It is now over a year since the Odatv journalists had faced their accuser in court (the last hearing was on 12 December 2013). The case, due to be held on 1 April 2014 was postponed. Although reforms to the courts resulted in the case being held under the new set up, there we were, on 30 January, for the resumed hearing in the same Caglayan Judgement Palace in Istanbul, a short distance from the modern Florence Nightingale State hospital. You can change the court but it does not seem to change the outcome. After just over half a day’s hearing the three judges ruled that the case be adjourned until 12 June (5 days after the national elections).
Spirits were high as we met outside the court room. We had not seen each other for over a year. It was really good to see Muyesser Yildiz, the Odatv journalist adopted by the NUJ. She and her husband were as cheerful as ever.
The court proceedings kicked off just after 10.00am with three new judges and all the parties were introduced for the record. The lead judge made it clear that he wanted to complete the hearing today. Did this mean a judgement was likely today, I wondered? Of course not.
The defence asked that a computer expert (one of the country’s top people I was told) be called to give evidence that journalists’ computers at the internet TV station had been hacked into from the United States and hundreds of incriminating files had been placed on them (the presence of these files is a significant part of the prosecution case). He was questioned by defence lawyers and the judge and after 12 minutes there being no more questions he left the court.
The rest of the morning was taken up in hearing speeches from the defendants and their lawyers. Muyesser Yildiz summed up the feelings of all the defendants when she asked the court to explain exactly where they were in the whole legal process, at the start, the middle or the end? Others recalled their time in prison, and highlighted the contradictions in the terrorist charges they were facing. A defence lawyer called on the court to put an end of the case immediately. ‘The defendants were set up’ he exclaimed.
After lunch the court resumed for just over an hour, with more submissions from defence lawyers and for the first time the prosecutor spoke towards the end, calling on the panel of judges to adjourn the case so that the court receive a report from the telecommunications company!
After a 30 minute adjournment we trooped back in to hear a statement from the panel of judges. The case would be adjourned until 12 June. As we reassembled briefly outside the court no-one was surprised at the decision. Disappointed yes, but these are hardened court attendees. And the significance of it being held just days after national elections was understood by all. The ruling party, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) wants to win enough seats in the new parliament to change the Turkish constitution on its own. This would also include introducing a presidential style of government with, of course, the current president and former prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan remaining in the top position with far more powers that he holds at present. The judges, it seems, want to wait to see the outcome of the political contest before coming to a decision. Separation of powers – I don’t think so.