Aslan and Keleş are charged with “membership of a terrorist organization” for taking photographs of the barriers placed around the Van municipal building in 2017
BEYZA KURAL, VAN
The eighth hearing in the trial of journalists Arif Aslan and Selman Keleş on the charge of “membership of a terrorist organization” was held on 3 September 2020 at the 5th High Criminal Court of Van.
At the end of the hearing, the court panel ruled to separate the files against Keleş and Aslan and rejected Aslan’s request for his international travel ban to be lifted.
Aslan and Keleş have been on trial since 2017 for taking photos of the barriers placed in front of the Van municipal building after the government appointed a trustee to replace the mayor of Van.
No spectators allowed due to pandemic
The hearing, which was scheduled to begin at 9 a.m., got under way at 10:05 a.m. Aslan and his lawyer Cihat Durmaz were in attendance in the courtroom. Keleş, who was granted asylum in Switzerland, did not attend. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, no journalists or spectators were allowed to monitor the hearing.
Speaking to P24 after the hearing, Aslan explained that he had spent eight months in pre-trial detention as part of the case and that for an additional one year, in line with the judicial control measure imposed on him, he had to go to the police station once a week to give his signature. “Due to my ongoing travel ban, I am unable to do journalism; I am unable to attend seminars and training programs for journalists abroad,” Aslan said, adding that he presented to court all the invitations he received from overseas institutions to have his travel ban lifted.
“Lengthy trial has become a punishment”
Aslan said he and Keleş are on trial for being journalists: “When we look at the case file, from the very beginning to the present day, the only reason we are on trial is because we took photos of the barriers placed around the Van municipal building after a trustee replaced the city’s mayor. We thought, if the authorities needed such serious measures, then they had security concerns. So we wanted to cover the situation, because the city hall is a public building. What we did was journalism. Mainstream media covered the same situation without facing any legal proceedings, which is fair, whereas we got arrested and were put on trial. And this is because we are Kurdish journalists.”
Aslan noted that they were initially fined TL 250 for “breaching the Misdemeanor Law” and subsequently placed in police custody for 11 days during the State of Emergency (OHAL). Their trial has been going on since 2017.
Touching upon the lengthy proceedings, Aslan said: “We have been on trial for almost three years now. Since there is nothing to justify a conviction, they keep prolonging the proceedings in order to punish us. Arrest, imprisonment, reporting to the police station every week; at this point, these have turned into punishment. We want these obstacles to be lifted and to be able to do our job.”
Keleş, a former reporter for the now-defunct Dihaber news agency, and freelance journalist Aslan were fined by municipal police on 20 March 2017 while they were taking photographs of the barriers placed in front of the Van municipal building. They were subsequently taken into custody and were jailed pending trial on 31 March 2017.
In an indictment issued by public prosecutor Emrah Güngör, both journalists were accused of “membership of an armed terrorist organization.” Aslan and Keleş were released pending trial by the trial court at their first courtroom hearing on 21 November 2017. The prosecutor objected to their release. Subsequently, Keleş was arrested on 12 December 2017 in Diyarbakır and was released pending trial the next day. He eventually left Turkey for Switzerland, where he was granted asylum. Aslan was arrested on 31 December 2017 in Van and was released under judicial control measures after giving his statement at the courthouse.