Testifying against Gök ahead of the hearing, a secret witness alleges that Gök “photographed the murder of Kemal Kurkut under instruction from the terrorist organization”
BİRCAN DEĞİRMENCİ, DİYARBAKIR
The second hearing of journalist Abdurrahman Gök’s trial on the charges of “membership in a terrorist organization” and “terrorism propaganda” was held at the Diyarbakır 5th High Criminal Court on 3 June 2021.
Gök, best known for his photographs documenting Kemal Kurkut’s murder by police during the 2017 Newroz celebrations in Diyarbakır, is facing a prison sentence between 7 and 20 years over his journalistic work in the trial.
P24 monitored the hearing, where Gök was in attendance accompanied by his lawyers Mehmet Emin Aktar and Resul Temur. Ülkü Şahin, a lawyer with the Journalists Union of Turkey (TGS), and Dicle Müftüoğlu, co-chair of the Dicle Fırat Journalists Association, as well as Mezopotamya news agency reporters were among spectators observing the hearing. The presiding judge allowed a maximum of five people as spectators due to Covid-19 measures. Press members were allowed in the courtroom after a body search by the police.
At the beginning of the hearing, the presiding judge read the testimony of a secret witness code-named “Sabır” (patience), whose statement was taken in Antep in between hearings. The secret witness claimed that Kurkut “was a member of the terrorist organization and Gök took photos under instructions from the organization.” The secret witness also claimed that “he knew Abdurrahman Gök since 2013,” that his reports were “published on media outlets affiliated with the terrorist organization,” that “Kemal Kurkut was a member of the organization and Abdurrahman Gök was there [during the 2017 Newroz in Diyarbakır] to take photos under instruction from the organization” and that Gök “was also present during the  clashes in Sur district.”
Responding to the allegations in the secret witness testimony, Gök said the allegations were baseless, adding: “I read the testimony many times, I did not understand anything. He says he knows me but the information he gave is already available on the Internet. I don't know him and I don't think he knows me either. His statements are contradictory. Calling a murdered person a member of a terrorist organization is offensive and hurtful, regarding both the family of the deceased and the court. There is an absurd statement that I took photos with instructions there. The incident he is talking about was a situation where the police shot a person, and he states that it was premeditated.”
Gök’s lawyer Mehmet Emin Aktar told the court: “We reject the testimony. The secret witness is misleading justice.” Aktar also asserted that the method in which courts hear secret witnesses violates the right to a fair trial. Reminding that the photographs taken by Gök were used as evidence by another court, Aktar said Gök did his job as a reporter. “Because of the photos Gök took, the police officer became a suspect [in the murder of Kurkut] so there is enmity against Gök,” the lawyer added.
Lawyer Resul Temur reminded the court that a set of documents showing that Gök worked as a journalist in Iraq during the years 2016 and 2017 were already submitted to court, adding that the claim by the secret witness that Gök was in Sur district during the clashes in 2016 was false. Rejecting the witness testimony citing the method the court received the statement, Temur reminded the court that the same secret witness had previously testified against journalist Semiha Alankuş, who eventually got acquitted in that trial. Temur asked the court to acquit his client.
In an interim ruling issued without taking a recess, the court decided to send Gök’s file to the prosecutor's office for the preparation of their final opinion and adjourned the trial until 30 September 2021.
“Witness testimony as a guise for slander”
Following the hearing, Gök’s lawyers answered P24's questions regarding the witness testimony procedure.
Reminding that the Witness Protection Law No. 5726 is aimed at preventing witnesses from being harmed for telling the truth, Aktar said: “However, the witnesses who have widely benefited from this law in the last few years appear as a different form of former ‘confessors.’ This procedure has become the assurance of slander. Because these witnesses are not heard during public courtroom hearings, defense lawyers cannot question them and see whether they are telling the truth or not. We are prevented from listening to witnesses based on an unlawful excuse concerning the witness's safety.”
Stating that measures aimed at protecting the identity of witnesses who are to testify during public courtroom hearings are laid out in the law, Aktar added: “The judicial video-conferencing network SEGBİS offers such measures as blurring the image of the witness and altering their voice. This is possible and it has been done before in many trials. This way we can participate. But lately courts have been avoiding this. We do not know whether the witness was duly heard. When the courts hear witnesses in the absence of lawyers and defendants, they ask the witness, ‘Is the statement you made correct?’ and then they copy and paste that statement as if the witness spoke. But the testimony of the witness must be heard by the court itself. And the law stipulates, ‘The witness shall not be interrupted while testifying.’ The courts do not pay attention to these, just like in Abdurrahman Gök’s case.”
Regarding the allegations by the secret witness, Aktar said: “The murder of Kemal Kurkut was an incident that happened spontaneously and was documented by Abdurrahman Gök with a journalistic reflex. We’re glad he did. He documented an act of murder, a crime. Kurkut was first cliamed to be a ‘suicide bomber.’ When it became clear thanks to Gök’s photos that he was naked on the upper body, it became clear that it was a murder case. The truth emerged through the photos Abdurrahman Gök took. And since Gök documented a crime committed by the police, this led to an enmity against Gök. This animosity is best revealed through the false statements of secret witnesses.”
Reminding that sometimes courts ask defendants and their lawyers to prepare and submit the questions they want to ask secret witnesses in advance, Aktar said this too was not a proper method. Explaining that the questioning of a witness should be a live process, Aktar said: “While listening to the witness a question may arise at that moment, or you may ask a follow-up question depending on the answer. But sending questions to the witness in advance is almost like cheating in an exam. Questioning a witness should serve to both clarify the case and to confirm whether the witness told the truth or not.”
Temur also noted that they have been objecting to the secret witness hearing procedure every time a court applies this method, adding: “Courts do nothing to make it possible for us to directly question a secret witness during a public courtroom hearing. Although they do not take any action, we object to this procedure every time so that we make sure that this restriction on the right to defense is at least documented in the case file.”