Expression Interrupted

Journalists and academics bear the brunt of the massive crackdown on freedom of expression in Turkey. Scores of them are currently subject to criminal investigations or behind bars. This website is dedicated to tracking the legal process against them.

Food safety expert Bülent Şık appears in court for article series

Food safety expert Bülent Şık appears in court for article series

Şık faces up to 12 years in prison for revealing the results of a Ministry of Health research in a series of articles published in April in Cumhuriyet daily

Bülent Şık, a former academic known for his work on food safety, appeared before an Istanbul court on 7 February on the charges of “disclosing restricted information,” “procuring restricted information” and “disclosing confidential information obtained by virtue of duty.”

Şık, who was dismissed from Akdeniz University’s Food Safety and Agricultural Research Center through an emergency decree (KHK) for signing 2016’s petition by the Academics for Peace initiative, is also a regular contributor to several newspapers and news websites.

The accusations in the case stem from an article series Şık penned in April 2018 for the Cumhuriyet daily, in which he wrote about carcinogenic pesticides and other toxins found in agricultural products in Turkey.

The court case is the outcome of an investigation into Şık that was launched upon a complaint filed by the Ministry of Health, which claimed that Şık “revealed confidential information” and “obtained and disclosed classified information” in his article series.

The indictment drafted by the anti-terror investigation bureau under the Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office seeks up to 12 years of imprisonment for Şık.

P24 monitored the hearing at the 2nd Criminal Court of First Instance of Istanbul, which was followed by numerous MPs, academics and NGO representatives. Among them was Bülent Şık’s brother, Ahmet Şık, a well-known investigative journalist and Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) deputy. HDP deputies Oya Ersoy and Murat Çepni, Republican People’s Party (CHP) deputies Sezgin Tanrıkulu and Ali Şeker, Turkish Human Rights Foundation (TİHV) President Şebnem Korur Fincancı, several academics who signed the 2016 peace petition, and public health expert Onur Hamzaoğlu also followed the hearing in the courtroom.

In his defense statement during the hearing, Şık told the court that he was actively involved in the research project during his tenure with the Akdeniz University until his dismissal.

“Planning the research to be conducted on food and water, preparing the testing methods and carrying out the tests as well as the assessment of results were among my chief duties. Therefore, the information I revealed [in the article series] was based on my own work as a specialist on the data that I already possessed,” Şık explained.

Şık recounted in detail the findings of his research during his statement, and also stressed the presence of dangerous levels of heavy metals such as arsenic and lead in water samples collected from four provinces surrounding Istanbul. “According to the work I conducted, water from 52 residential zones containing levels of arsenic, aluminum and lead above the established limits are unhealthy to consume,” Şık said. He added that especially heavy metals were known to trigger cancers and lead to cause neural and hormonal damage.

“Scientists have social responsibility”

During his defense statement, Şık also criticized the Ministry of Health for not taking any preventive steps on the matter since the end of the project. “In fact, the only measure the Ministry of Health has taken on this matter was to file a complaint against me,” he said, adding that none of the information in his articles had been refuted by ministry officials.

Şık said scientists had social responsibility. “When public institutions fail to fulfill their obligations, it is the scientists’ duty to remind them what their responsibilities are. The future of our society is too important to be entrusted to the short-term interests of companies and institutions,” Şık said. “Above all, we are responsible towards children. No one and no institution has the right to harm their health nor deny them a future.”

Şık also asserted that in matters concerning public health, it was unacceptable for any information to be restricted or confidential. “People cannot be denied the right to information. The only way to do this is to facilitate access to information and to abolish censorship,” Şık added.

Following Şık’s defense statement, his lawyers addressed the court and requested for Şık to be immediately acquitted. Four lawyers representing bar associations of four provinces where the research project was conducted -- Edirne, Tekirdağ, Kocaeli and Antalya -- also addressed the court, calling for Şık’s acquittal. 

Şık’s lawyers also requested for the expansion of the investigation and called on the court to inquire into the research Şık wrote about by asking for more information from the Ministry of Health.

The Istanbul 2nd Criminal Court of First Instance rejected the requests for Şık’s acquittal. Judge Nursel Bedir ruled to ask the Ministry of Health whether there was a formal ban on the disclosure of findings of the research and adjourned the trial until 30 May 2019.