Hazal Ocak was accused of “insulting a public official” over her report on a plot of land allegedly purchased by Treasury and Finance Minister Berat Albayrak, published in January in Cumhuriyet newspaper
CANSU PİŞKİN, ISTANBUL
The second hearing of Cumhuriyet reporter Hazal Ocak’s trial on the charge of “insulting a public official” was held on 27 October 2020 at the Istanbul 2nd Criminal Court of First Instance.
Ocak was on trial over a January 2020 report titled “Damat İşi Biliyor” (son-in-law knows his business), about a plot of land allegedly purchased by Treasury and Finance Minister Berat Albayrak near the planned route of Canal Istanbul. The case was filed upon a complaint by Albayrak.
P24 monitored the hearing, where Ocak, her lawyer Buket Yazıcı and Albayrak’s lawyer were in attendance in the courtroom. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) Turkey Representative Erol Önderoğlu and Swedish Vice Consul also monitored the hearing.
Addressing the court for her defense statement, Ocak rejected the accusation and asserted that the Ministry confirmed that Albayrak, who is the son-in-law of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, had purchased a plot of land near the planned route of Canal İstanbul.
Ocak added: “I wrote the information that I got from the Ministry. Berat Albayrak’s lawyer confirmed that information. I wrote the report with the aim of informing the public. My report is within the limits of criticism. There is no intent of insult or any element of crime in my report. I demand from your court to consider my report in the scope of press freedom and freedom of expression.”
Following Ocak’s statement, Albayrak’s lawyer addressed the court. Stating that their complaint continued, the lawyer requested participation in the trial.
Ocak’s lawyer Yazıcı then addressed the court. Stating that two indictments were issued against her client and that the ongoing trial was based on the second indictment, Yazıcı asserted that since the charge in the second indictment was different, her client should have been informed and called in for a new statement. Yazıcı asked the court to investigate the matter.
The judge rejected Yazıcı’s request on the grounds that it would not contribute to the present case.
“Report should be considered within scope of press freedom”
The prosecutor then presented his final opinion. Stating that Ocak’s report should be considered within the scope of press freedom, the prosecutor requested Ocak’s acquittal.
“Press freedom is an indispensable element of a democratic rule of law. In a system where journalists cannot freely exercise their right to inform the public, individuals cannot access information and exercise their freedom to express their thoughts and opinions. Right to information and to express criticism without being subjected to pressure is closely related to safeguarding freedom of the press. According to Article 10/2 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR); judgments by the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) and the Constitutional Court (AYM) and in Supreme Court of Appeals case-law, it is clear that freedom of the press includes imposition to a certain extent and that these statements cannot be seen as personal attacks even though some of the criticism and value judgments in a news article are expressed in a harsh and striking language. Additionally, the limits of criticism concerning famous people and politicians is wider compared to regular citizens. Per these matters, pursuant to ECtHR 10/2 and Articles 25, 26, and 28 of the Constitution, the news report indicted should be evaluated within the scope of freedom of expression and freedom of the press, and since the crime attributed to the accused does not exist, her acquittal is requested,” the prosecutor said in his final opinion.
Issuing its judgment at the end of the hearing, the court ruled in line with the prosecutor’s final opinion and acquitted Ocak on the grounds that the elements of the crime did not occur.