Trial adjourned until December before Baransu, who is accused of “procuring, exposing and destroying classified documents,” completes his defense statement
CANSU PİŞKİN, İSTANBUL
The trial of Taraf newspaper’s former executives and its reporter Mehmet Baransu for allegedly publishing a classified military document called “Egemen Operation Plan” resumed at the 13th High Criminal Court of Istanbul on 27 August 2019.
The defendants of the case, Mehmet Baransu, Ahmet Altan, Yasemin Çongar, Yıldıray Oğur and Tuncay Opçin stand accused of “procuring, exposing and destroying classified documents concerning the security of the state.”
At the end of the previous session that was held in July 2019, the court had set 27-28-29 August as the dates for the next hearings. However, due to the court’s clerk mistakenly notifying Silivri Prison where Baransu is in pre-trial detention only about the first hearing to be held on 27 August, Baransu was not brought to court on 28 August and the session ended up having to last for just two days instead. P24 monitored both sessions.
Due to having lost one day, neither could Baransu complete his defense statement, nor the witnesses that the court had ruled to hear in the previous session get the chance to testify.
Issuing its interim decision at the end of the 21st hearing on 29 August, the court ruled for the continuation of Baransu’s detention on remand. Also deciding to write a memo for Esra Konur, Ömer Konur and Bülent Çakmak, who testified against Baransu during the investigation, to forcibly be brought to the next hearing and be heard as witnesses, the court adjourned the trial until 10, 11 and 12 December.
The first session began approximately one and a half hours late on 27 August 2019. Two judges on the panel and the prosecutor had been replaced.
Baransu, the only detained defendant in the case, was brought from Silivri Prison in handcuffs by gendarmerie. Baransu’s handcuffs were removed right before he proceeded to take the stand in the courtroom and faced the judges.
Baransu questioned the necessity of having two gendarmerie officers stand on both sides while he spoke, upon which the presiding judge asked the gendarmerie to take a seat.
On the first day of the hearing, Baransu’s lawyer Yahya Engin, Ahmet Altan and Yasemin Çongar’s lawyer Figen Albuga Çalıkuşu and Yıldıray Oğur’s lawyer Gülçin Avşar were in attendance. Retired Colonel Cemal Temizöz, who requested to participate as a plaintiff, was also in attendance. Besides some journalists, Baransu’s wife was present at the hearing. Since only few people were there to watch the hearing, there was enough space for all in the courtroom.
Baransu told the court that he intended to complete his defense statement within the three-day sitting. But in case the documents he requested to be included in the case file on 7 August 2019 get approved, he said he intended to make additional defense statements concerning those.
Baransu submitted written copies of his defense statement to the judges. Throughout the delivery of his defense statement, Baransu reiterated that the indictment was compiled from news stories that were published on the Odatv news site and was not based on concrete evidence.
Baransu asserted that before he was arrested on 1 March 2015, police officers planted evidence on his apartment during a search of his house.
Retired Colonel Cemal Temizöz, who was sentenced to 18 years in prison as part of the Balyoz (Sledgehammer) case and who was acquitted along with other Balyoz defendants on 31 March 2015, asked to speak on the grounds that he requested to participate in the trial as a plaintiff.
Baransu’s lawyer Yahya Engin asked the presiding judge to reject Temizöz’s request. Engin told the court that the trial has nothing to do with Balyoz. Then due to a malfunction of UYAP, (The Turkish Judiciary Informatics System) the court went into recess at 12:06.
The hearing that was scheduled to resume at 13:30 began 10 minutes late. Baransu’s lawyer arrived after the second part of the hearing had already begun and Baransu delivered most of his defense statement in the absence of his lawyer.
Baransu asserted that the police, the prosecutor and the courts had not read the appendix of the case-file. He said that he counted and the court panel overseeing the trial had changed 30 times.
Baransu questioned the lawfulness of a police officer who was not present while the search in his house was being carried out to sign the official report concerning the search? Claiming that evidence, in the form of a CD on which “Balyoz appendix 2” was written, was planted in his house by the police, Baransu requested to see the footage from the search. The police had also found a CD with the same title written on it, in the basement of the house where his ex-wife Esra Konur lived. Baransu told about how the identity of the person who gave the tip-off via a telephone call concerning the evidence in the cellar turned out to be Esra Konur’s mother, even though the caller had presented herself with a different name to the police.
