Çelik and Yayla are on trial over a news report which said that the prosecutor who had ordered arrests of journalists that reported on arrests and torture of two villagers in Van was the same prosecutor who was running the investigation into the incident
RUŞEN TAKVA, VAN
The first hearing in the trial of Mezopotamya Agency (MA) managing editor Ferhat Çelik and Jiyan News licensed publisher İdris Yayla on charges of “marking officials assigned in the fight against terrorism as targets" was held at the Van 2nd High Criminal Court on 22 November 2022.
Çelik and his lawyer Sercan Korkmaz and Yayla and his lawyer İlyas Tarım attended the hearing via judicial video-conferencing system (SEGBİS). P24 monitored the hearing.
“We exercised our right to report the news”
Çelik in his defense statement said that in the wake of their reporting, the prosecutor in question had been relieved of duty. Addressing the court from the courtroom of the İstanbul 25th High Criminal Court, Çelik said the following: “To the best of my knowledge, the prosecutor is a public official. Therefore, you can learn the name of the prosecutor very easily, wherever you are. How could we have made a target of the prosecutor? Furthermore, following our reporting, the prosecutor was relieved of duty and a new prosecutor was assigned to the case. So we exercised our right to report, which is a public duty. Therefore, no elements of crime have formed. I request my acquittal.”
Addressing the court from the courtroom of the Batman 1st Children’s Court, Yayla said that the news item subject to the charge was produced in the public interest: “Our news website is active online. We carefully select items from agencies we subscribe to and then share them. The news item in question was also in the public interest. This is why we shared the news item sent to subscribers by the MA. We do not consider elements of crime to have formed. I think neither Jiyan News, nor MA have committed a crime and request that the charges be dropped.”
“Limits to reporting not exceeded”
Çelik’s lawyer Sercan Korkmaz stated that a news item being made subject to the charge over a subjective evaluation would mean an end to reporting on any public officials from now on and said “Journalists often face such trials. The criterion that applies is the quality of reporting. The limits to reporting were not exceeded in the news item in question, and the reporters stayed within these limits.”
Yayla’s lawyer İlyas Tarım said, “The prosecutor’s office is an organ that runs legal activities on behalf of the public. Therefore, it undersigns its name in all processes and indictments. We had a hard time understanding how the crime could be established for this charge. The reporting on the helicopter incident is about a historical and unforgettable one. The prosecutor who gave orders in connection to this incident and the prosecutor arresting the journalists bearing the same name surely merits public attention.”
Accepting the journalists’ request to be exempted from attending future hearings, the court decided to inquire with the Van Chief Prosecutor’s Office on the dates of assignment of Prosecutor İsmail Köker at the Terrorism Crimes Investigation Office. The trial was adjourned until 31 January 2023.
Background of the case
An indictment was filed against Çelik and Yayla due to the news item titled “Gazetecilere gözaltı talimatını aynı savcı verdi” (“The same prosecutor orders the arrest of journalists”) that was published by the MA on 8 October 2020.
The news item subject to the charge had publicly disclosed that the prosecutor who ordered the arrest of journalists who reported on allegations of two villagers being thrown out of a helicopter by soldiers in the Çatak district in Van and the prosecutor who was running the investigation into the incident was the same person.