Yıldız, who was jailed pending trial on “espionage” charge five months ago, released at the first hearing of the trial
CANAN COŞKUN, ANKARA
Odatv Ankara News Director Müyesser Yıldız and Tele 1 TV Ankara Bureau Chief İsmail Dükel appeared before an Ankara court on 9 November 2020 for the first hearing of their trial on the charge of “Disclosure of confidential information relating to the security and political interests of the state.”
The trial is heard by the Ankara 26th High Criminal Court. In addition to P24, numerous Republican People’s Party (CHP) MPs, including Bülent Tezcan, Erdoğan Toprak, Tekin Bingöl, Yaşar Tüzün, Gülizar Biçer Karaca, Ali Haydar Hakverdi, Aylin Nazlıaka and Mustafa Balbay, were among those monitoring the first hearing, held in a 200-seat capacity courtroom at the Ankara Courthouse.
Defendants Müyesser Yıldız, İsmail Dükel, and their news source, Erdal Baran, a non-commissioned officer, were present at the hearing. They were accompanied by their lawyers. Spectators applauded as Yıldız was brought inside the courtroom.
The trial started with Erdal Baran’s defense, who is on trial because he was the source of Yıldız and Dükel. Baran denied the accusation.
“I didn’t see or disclose any document. I can’t, because I am only a supply sergeant. I have been receiving treatment for bipolar disorder for the past 10 years. I'm using drugs for schizophrenia. Because of my illness, I sometimes tell things I didn't do as if I did them.”
After Baran’s intro, the presiding judge Halit Kılıç asked Baran about his phone call records that were subject to prosecution. Baran claimed the records but noted that the contents of the conversations were mostly about public information or “made-up,” adding: “They were things that I said to present myself as an important person.”
Presiding Judge Kılıç then asked Baran why Yıldız asked him about the commander who would go to Libya on the tapes. The spectators protested, saying, “A journalist can ask questions!” The presiding judge warned the spectators that if they continue the chatter, they will be removed from the courtroom. Presiding Judge Kılıç later asked why they discussed military information on the phone carelessly. “It is normal for us,” replied Baran.
“Not an indictment but an avengement”
Following Baran, Müyesser Yıldız took the stand. Noting that “the accusations against them are not an indictment but an avengement,” Yıldız said that she would not defend herself, but that she would make a statement for her family and supporters. The highlights of Yıldız's statement are as follows:
“I wish you had sent this avengement to the garbage bin, where it belongs, but you didn’t. [...] But there still is a chance. Instead of putting us on trial, going after those who wrote this avengement would be a more critical service for national security.
“... I am a journalist with almost four decades of career; I worked in state-affiliated media for 10 years. I have seen so many confidential documents and information. I am capable of telling what is a matter of national security and what is not.
Towards the end of her address to the court, Yıldız made a reference to her defense statement from the “Odatv trial” nine years ago: “This is a political case. Since the authority who has gotten us arrested has already made its decision on how long we will be kept behind bars and when we will be released, I have no requests from your court.” Yıldız concluded: “I reiterate my statement and only add this: Of course I will defend myself one day. But not here. I will have some words to say when the ones who ordered this avengement and those who wrote it are eventually put on trial before independent and impartial Turkish courts.”
“A country is as free as its journalists”
Following Yıldız, İsmail Dükel addressed the court.
“A country is as free as the journalists who live there. Its democracy is as strong as its press,” Dükel said, adding: “Today we are here on trial. I have been a journalist for 40 years. A minister resigned yesterday. It is obvious which media covered it and which media could not. Perhaps from this perspective, we should look at why a journalist is prosecuted. To date, I covered thousands of stories, none of them refuted. Because when I get information, I confirm it from two different sources. Otherwise I don’t write a single letter. Erdal Baran was calling and asking questions. I am a journalist; I do have news sources. This is my job; it’s not something to be accused of. I am on trial because I am a journalist. You can’t label me as a spy or a traitor; all you will find is a patriot.”
Prosecutor seeks continuation of detention
After the defendants, their lawyers addressed the court. Following the lawyers, the prosecutor addressed the court and demanded that charges be pressed against the defendants on the charge of “securing information that, due to its nature, must be kept confidential for reasons relating to the security, or domestic or foreign political interests of the state” (Turkish Penal Code Article 327) and requested the continuation of detention of the imprisoned defendants.
The prosecutor also requested from the court panel to inquire of the police about the identity of Durmuş Özkan, whose name was signed under the informer file, which the investigation was launched upon.
“Prosecutor’s opinion doesn’t interest me”
Regarding the prosecutor's opinion, Yıldız said: “I didn’t come here to defend myself. I am here to defend the honor of the state and the rule of law. After all of these statements, the prosecutor’s opinion doesn’t interest me unless it is a verdict of non-prosecution and denunciation of the perpetrators.”
Baran told the court that all the evidence has been collected and he can’t tamper with them. Noting that he is a civil servant, Baran requested to be released.
Yıldız released under judicial control measures
After a 15-minute recess, the court panel announced its interim decision. The panel decided to release Müyesser Yıldız under an international travel ban. The panel decided to lift the signature obligation imposed on İsmail Dükel but kept his travel ban in place. Considering the tape recordings of Erdal Baran and the letters sent by the Defense Ministry to the file, the court panel ruled for the continuation of Baran's detention.
The court additionally decided to file charges against the defendants with the Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor's Office on the charge of “Securing information that, due to its nature, is to be kept confidential for reasons relating to the security, or domestic or foreign political interests of the state.”
The court set 6 January 2021 as the date for the second hearing.