The next day (Wednesday 21 September) we arrived at the Caglayan Court of Justice in Istanbul which was hearing 5 different prosecution cases against journalists. We were originally told that there would only be one! Again we were with the IFJ/EFJ affiliates TGS (Journalists Union of Turkey), DISK-Basin-Is (Journalists Union of Turkey from DISK) and TGC (Journalists Association of Turkey) to observe the following cases:
The first was the appeal in the MIT Trucks case where journalists Can Dündar and Erdem Gül working for Cumhuriyet newspaper had been sentenced to 5 years in jail for revealing state secrets and arms trafficking between Turkish intelligence services (MIT) and Syrian armed rebel groups. The appeal hearing was held in secret but this did not put off the many supporters, including Can’s wife, who turned up to the court. Can was not present as he is currently living in Germany (see my 16 August blog) and has said that he will not consider returning until after the state of emergency has been lifted. A further hearing has been ordered.
The next trial (which we could attend) was the long running OdaTV case (see previous blogs of 18 April). Here investigative journalists were accused of being members of a secret illegal organisation called Ergenekon trying to topple the government. The trial has been running for 6 years, despite the overwhelming evidence of their innocence and the fact that previous prosecutors and judges are either in jail or had fled the country for allegedly being themselves members or supporters of an illegal terrorist organisation (the Gülen movement). The new judge refused to drop the charges in the absence of a new appointed prosecutor and adjourned the case to the 24 October.
However, during an exchange with one of the defendants who asked for justice and that President Erdogan (when he was prime minister) be named as one of the main supporters of Gulenists and therefore a co-accomplice in the plot against the internet TV station, more than eyebrows were raised when the judge replied: “What justice? What fair trial are you looking for? Obviously there is nothing like that in this country anymore. You are journalists, no? You should be more aware of the situation than the rest of us, no?…” After being further pressed by a lawyer for one of the defendants the judge agreed that the name be mentioned in the judicial record. Just whether the same judge will be presiding at the next hearing on 24 October remains to be seen!
Other cases were: A follow-up on Özgür Gündem solidarity case (heard yesterday 20 September) where a journalist was asked to testify in another court; Journalist Hasan Cemal (T24) being accused of insulting the Turkish president; Journalists and writers Mehmet Altan and Ahmet Altan, brothers still held in custody for allegedly giving “subliminal messages suggesting a military coup” during a TV show.
Post-coup the Turkish authorities have promoted the country to being the world leader for locking up journalists, while the state shuts down media outlets that don’t tow the government line. The need for international solidarity has never been greater and the IFJ/EFJ’s continuing work, assisted by a new project funding from the European Union is crucial. So is the need for journalists in Turkey to stand together, to defend the right to report and the public’s right to information. This is not easy to achieve, but the mood of our IFJ/EFJ affiliates in Turkey is determined and positive.
Meanwhile you can help by getting your MP to sign up to Early Day Motion 474 on Freedom of the media in Turkey mentioned in my previous blog. We need to put pressure of the UK government to speak up for press freedom and the right to report. Maybe the UK’s new foreign secretary will make this clear when he visits Turkey.
Additional material by Mehmet Koksal.