Harun Simavi, Erdal Güven and Semin Sezerer were charged with “aiding a terrorist organization” over Diken news portal’s coverage of tweets by “Fuat Avni”
CANSU PİŞKİN, ISTANBUL
News portal Diken.com.tr founder Harun Simavi, Editor-in-Chief Erdal Güven and former Responsible Editor Semin Sezerer appeared before the 22nd High Criminal Court of Istanbul on 3 September 2020 for the first hearing of their trial on the charge of “aiding a terrorist organization without being its member.”
The accusation stemmed from the news portal’s coverage of tweets by the anonymous Twitter account that went by the name “Fuat Avni,” which was active between 2014-2016 and which leaked confidential information on the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). The government claims that the account was used by a member of the Gülen movement, which is classified as a terrorist organization in Turkey.
P24 monitored the hearing. Güven, Simavi and Sezerer were in attendance with their lawyers. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) Turkey Representative Erol Önderoğlu also monitored the hearing.
Erdal Güven addressed the court first. In his defense statement, Güven said they founded Diken solely for the purpose of journalism. “What makes a situation, a development or an event newsworthy is relevance. This is the only reason why we reported on the posts. If we had done otherwise, we would not have done our job.”
Noting that the indictment against them was based on Diken’s reports and social media posts about “Fuat Avni” tweets shared between 3 April 2014 and 27 October 2015, Güven asserted that the news reports or social media posts in question did not contain any commentary. He added: “Besides, we also reported on the statements of government representatives who labeled the tweets as ‘slander, lie, conspiracy, setup.’ I have been a journalist for 30 years. I have enough professional experience to make the distinction between what’s news and what’s propaganda.”
Addressing the court next, Harun Simavi rejected the accusation leveled against him. “We have been doing nothing but journalism since the day Diken was founded. We are aware that an indispensable component in the fulfillment of this task is independence. For this reason, we have not advocated for any party, institution or organization, nor have we displayed enmity against any,” Simavi said.
Noting that he does not interfere in the editorial policy of the news portal, Simavi added: “The one value we support is universal human rights.”
Simavi said they reported on the posts in question because they were relevant at the time, adding that access to news reports about Fuat Avni has never been blocked.
Reminding the court that an extensive investigation carried out against him and his Twitter account found no evidence to link him to the “Fethullahist Terrorist Organization,” Simavi requested to be acquitted.
Sezerer addressed the court next. She said the information included in the indictment about her was far from forming elements of the alleged crime. “It is embarrassing to be on trial for allegedly supporting an organization such as this one. It is clearly seen from the extensive investigation carried out against me that I have no connection with the organization,” Sezerer said, requesting to be acquitted.
After the defendants, their lawyers addressed the court. Lawyer Sevgi Kalan said that the indictment failed to establish a connection between her clients and the organization in question. “The thorough investigation conducted found no elements of crime, but instead of dismissing the investigation, the prosecution filed a criminal case,” Kalan said.
Kalan said the pro-government Sabah daily was the media outlet that covered “Fuat Avni” the most with some 2,870 news reports, followed by other pro-government newspapers Hürriyet and Milliyet, without facing any legal proceedings. “If mainstream media is free to cover Fuat Avni without facing legal action, then I believe Diken, which only published 87 reports about this subject, should also not be on trial.”
Lawyer Buse Karataş said that the elements of the crime had not been formed and requested the acquittal of the journalists. Lawyer Yağızcan Veli also requested his clients to be acquitted, asserting that the reports were within the context of freedom of expression and the freedom of the press.
Presenting their final opinion, the prosecutor asked the court to acquit all three for lack of convincing evidence to suggest the alleged crime had been committed and on the grounds that the act was within the context of journalism.
Announcing its ruling at the end of the hearing, the court panel acquitted Güven, Simavi and Sezerer on the grounds that the act committed was not defined as crime in law.