Tunca Öğreten, Metin Yoksu, Ömer Çelik, Eray Sargın and Mahir Kanaat handed down suspended sentences for “illegally obtaining or disseminating personal data,” Okatan acquitted of all charges
CANSU PİŞKİN, ISTANBUL
The “RedHack trial,” in which journalists Ömer Çelik, Metin Yoksu, Tunca Öğreten, Eray Sargın, Derya Okatan and Mahir Kanaat were charged with “terrorism propaganda” (TMK 7/2), “hindrance or destruction of a data processing system” (TCK 244/2), “committing crimes on behalf of a terrorist organization without being its member” (TCK 220/6) and “membership in a terrorist organization” (TCK 314/2) for news coverage of former Minister Berat Albayrak’s emails leaked by RedHack, concluded at the Istanbul 29th High Criminal Court on 31 December 2021.
P24 monitored the hearing, which marked the 14th in the case. Derya Okatan and Mahir Kanaat and the journalists’ lawyers were in attendance in the courtroom as well as Berat Albayrak’s lawyer, Melih Tüfenkçi. Journalists Ömer Çelik and Metin Yoksu addressed the court from other provinces via the judicial video-conferencing network SEGBİS.
Reiterating their final opinion, the prosecutor requested that all six journalists be sentenced for “illegally obtaining or disseminating personal data” (TCK 136/1) and that Okatan, Sargın, Yoksu and Çelik be additionally sentenced for “terrorism propaganda.” The prosecutor demanded Öğreten’s acquittal of “committing crimes on behalf of a terrorist organization” Kanaat’s acquittal of “membership in a terrorist organization” charges.
In her defense statement, Okatan denied the accusations against her. Okatan said the evidence in her favor was held as evidence against her in both the indictment and the prosecutor’s final opinion. “I am facing punishment for being the responsible manager of ETHA based on the assumption that I used the news agency’s social media accounts but there is no proof. I would expect the prosecutor to at least explain why working with ETHA is seen as a crime. Neither I nor ETHA was involved in leaking the former minister’s emails. I don’t even have the data, let alone disseminate it,” Okatan added.
Kanaat addressed the court next and demanded to be acquitted: “I am accused of disseminating personal data. The prosecution confiscated all my digital equipment. There is no evidence in confiscated equipment that I had disseminated the said data. We are journalists. No one can be put on trial for doing their job.”
Yoksu said: “We are prosecuted for being included in a Twitter messaging group without our consent. All tweets we are accused of are news content. I demand to be acquitted.”
Çelik also denied the accusations. “We are accused of disseminating ‘personal’ data, but neither your court nor the prosecution looked into what that data really was about. It was about matters such as arms shipments, refugees being turned into political material, incompetent people assigned to public institutions. Normally the information in the emails should be treated as crime, but instead the journalists who reported on the data are put on trial.”
Okatan’s lawyer, Ali Koç, said: “My client is not accused due to her own acts, but the content allegedly published by ETHA, where she was news director at the time. The expert report also proved that the seized digital equipment did not belong to my client.”
Koç reacted to the presiding judge who seemed not to be listening to his statement: “I am not making this defense statement for myself. I’ve already written it, I know what’s in it. There’s no point in making a statement in court if the court is not going to listen.”
Without responding to Koç, the presiding judge told other defense lawyers to proceed with their statements. Lawyers Tolgay Güvercin and Ali Deniz Ceylan then told the court that they would not be delivering their statements before the court hears their colleague. Koç then concluded his statement: “These people are journalists. The reason they are on trial is the news they covered. Journalists have to serve the public good. We demand acquittal.”
Kanaat’s lawyer Sevgi Kalan addressed the court next. Recalling the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) judgment in her client’s application, and the Supreme Court of Appeals case-law, Kalan requested Kanaat’s acquittal. Tolgay Güvercin, another lawyer representing Kanaat, added: “The prosecutor claims in his final opinion that our client had ‘seized information to unlawfully disseminate it.’ But there is not a single piece of tangible evidence on how he got hold of the said data. The prosecutor is unable to provide evidence because there is no evidence. We demand acquittal.”
Lawyer Ali Deniz Ceylan said: “There is no evidence in this case from the very beginning. The court will either rule in line with the prosecutor’s opinion or deliver a judgment in accordance with the law and acquit our clients due to lack of evidence. If journalists are not supposed to cover these emails, what are they supposed to cover? Freedom of the press is a reason for compliance with the law. Journalists’ news sources should be protected. But we cannot even talk about this in the case against Kanaat, because there is no evidence that he even wrote about the emails.”
Çelik and Yoksu’s lawyer, Sercan Korkmaz, said that in every democratic society, documents about such sensational content are regarded as newsworthy, adding: “The court’s judgment will be based on where it draws the line for the freedom of the press and the public’s right to information.”
Öğreten’s lawyer Tuba Torun said: “My client covered a topic by compiling information that had already become public. The entirety of his reports were related to matters of public interest. I demand the acquittal of my client, who is on trial due to his reporting within the scope of freedom of the press.”
Delivering its judgment at the end of the hearing, the court ruled for Okatan’s acquittal of all charges while it sentenced Öğreten, Yoksu, Çelik, Sargın and Kanaat to 1 year and 8 months in prison for “illegally obtaining or disseminating personal data” (TCK 136/1). The court suspended the sentences and lifted the judicial control measures imposed on all six journalists.