Expression Interrupted

Journalists and academics bear the brunt of the massive crackdown on freedom of expression in Turkey. Scores of them are currently subject to criminal investigations or behind bars. This website is dedicated to tracking the legal process against them.

Judge expels lawyers, moves trial venue

Judge expels lawyers, moves trial venue

Lawyers Cinmen and Taş expelled from courtroom after asking Constitutional Court ruling to be put on record. Judge moves key journalist trial to Silivri 

The fifth hearing of the trial into seven defendants, including novelist, journalist and former editor-in-chief of the shuttered Taraf newspaper Ahmet Altan, his brother, economist and columnist Mehmet Altan, and veteran journalist-writer Nazlı Ilıcak started February 12 at the Istanbul 26th High Criminal Court.

The court is widely expected to announce its verdict on Altan brothers and Ilıcak, who face aggravated life sentences on charges of “attempting to overthrow the constitutional order through use of force and violence”, at the end of a five-day hearing.

The first session of the hearing on February 12 was monitored by P24 from the courtroom along with international NGOs, including Reporters Without Borders (RSF), Article 19, International PEN, Norwegian PEN. Ahmet and Mehmet Altan attended the hearing via the judicial teleconference system SEGBIS, while the other imprisoned defendants Nazlı Ilıcak, Fevzi Yazıcı, Yakup Şimşek, Şükrü Tuğrul Özşengül as well as Tibet Sanlıman, the only defendant who has been released pending trial, were present in the courtroom.

The head judge read the report sent by the police department, confirming that none of the defendants were registered to ByLock, a restricted messaging application allegedly used by the Fethullah Gülen network. He also accepted demands from the Prime Minister’s Office and the Parliament to participate in the trial as complainants.

As the session began, lawyer Ergin Cinmen asked to speak in order to voice a request that the recent Constitutional Court ruling, which states that the rights of his client Mehmet Altan were violated, to be put on the record. His demand to speak was rejected by the head judge. And when, a few hours later in the afternoon session, Cinmen attempted to talk again and when denied the opportunity insisted on speaking he was expelled from the courtroom for ‘’disrupting the court order.’’ Attorney Sevgi Taş, who represents the former graphic designer of shuttered daily Zaman, Fevzi Yazıcı, was also expelled upon expressing her opinion that ‘’the court order was nor disrupted by Attorney Cinmen’s request.’’

The head judge interrupted the hearing over the incident and after a short break he announced that he would end the day’s session and move the venue of the hearing to the courthouse next to Silivri Prison, about 80 kilometers from the city center.

The case, which has been followed closely by international rights groups since its start, has become a central topic in Turkey and internationally after the Constitutional Court ruled on January 11 that Mehmet Altan’s constitutional rights have been violated as a result of his pre-trial detention. The Istanbul 26th and 27th high criminal courts refused to implement the decision, claiming that the Constitutional Court had “usurped their authority” by ruling on the specifics of the case.

During the third hearing of the case, the head judge notoriously expelled all four lawyers on Ahmet and Mehmet Altan’s legal team – Ergin Cinmen, Figen Albuga Çalıkuşu, Ferat Çağıl and Melike Polat –  after they had demanded that the investigation to be extended before going into the final phase.

‘’I am a designer, I am not responsible of editorial policy’’

Fevzi Yazıcı, graphic designed for the now-shuttered daily Zaman, was the only defendant who was able to present his defense during the session on February 12. Yazıcı was asked about a letter found in a USB drive belonging to him. The letter was allegedly written by Fethullah Gülen to a judge convicted for “membership in FETÖ” – the name given by the state to the Fethullah Gülen network.

Yazıcı said that the document was fake and had been put on the USB drive without his knowledge. He added that the spelling mistakes in the letter proved its inauthenticity. Citing an expert report on the document, Yazıcı claimed that the letter contained similar stains and a similar signature with a letter sent in 2013 by Gülen to the then-President Abdullah Gül. Yazıcı claimed that the prosecution sought with the letter to obtain a confession from him that the judge in question, Mustafa Başer, is a member of the Gülen network, but said he didn’t know that person.

Yazıcı also rejected that his account in Bank Asya, a bank allegedly linked with the Gülen network, could be considered as ciriminal evidence. ‘’The newspaper deposited our salaries in Bank Asya,’’ he said, adding that there were no suspicious transfers to or from his account.

Yazıcı responded to allegations that a TV commercial released by the Zaman daily in the Autumn of 2015 contained a secret message on the July 15 coup attempt. According to the prosecution, the coup was carried out 9 months and 10 days after the release of the commercial – a claim that implies the commercial’s timing was calculated to correspond to a full term in pregnancy before the actual coup attempt. Yazıcı said he didn’t make any contribution to the content or the production of the commercial, adding that the newspaper aired commercials during those weeks each year.

“An indictment was born exactly 9 months and 10 days after I was detained,’’ Yazıcı said; ‘’Does this have any meaning? No, it’s just a coincidence. These things are part of life.”

“My job was designing and I designed, I did nothing else,” he said.

Yazıcı stressed that the journal was sold legally for years and it wouldn’t be right to judge it with the perception built after the coup attempt. “It was a legal newspaper, monitored by the Ministry of Finance and the State Prosecutors responsible for the Press. I never felt that I was working for a terrorist organization while I worked for Zaman.

The hearing will continue until February 16 at the Silivri Courthouse, the next session being scheduled for 9:00 a.m. on February 13.