In response to the interruption of Baransu’s speech by retired Major General Ahmet Yavuz, who was acquitted after spending 40 months in jail as part of the Balyoz (Sledgehammer) case, Çongar and Altan’s lawyer Figen Albuga Çalıkuşu addressed the court and said “Nothing concerning Egemen Operation Plan was ever published by the newspaper. The expert opinion also confirms this.”
Baransu criticized prosecutor Kürkçü who drafted a report concerning the CD found in his house without creating a system image of the CD and said “How can a prosecutor draft a fake report? Balyoz was nothing in comparison.” The presiding judge said “163 military personnel were arrested because of it.” Baransu responded: “The judges, prosecutors, the prime minister and the president at the time were responsible for that.” But he added, “I wish I could have empathize at the time with the people who were being prosecuted in the Balyoz case. If I am released, I would like to visit them.”
Reminding the court that the prosecutor wrote “Greece learned about our military operations” as the grounds for his arrest, Baransu said that no news story was published in Taraf on an operation plan and the only evidence included in the indictment was a map that was published by the Greek press two years before Taraf began publishing news on the Balyoz case.
Baransu questioned the credibility of the 13th High Criminal Court of Istanbul and said “I am being prosecuted by a project court in a political trial. This is a court without the assurance of the judge. There have been 30 different judges in four and a half years.
The hearing came to an end at 16:05.
The second sitting that was supposed to take place on 28 August could not be held because Baransu’s prison was not informed about the trial and so the arrangements necessary to transport Baransu to the Courthouse were not made.
The third hearing of the session began at 11:36 on 29 August 2019. Baransu was again brought to the courtroom in handcuffs by gendarmerie.
Baransu’s lawyer Yahya Engin, Yasemin Çongar and Ahmet Altan’s lawyer Figen Albuga Çalıkuşu were in attendance at the hearing. Retired Ret. Colonels Dursun Çiçek, Suat Aydın and Cemal Temizöz, who requested to join the hearing as a plaintiff, were also in attendance. Besides members of the press, Baransu’s wife was watching the hearing. Esra Konur, Ömer Konur and Bülent Çakmak, whom the court ruled to call in as witnesses to be heard at the end of the last hearing in July, were also at the courthouse and were asked to wait outside of the courtroom.
The hearing began with the presiding judge confirming that the witnesses were in attendance and were ready to be heard. However Baransu asked to complete his defense statement before the witnesses were heard.
Then witness Esra Konur’s uncle entered the courtroom and was asked to wait outside. Even though Baransu said that he didn’t mind Esra Konur and her uncle being in the courtroom, Baransu’s lawyer Yahya Engin asked the witnesses to be sent away from the front of the court to the main hall, where they couldn’t be hearing Baransu speak. The presiding judge sent the witnesses away, since they would not be testifying in this session.
Continuing his defense statement Baransu again emphasized the fact that his imprisonment is justified through Odatv’s news stories. Baransu reminded the court that he was arrested on charges 326/1 (Anyone who partially or completely destroys or damages documents or records relating to the security or internal or external political interests of the state or who falsifies them, or uses them even temporarily in a place other than the place to which they have been assigned or who takes them fraudulently or steals them shall be sentenced to imprisonment for a term of from eight to twelve years), 327/1 (Anyone who obtains information that should be held secret in order to protect the security of the state, internal or external political interests or because of its intrinsic nature, shall be sentenced to imprisonment of from three to eight years) and 329/1 (Anyone who discloses information that should be held secret in order to protect the security of the state, internal or external political interests or because of its intrinsic nature, shall be sentenced to imprisonment of from five to ten years) of the Turkish Penal Code. Baransu added “You have kept me behind bars from TCK 327/1 for 8 months too much and you are committing a crime esteemed judge. Even if you sentence me in the upper bound the time I have spent behind bars has fulfilled this sentence. Tomorrow you will be called to account on this.”
Baransu addressed the court about Fethullah Gülen’s voice tape that was found in his house. The indictment claims that the statement ‘‘possessing position and power in local and international media’ is made in the tape but according to the tape’s transcription report such a statement is never made, Baransu informed.
Then Baransu and the plaintiffs began to argue over the presiding judge’s question on how the documents in the Balyoz case were obtained and what these documents contained. Plaintiff Dursun Çiçek accused Baransu of not making news on the Balyoz being in reality a conspiracy. The presiding judge ruled for the court to go into recess for an hour.
The hearing resumed half an hour late in the afternoon. Plaintiff Dursun Çiçek did not attend the second half of the hearing.
