First hearing of seven journalists and one municipal press officer set for 24 June at Istanbul 34th High Criminal Court
The trial against seven journalists and one municipal press officer over news coverage and social media posts about a Turkish intelligence operative killed in Libya in February is set to get underway this week at a criminal court in Istanbul.
The first hearing of the trial is set for 24 June at the 34th High Criminal Court of Istanbul.
Odatv journalists Barış Pehlivan, Barış Terkoğlu and Hülya Kılınç, Yeni Yaşam daily’s editors Ferhat Çelik and Aydın Keser and Yeniçağ columnist Murat Ağırel have been jailed pending trial since March as part of the case. BirGün columnist Erk Acarer, who lives abroad, and municipal press officer Eren Ekinci, who was released after giving his statement earlier in the investigation, are the remaining two defendants in the indictment, which accuses all eight of “disclosing classified information crucial to the security and interests of the state” and “exposing the contents of documents and information concerning intelligence operations.”
Ever since they were jailed in March, only several days before Turkey announced its first Covid-19 patient, Pehlivan, Terkoğlu, Kılınç, Çelik, Keser and Ağırel have all been kept in solitary confinement and none of them have been able to see their families since -- due to measures introduced by the Justice Ministry in prisons against the spread of the pandemic.
With the lifting of the ban on visits in prisons, main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) lawmaker Utku Çakırözer, a journalist by career, visited the six journalists in Silivri Prison.
Çakırözer said the prisoners had been further isolated due to the outbreak: “The isolation of journalists in prison, who are already unjustly and unlawfully being kept behind bars, heightened during the pandemic. They have not been able to see their families. They do not get to hear a single voice. This unlawful detention must come to an end, the journalists must be freed.”
According to a recent report in Cumhuriyet daily, Terkoğlu told Çakırözer that in addition to not being able to see their families for three months due to the pandemic, they weren’t permitted to conduct open visits with their lawyers and the contents of the trial documents had been subject to inspection. At times, they were even questioned over the content: “Our right to defend ourselves is being restricted. Bar Associations should object to this.”
Stressing that they were careful not to breach the Law on the State Intelligence Services and the National Intelligence Organization (MİT Law) while preparing the news report for which they are accused, Pehlivan said that even though they had seen many indictments similar to theirs in the past, he didn’t want to lose his ability to be surprised and he didn’t want to get used to experiencing injustice: “We have been detained for four months over a photograph. Had we known that there were MİT operatives in the photo, we wouldn’t have published it. The local headman who announced the funeral on social media is a witness in the case file. But we, who reported on a topic exposed through his posts, are the defendants. There is no crime here. What is on trial is journalism. Even the Parliament drafted a new law just so we remain in prison. The injustice we are facing has worsened by our isolation. This clearly involves enmity.”
Hülya Kılınç said that despite having been in prison and in solitary confinement for the past 104 days, she was feeling alright because she knew she was right. “We will resist and be acquitted. And we will continue to write, to do journalism when we get out of here. We are on the right side,” Kılınç told Çakırözer.
Ağırel said that he had been deprived of his freedom unjustly for 100 days and that the trial court should release him and his co-defendants on 24 June. Ağırel also told Çakırözer that other investigations were being initiated against him in order to keep him locked up and he asked friends to not remain silent in the face of injustice.
Aydın Keser said he didn’t know what they’d be defending against on 24 June and said they were not even permitted to speak to other inmates. “I have begun to speak to myself. This isn’t a healthy situation,” he said. He said that he and Çelik’s requests to be placed in the same prison unit have so far remained unanswered. Keser also said preventative measures against the spread of Covid-19 were taken very late, and that at the peak of the outbreak they were not provided with face masks.
Ferhat Çelik said: “The [prosecution] was embarrassed to put our report in the indictment, because it is a copy-and-paste report actually. In our story, the National Intelligence Organization is not even mentioned; there are no names disclosed. We do not know the people we’ve been arrested with. Of course we respect their journalism, but our opinions are different. They’re trying to lump us all together.”