories on Deniz Yücel’s release without a ban on going abroad. Yalçın added, ‘’Everyone knows about the deficiencies in our judiciary system. Judges, prosecutors and lawyers, we have to accept such criticism; we have no right to feel offended.’‘
The court accepted the excuse presented by Alican Uludağ’s lawyer.
The eighth hearing took place on October 22nd, 2020. The president of the court had changed. The journalists did not attend the hearing and were represented by their lawyers.
The hearing prosecutor presented his judicial opinion as to the accusations. In the judicial opinion, as was the case in the indictment, the journalists were charged with “publicly denigrating the Turkish nation, state, parliament, government and judiciary organs” as per Turkish Penal Code, Article 301/1.
Buket Yazıcı, the lawyer of Uludağ, stated that the news report was not penned to insult anyone. She stated that Uludağ was a courthouse reporter, and that he covered the Brunson case. She stated that US President Donald Trump’s statements regarding his intervention for Brunson’s release were published in the Washington Post. She stated that the news report in question fell within the scope of press freedom.
Güvenç’s lawyer, Abbas Yalçın said “the judiciary cannot be immune from criticism, and the judiciary cannot feel offended in such situations”. He stated that Güvenç was exercising a constitutional right: “Nobody can be punished for exercising a right. As a journalist, she penned her news report in accordance with concrete reality, on a factual basis, and exercised her freedom to criticize and report.”
The court acquitted Uludağ and Güvenç, stating that the charge leveled against them is not defined as an offense in law.
In the justified decision later announced by the court, it was stated that the expressions used in the news story “put forth a harsh and striking criticism, but fell short of denigration.” The justified decision read as follows:
“The style and phrases used in the news story and the expressions exaggerate the argument to an acceptable degree and sharpen the argument within the limits of the freedom of press. As a result, the journalists try to interpret an incident that marked the public agenda in a critical and disturbing manner, in connection with concrete events…”
The verdict of acquittal was based on the argument that the “news story fell within the freedom of expression and press as outlined by the European Convention of Human Rights and the Turkish Constitution”.
Court of Appeal Process
The hearing prosecutor appealed the acquittal verdict on October 28th, 2020. The prosecutor sent a writ to the İstanbul 2. Criminal Court of First Instance, stating that it would appeal the verdict. In the writ, the prosecutor claimed that the acquittal verdict “was against the principles and procedures of law”.
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