Soner Yalcin, international journalist and owner of Odatv news website, was released from jail on 27 December. His release came after the 15th hearing of the Odatv trial at the Judgement Palace in Istanbul. However, he can’t leave Turkey, and he will have to report weekly to the court.
Soner Yalcin was first imprisoned in February 2011, along with nine other journalists accused of being involved in the alleged Ergenekon coup plot (see ‘Standing up for Turkey’). One journalist, Professor Yalçin Kücük, remains in prison along with former police chief, Hanefi Avci.

As happened at the last hearing, on 16 November, the day began with a rally outside the court. I was there on behalf of the European Federation of Journalists. There were speakers from the Freedom for Journalists Platform, the head of the Ankara Bar Association, a woman MP from the Republican People’s Party (CHP – the main opposition party), and me.

After the speeches, I gave an interview to a radio station.

The situation soon degenerated into farce and low-level harassment. Our entry to the courtroom was blocked by security staff and we soon found that it would only be able to hold some 40 or so observers (families, supporters and reporters numbered around 80).

In what is the biggest courthouse in Europe, we were at a loss to understand why such a small room had been chosen by the authorities to hear the case. We concluded that it was all part of the authorities’ plan to make life difficult for us. We further learnt that the judge had refused to allow the defence lawyers, representing the dozen defendants, admission to the courtroom. I heard that some 17 were initially refused admission.

After considerable argument, we were finally allowed into the overcrowded courtroom’s public area to hear defendant Yalçin Kücük put his case to the judge.

But not for long. The proceedings were soon interrupted while the remaining defence lawyers were admitted to the court. A second interruption took place to investigate a possible breakdown in the recording equipment, which turned out to be a false alarm.

After nearly an hour, Yalçin Kücük sat down, and it was Soner Yalcin’s turn to address the court. He was defiant, saying that he was the victim of a conspiracy by those who had allegedly wire-tapped Prime Minister Erdogan. Trial suspects also believed that incriminating documents found on their computers had been sent by unknown persons via a computer virus, a point re-stated by Soner. After his twenty-minute address, Soner sat down – to applause from his supporters. The buzzing court then adjourned for lunch at noon.

On our return from lunch, we found that the heavy security had vanished, but the courtroom was still overflowing into the outside corridor, with people unable to get a place in the main public area.

During the lunch break, an overhead projector and screen had been set up for use by former intelligence officer, Hanefi Avci. He gave a detailed account of the way incriminating evidence had been placed on the computers, and his background in the murky world of intelligence meant that he spoke with some authority on the subject. He finished at 2.15 pm, when the court adjourned for 15 minutes, at which point the lawyers took the floor for their submissions which continued late into the afternoon.

Along with Ercan Ipekci, head of the Turkish Journalists Union (TGS), I had to leave the proceedings around 3.00 pm to meet journalists at the ULUSAL Kanal TV.

Their editor-in-chief, Turhan Ozul, has been held in Silivri state prison, over 60 km outside Istanbul, since 23 August 2011. He also faces charges in connection with the alleged Ergenekon coup plot.

Ercan has done a great job in recruiting the staff to the union. After his meeting with them had finished I did an interview to camera about the current situation and the support the EFJ was giving to the imprisoned journalists.

Turhan is being supported by the Swedish Journalists Union and his case comes up again on 10 January 2013 at Silivri.

On our return to the TGS office, we had a call from Soner’s partner, Halide Didem, to say that he had been released. She was, of course, overjoyed and thanked the EFJ for all their support.

However, the ten journalists have not been acquitted and, along with the two remaining suspects still in prison, they will be attending the Istanbul court on 21 March for a further hearing.

The next day, we met up with a number of journalists and supporters from the previous day’s Odatv trial including Muyesser Yildiz, who has been adopted by the NUJ, and her husband. It was a good opportunity to talk about the previous day’s events, and we parted knowing that we will all meet again next year.

Travelling back on the plane to London, it was interesting to read in the English edition of Hurriyet (Daily News) that the Turkish authorities had recently launched an ‘information campaign’ in capital cities world-wide, to explain the reasons for jailing of journalists.

According to an article published on 28 December, the Turkish Foreign Ministry and the Justice Ministry organised the joint production of the booklets, which were delivered to each Turkish embassy in foreign capitals during the past three months in response to criticisms and questions about journalists held in prison. It should make interesting reading.

Meanwhile the EFJ campaign to get all the charges dropped against Turkish and Kurdish journalists (see the previous two articles) will continue into 2013.

We are also concerned that, a few weeks ago, Prime Minister Erdogan called for a debate about reintroducing capital punishment for ‘terrorists’ – a crime of which many journalists stand accused.