Baransu’s lawyer Yahya Engin asked the court panel to bring an end to the plaintiffs’ constant interruptions of Mehmet Baransu’s defense statement even though the trial is not about Balyoz.
Baransu explained how the decision to continue his detention on remand were based on allegations that were not included in the indictment, he said “I am on trial for (allegedly) procuring, exposing and destroying classified documents concerning the security of the state and membership in an armed terrorist organization. But I am detained for article 326/1 of the Turkish Penal Code (TCK) and article 327/1 of TCK. In the decision to continue my detention at the first session the charges listed were ‘establishing an organization for the purpose of committing offences,’ ‘exposing classified information’ and ‘establishing and managing an armed terrorist organization.’ But I am not being accused of establishing an organization for the purpose committing offences. My detention on the charge of exposing classified information was rejected. There is no accusation of establishing or managing an armed terrorist organization leveled against me. I am detained for something that is not in the indictment. I am on trial for slander but it is as if the continuation of my detention is because I have committed murder.”
The presiding judge interrupted to suggest Baransu to file a complaint with the HSK (Council of Judges and Prosecutors) in the case of unlawfulness.
Continuing to deliver his defense statement Baransu said “If the decision to arrest me is delivered over an allegation that is not even in the indictment, this proves that I am not being justly prosecuted. I lose faith. Maybe your panel is objective but because these people have made these decisions they ruin my trust in you. The same panel that was eating nuts and chewing gum in front of me was the panel that did not recognize the Constitutional Court’s judgment on Şahin Alpay. Because I said that the continuation of my detention was based on accusations that were not included in the indictment, they changed the reason of my detention in the second year of my trial. The date of crime is listed as 24 December 2013 on the detention memo prepared by the Istanbul 5th Criminal Judgeship of Peace. In the second memo it’s also written as 24 December 2013. The date of crime in the indictment is 24 December 2013 and after. In all of the decisions submitted since the month of March I was arrested until the date when the indictment was submitted the date of the crime is listed as 24 December 2013. But, in the indictment, there is no evidence from 24 December 2013 and after. The accusations in the indictment are related to the date 2010. Which news did we expose and publish on 24 December 2013 and after pertaining to classified information of the state? This is the date of crime but no allegation has been leveled against me concerning this date and its aftermath.
Completing his defense statement in relation to the allegations leveled against him in the indictment, Baransu said that his defense statement concerning the HTS recordings was 90-pages long. The presiding judge pointed out the importance of also hearing the witnesses and said “Because you continued to make your defense statement, we could not hear the witnesses. We want to hear them on Monday [2 September].” Baransu’s lawyer Yahya Engin told the court that his client has another hearing scheduled for Monday.
Afterwards Baransu’s lawyer Yahya Engin addressed the court concerning the detention of his client: “It is obvious that this trial is not a Balyoz trial. If the Balyoz coup plot was real, then it is a crime that had to be reported (to authorities). That’s what my client did. If it’s fake, we can’t be talking about exposing information that was supposed to remain classified anyway. We can’t be talking about articles 326 and 329 of the Turkish Penal Code here. The crime that we are left with is 327 of the Turkish Penal Code. If we assess according to the Press Law, there is no crime. Even if we consider the maximum penalty for this charge, he has detained for longer than his sentence. if he is sentenced for article 327 of the Turkish Penal Code it is not even necessary to acquit him. Once he is sentenced for TCK 327, his sentence will be over. If you sentence him on TCK 327 today my client can be free.” Lawyer Engin also asked the court to reconsider the status of the plaintiffs.
Figen Albuga Çalıkuşu, Ahmet Altan and Yasemin Çongar’s lawyer, said: “This trial is not about Balyoz. The Constitutional Court also confirms this. The Turkish General Staff said that Egemen Operation Plan was destroyed in 2008. It was destroyed in 2008 and then stolen in 2010? What is on trial here in reality is journalism.”
Concerning his detention Baransu said “They have presented something full of lies. Here we are trying to muddle through it. I am an undetained defendant over the same reasons with the Istanbul 10th High Criminal Court, in front of you I am on trial while in detention.”
The prosecutor requested the continuation of Baransu’s detention on remand.In its interim decision, the court ruled to keep Baransu behinds bars on the grounds of “the nature and type of the alleged crime.” The court also ruled for a memo to be written for Esra Konur, Ömer Konur and Bülent Çakmak, who testified against Baransu during the investigation, to be forcibly brought and be heard as witnesses at the next hearing. The court adjourned the trial until 10, 11 and 12 December to allow time for the completion of the file.