Journalists Hülya Kılınç, Barış Pehlivan, Murat Ağırel released; file against Erk Acarer separated
CANSU PİŞKİN, ISTANBUL
The second and final hearing in the trial of seven journalists and one municipal press officer over news coverage and social media posts about a National Intelligence Organization (MİT) operative killed in Libya in February was held on 9 September 2020 at the 34th High Criminal Court of Istanbul.
Odatv journalists Barış Pehlivan, Barış Terkoğlu and Hülya Kılınç, Yeni Yaşam daily Editor-in-Chief Ferhat Çelik and Responsible Editor Aydın Keser, and Yeniçağ columnist Murat Ağırel were jailed pending trial in March as part of the case. BirGün columnist Erk Acarer, who lives abroad, and municipal press officer Eren Ekinci, who was released after giving his statement earlier in the investigation, are the remaining two defendants. They each faced up to 18 years in prison on the charges of “disclosing classified information crucial to the security of the state” and “exposing the contents of documents and information concerning intelligence operations.”
At the end of the previous hearing, Terkoğlu, Keser and Çelik were released under judicial control measures while Pehlivan, Kılınç and Ağırel were ordered to remain behind bars.
Presenting their final opinion to the court on 8 September, the prosecutor asked the panel to convict Pehlivan, Terkoğlu, Kılınç, Çelik, Keser, Ağırel and Ekinci as charged and to separate the file against Erk Acarer. The prosecutor also requested the continuation of Kılınç, Pehlivan and Ağırel’s imprisonment.
P24 monitored the hearing. Terkoğlu, Çelik, Kılınç, Pehlivan and Ağırel were in attendance in the courtroom with their lawyers. Keser, who recently tested positive for Covid-19, could not attend. Eren Ekinci addressed the court via judicial video conferencing network SEGBİS.
Addressing the court for her defense statement, Kılınç said she hadn’t done anything other than journalism and that her report was only about the burial of the martyr in Manisa without an official ceremony. She said that she could not have known that the officer was a MİT operative.
Kılınç said: “The photo in the report was not taken secretly, it was taken by Akhisar Municipality’s press officer. There is no sign in the photo to indicate that there was a MİT operative in it. The only thing said in the report was that his coffin was carried by the locals. I wasn’t the one who said that there were MİT members in the photo, it was the prosecutor. I’ve been a journalist for 20 years. I did not intend to commit a crime. I ask to be released and acquitted.”
Barış Pehlivan took the stand next. He said that information and photographs concerning the MİT operative had been released, published and circulated prior to Odatv’s coverage. He said the report they published did not contain anything new about the MİT operative.
He said: “Despite this truth, taking into consideration both the martyr’s family and the MİT Law we acted with more caution than usual. And even though it was previously exposed, we did not publish the martyr’s last name, the names of his family members and the name of the village where the funeral took place. Despite all these, the prosecution accused us with a snapshot from the martyr’s funeral. They claimed that in the shot showing the coffin being carried, which turned out to not have been taken secretly, there were MİT operatives. We learned about the claim that there were MİT operatives in the photo in the indictment. So, it was the prosecutors who revealed the information. Odatv’s report only said that the district governor, representatives from political parties and citizens were in the photo. We are being accused of something we did not write or even suggested. The person who was the first one to carry out the acts we were accused of committing in the indictment was heard as a witness in this court. Right before the eyes of the prosecution here in this courtroom on that day, he repeated the martyr’s first name and last name, his father’s name, and the name of his village. He looked straight in my eyes and once again exposed all this information we had been keeping to ourselves. And then I was sent back to solitary confinement due to his testimony.”
After the completion of Pehlivan’s statement, Murat Ağırel addressed the court: “Turkey ranks 154th in RSF’s World Press Freedom Index. This is the point we have reached concerning freedom of expression and press freedom. And one of the reasons is the journalists who have been unjustly detained for the past 6 months based on a tweet or a report. Those who are responsible for eroding trust in the judiciary are the institutions and people representing justice. Those who handed law into the hands of the political authority, who saw it as the service vehicle of those in power, who brought politics, injustice and fear into courtrooms, have destroyed trust in law and justice.”
In response to Ağırel’s statement, the prosecutor said: “The witness talked about what he had been subjected to during FETÖ (Fethullahist terrorist organization) trials. In the final opinion a programme he attended on Sputnik was not mentioned. Let’s not engage in demagogy.”
Presenting his defense statement next, Barış Terkoğlu said: “I believe this is a case in which a crime is being committed rather than found. This case is an abuse of laws. Its very existence is a crime. It is the placing of law against justice. When necessary, we journalists say, ‘Pro jure contra legem’ (against the laws for the sake of justice).”
Following a 10-minute recess, Ferhat Çelik took the stand for his defense statement and said that Yeni Yaşam daily had taken the report from another source and the information was already available online when they published it. Çelik said: “While media outlets that call for massacres, the legitimization of assault and rape, use a divisive language, engage in sectarianism and racism, openly use swear words and insults are treated with tolerance, those doing dissident journalism are crushed through flimsy justifications.”
Delivering his statement via SEGBİS, Eren Ekinci said: “I did not intend to commit a crime. I didn’t take any footage secretly, they were shot in front of everyone. I found out that the martyr was a MİT agent after Hülya Kılınç was arrested. I reject the accusations. I request to be acquitted.”
After all the defendants except Keser delivered their statements, defense lawyers took turns addressing the court panel in response to the prosecutor’s final opinion.
Ferhat Çelik’s lawyer Özcan Kılıç submitted a 3-page petition to the court and asked for his client to be acquitted. Aydın Keser’s lawyer Sercan Korkmaz also stated that they had submitted a detailed petition to the court. Saying that the material elements of the crime had not formed, Korkmaz asked for his client’s acquittal.
Barış Pehlivan’s lawyer Hüseyin Ersöz said the statements by the defendants had stated the obvious and that the only judgment to be delivered in the trial should be acquittal.
Announcing their judgment at the end of the hearing, the court acquitted all defendants except Acarer of “Disclosing classified information related to the security of the state.” However, the court sentenced Kılınç and Pehlivan to 3 years and 9 months and Çelik, Keser and Ağırel to 4 years, 8 months and 7 days each for "violating the Law on the National Intelligence Organization." The court handed down Çelik, Keser and Ağırel longer sentences on the grounds that the offense was committed “continuously.”
Considering the time they spent in pre-trial detention, the court ruled to release Kılınç, Pehlivan and Ağırel under a ban on traveling abroad. Acarer's file was separated since his defense statement could not be taken.