Court rejects defense lawyers’ requests to separate the two cases, trial adjourned until 26 November
CANSU PİŞKİN, ISTANBUL
The “Gezi trial,” in which 16 civil society figures, including the jailed businessperson Osman Kavala, are being retried for allegedly “organizing and financing” the nationwide Gezi protests that took place in 2013, resumed once again on 8 October 2021 after the trial courts ruled this summer to merge the case with the retrial of defendants in the “Çarşı case.”
With the addition of 35 defendants who are members of the Beşiktaş football fan group “Çarşı,” who are accused of “organizing a plot against the government during the Gezi Park protests,” there are now 52 defendants in the case, now overseen by the Istanbul 13th High Criminal Court.
P24 monitored the hearing, which was held at the 27th High Criminal Court’s courtroom due to the high number of defendants in the case.
“Gezi” defendants Mücella Yapıcı, Can Atalay, Tayfun Kahraman, Mine Özerden, Yiğit Ali Ekmekci, Hakan Altınay, 30 other defendants from the “Çarşı” case and defense lawyers were in attendance. Kavala, who has been in pre-trial detention in Silivri Prison since November 2017, addressed the court via the judicial video-conferencing network SEGBİS.
Before hearing the defendants’ statements on the charges, the presiding judge asked if any of the defense lawyers had anything to say on procedure. Lawyers representing Çarşı and Gezi defendants then addressed the court, explaining that the joinder decision was unlawful and requesting the separation of the two files.
“Çarşı” lawyer Ali Rıza Dizdar said the joinder decision was against criminal procedure. Ömer Kavili, another “Çarşı” lawyer, said the joinder decision was a sign that there was political interference in the case. Pointing out that they were being required to make statements concerning accusations in a case file they haven't seen before, the lawyers requested the separation of the files. Yıldız İmrek, another Çarşı lawyer, said the joinder decision was a “judicial coup” and requested that the judges recuse themselves from the case. Arguing that the joinder decision was aimed at keeping Osman Kavala behind bars, İmrek said the Supreme Court of Appeals’ judgment reversing the acquittals of Çarşı defendants was unlawful. “A court cannot render a decision for joinder in between hearings, this is a judicial coup,” İmrek said.
Reminding how the two cases were merged, “Gezi” defendant Mine Özerden's lawyer Tuğçe Duygu Köksal told the court that the decision was not legally valid. In June, the Istanbul 30th High Criminal Court, which was overseeing the Gezi trial back then, asked the court overseeing the Çarşı case if they would assent to merging the two files. On 28 July, when a judge from the 30th High Criminal Court panel was also appointed to the temporary panel of the 13th High Criminal Court due to the judicial summer vacation, the 13th High Criminal Court agreed to merge the two files. Less than a week later, on 2 August, the Istanbul 30th High Criminal Court held an ex parte hearing, officially ruling to merge the case with “Çarşı.”
Osman Kavala’s lawyer Köksal Bayraktar also stressed that the joinder was against legal procedure and explained that a judge who renders a decision for joinder cannot be on the panel adjudicating on the case. Adding that there was no connection between the two cases concerning the defendants and the acts attributed, Bayraktar requested that the two cases be separated.
“You are now going to hear 51 other defendants’ statements, and this is going to take days. Osman Kavala has been in detention for four years. And now, 51 other people are being retried for three unrelated chains of events merely for [the purpose of prolonging the case against] my client. … This is torture by means of the law,” Bayraktar said.
“Çarşı” lawyers leave the courtroom
The prosecutor then asked the court to reject the requests to separate the files.
In response, lawyer Ömer Kavili said the prosecutor should have provided the grounds for his request and demanded that the prosecutor repeat their opinion in a proper manner. “If he refuses to do so, then I demand that the Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor be summoned to the courtroom to present a proper opinion complete with the grounds for their request,” Kavili said.
The court rejected the requests for recusal and the separation of the cases, upon which the lawyers representing “Çarşı” defendants left the courtroom in protest.
The court later heard the defendants in attendance, including Osman Kavala, concerning the reversal and joinder decisions.
Hakan Altınay, one of the defendants of the “Gezi case,” stated that he will make his statement in the next hearing. Arda Mutlu Doğan, a “Çarşı case” defendant, said: “We were acquitted in this case. It's been 7 years. And now this is happening. You want us to make our defense statements, but even the lawyers are refusing to make statements. You merged the two cases, but we don't know anyone in the merged file. We are not guilty.”
“Gezi” defendant Mücella Yapıcı reminded the court that she stood trial twice and was acquitted twice based on the same indictment. “Then, after my acquittal was finalized, I was put on trial once again, and got acquitted once again. I reject this case, legally, conscientiously and morally,” Yapıcı told the court.
“Gezi” defendant Can Atalay reminded the court that the court has not yet completed questioning the Gezi defendants. “This trial cannot continue until the questioning is completed. New information and findings that we had no knowledge of before have been introduced in the file. The court must first complete our interrogation by giving us reasonable time,” Atalay, who is also a lawyer, told the court.
Hürrem Sönmez, the lawyer representing “Gezi” defendant Çiğdem Mater, told the court that her client moved abroad following the acquittal verdict in the initial trial and requested additional time to examine the merged file and make a statement afterwards.
Aynur Tuncel Yazgan, the lawyer representing Gezi defendant İnanç Ekmekçi, who also lives abroad, requested that her client’s statement be taken through a letter rogatory.
Other defendants and their lawyers also requested time to prepare their statements.
In his statement, Osman Kavala pointed out that the charges brought against him were not based on any evidence. “They are allegations of a fantastic nature based on conspiracy theories overstepping the bounds of reason,” Kavala said.
“This string of events that culminated in the merging of the files seem to indicate the presence of an intervention in the judicial process and a politically tainted judiciary serving to prolong my imprisonment for the purpose of keeping live the perception of my being guilty on the one hand and criminalizing the Gezi protests as an act of rebellion -- although the evidence points to the contrary -- on the other,” Kavala said.
He continued: “As a result of the merging of the Gezi and Çarşı cases, people from the football team supporters of the Çarşı group have also been included in this secret entity, which has made the fantasy even more surreal. I had neither any acquaintance of nor any relationship with the people accused in the Çarşı case either before or during Gezi. That they do not know me either. As I read in the minutes of the hearing on 12 July, when Counsel Volkan Bahadır asks the suspect Y.D. if he knew Osman Kavala, the answer he gets is, ‘What team is he playing in?’ … To the best of my knowledge, the world has yet to see the fans of a football team organize a riot to topple those in power either.”
Kavala’s lawyer Köksal Bayraktar also told the court that another proof that the case was politically motivated was that the prosecutor who prepared the indictment has been appointed Deputy Minister of Justice. “My client is being subjected to ill-treatment by the judiciary. He is being tortured,” Bayraktar added.
The prosecutor then addressed the court, requesting arrest warrants for defendants who failed to appear in court without submitting letters of excuse, and Osman Kavala’s continued detention on the grounds of “the nature of the crime attributed and available evidence.”
Issuing an interim decision at the end of the hearing, the court ruled by a majority to keep Osman Kavala behind bars and adjourned the trial until 26 November 2021. One of the judges on the panel, Kürşad Bektaş, wrote a dissenting opinion concerning the decision for Kavala’s continued detention, saying he should have been released pending trial considering the available evidence and the time he has spent in detention and arguing that one or more judicial control measures should be sufficient to replace the detention measure.