From yesterday’s Hurriyet Daily News
‘Can Dündar and Erdem Gül appeared in Istanbul’s Çağlayan courthouse for the second hearing of their controversial case yesterday, 1 April, with the court again ruling not to arrest them for the duration of the trial. The second hearing was closed to the public after an earlier ruling, with Dündar and Gül facing life in jail on “espionage” charges for reporting on Turkish intelligence trucks allegedly transporting weapons to Syrian rebel groups in November 2014. The court also postponed the hearing to 22 April. Dündar said the prosecutor did not demand their arrest, but added that he thought the prosecutor would request to join the cases.
Speaking to reporters before the hearing, Dündar said the plaintiffs and the defendants were mixed up in the trial. “There is a mistake with the seating arrangement,” said Dündar, Cumhuriyet’s editor-in-chief. “We should have been on the questioning side in this arrangement of journalists versus the president and the undersecretary of MİT [National Intelligence Organisation] because, at the heart of it, the case is an international crime,” he said.
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and MİT recently joined the proceedings as complainants amid strong domestic and international criticism.
Dündar also denied the portrayal of the trial as an espionage case and stressed that the real target was their journalistic activities. “What is on trial here is journalism. What is on trial are our right to information and the people’s right to learn. Whereas on the opposing side, there is a crime being hidden from people,” he said.
Gül, Cumhuriyet’s Ankara bureau chief, reiterated Dündar’s remarks, stating his expectation that the court would dismiss the case on 1 April.
Those who went to the courthouse to support the journalists’ case also witnessed controversy as security guards denied entry to deputies from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) and Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP). The court had ruled on March 25 for the whole trial to be held in secret upon a request by the prosecutors.
In addition to the deputies, Can Dündar’s son, Ege Dündar, was also initially denied entry to the courtroom as the previous decision said that only the defendants’ lawyers, wives and parents were permitted to follow the case. The court board later allowed entry to the man.
Meanwhile, a large group of 473 lawyers filed requests to join the case as Dündar and Gül’s attorneys and were granted permission to join the hearing. A lawyer for the journalists, Akın Atalay, praised the lawyers for rendering the secret hearing decision ineffective.
“I believe more than 500 of our lawyer friends expressed their desire to take part in Can and Erdem’s defense. They will be inside the courtroom today. Hence, they will prevent this hearing from taking place away from public scrutiny,” he said.
Just hours before the court commenced early 1 April, a controversial story was published by pro-government daily Sabah, claiming CHP Istanbul deputy Enis Berberoğlu “serviced” the intel trucks story to Dündar. The daily alleged that the Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office “determined” that Dündar’s and Berberoğlu’s phone signals were received from the same spot during the period in question. A summary of proceedings will be prepared for the deputy in which Berberoğlu will also be accused of “espionage,” the report claimed.
Berberoğlu swiftly responded to the allegations, underlining that he was fully ready to take responsibility for a story “whose accuracy is beyond questioning.” “As a former journalist and a new politician, I am ready to bear full responsibility for this news story,” he said, adding that such an accurate story would be published by any journalist.
Nonetheless, the deputy stressed that the real problem was the practices of the public prosecutor’s office, which illegally investigated his cellphone records although he is not listed as a defendant or a witness in the case.
“As a member of parliament who enjoys immunity, I call on the High Council of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK) to take action,” he said.’
Meanwhile according to the same newspaper on 1 April U.S. President Barack Obama raised criticism over press freedom in Turkey, saying that he had expressed these sentiments directly to President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. “It’s no secret that there are some trends within Turkey that I have been troubled with,” Obama said, when asked whether he considers the Turkish leader an authoritarian.
“I think the approach they have been taking toward the press is one that could lead Turkey down a path that would be very troubling.”
Obama said he had expressed these sentiments to Erdoğan “directly.”
The U.S. President also said Turkey’s cooperation with his country had been critical on a number of international issues despite disagreements between the two countries.
“(Erdoğan) came into office with a promise of democracy, and Turkey has historically been a country in which deep Islamic faith has lived side by side with modernity and an increasing openness. And that’s the legacy that he should pursue, rather than a strategy that involves repression of information and shutting down democratic debate,” he said.
The pair met at the White House on March 31 for talks away from the cameras.
Erdoğan was on a trip to Washington to take part in a major nuclear security summit with other world leaders…
More at: http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/obama-raises-press-freedom-concerns-against-erdogan.aspx?pageID=238&nID=97226&NewsCatID=510
Last week it was announced that the court had rejected a prosecution demand to merge Can and Erdem’s case with another where defendants are charged with attempting to overthrow the state and revealing information about the state’s security and political activities. Charges they faced on belonging to a terrorist organisation were also dropped.
The case, being heard in secret, resumes on 6 May.