The prosecutor demanded that jailed reporter Mehmet Baransu be sentenced for three charges and Ahmet Altan, Yasemin Çongar and Yıldıray Oğur for one charge; trial adjourned until October
CANSU PİŞKİN, İSTANBUL
The 35th hearing of the “Taraf trial,” in which former executives of the shuttered newspaper, Ahmet Altan, Yasemin Çongar, Yıldıray Oğur, reporter Mehmet Baransu and journalist Tuncay Opçin are charged for allegedly “publishing” a confidential military document called “Egemen” (Sovereign) operation plan was held on 2 June 2021 at the Istanbul 13th High Criminal Court.
P24 monitored the hearing. Baransu, the only jailed defendant in the case, who has been in pretrial detention in Silivri Prison since March 2015 as part of this case, addressed the court from prison via the judicial video-conferencing network SEGBİS. Lawyers representing the defendants and Suat Aytın, a retired military officer who requested to be a participant in the trial, were present in the courtroom.
At the beginning of the hearing, the presiding judge announced that a request seeking the recusal of the court by Mehmet Baransu’s lawyers was rejected and asked the prosecutor to submit their final opinion.
Baransu’s lawyer Dilara Yılmaz requested to speak to give legal aid to her client before the submission of the final opinion but the court rejected her request. Yahya Engin, another lawyer representing Baransu, told the court that they wanted to make their statement before the submission of the prosecutor’s final opinion, saying that all evidence in the case file had not yet been collected. The presiding judge rejected that request too.
In their final opinion, the prosecutor argued that Baransu was “a part of the hierarchical structure of the ‘Fethullahist Terrorist Organization’ [FETÖ]” and that “Baransu and Tuncay Opçin, who is at large, acted together and laid the groundwork for operations that targeted the Turkish military” and that “together they formed the media leg of FETÖ.” The prosecutor asked the court to separate the file against Opçin, who faces an arrest warrant as part of the case.
Noting that Baransu was previously sentenced to 19 years and 6 months in prison for “membership in a terrorist organization” by the Mersin 2nd High Criminal Court, the prosecutor demanded that the court dismiss the “membership in a terrorist organization” charge against Baransu in the present case. The prosecutor asked the court to convict Baransu of “systematically destroying or damaging documents relating to the security, or domestic or foreign political interests of the State” under Aritcle 326 of the Turkish Penal Code (TCK), “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” (TCK 327) and “disclosing 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” (TCK 329). The prosecutor demanded the continuation of Baransu’s imprisonment.
The prosecutor also demanded conviction for Ahmet Altan, Yasemin Çongar and Yıldıray Oğur on the charge of “disclosing 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” (TCK 329).
Baransu's lawyer, Dilara Yılmaz, stated that the evidence was not properly discussed and asserted that she did not want to respond to the prosecutor’s opinion. Requesting further investigation, Yılmaz said: “We suspect that your court is trying to finalize the case rather than trying to reveal the material truth. For this reason, we have filed for a recusal of the judges. The evidence should be discussed before responding to the prosecutor’s opinion. Had the evidence been discussed, this could also help the prosecutor in preparing their final opinion.”
Lawyer Yahya Engin said: "What we understand from the opinion is that the prosecutor did not read the file. The court panel should read the file first. We are not in a position to make a statement in response to the opinion. This is systematic unlawfulness.”
A violation of the Constitution
Figen Albuga Çalıkuşu, the lawyer representing Ahmet Altan and Yasemin Çongar, said she did not have any requests for further investigation but added: “Our aim is to ensure legal safety in this country. A judge cannot say, ‘this is how I implement the Criminal Procedure Code.’ Criminal procedure should be in accordance with the law and judges should render their judgments in accordance with the Constitution and their conscience.”
Reminding a Constitutional Court judgment regarding the document allegedly published in Taraf, Çalıkuşu said: “That judgment said that the subject of this case file is the ‘Egemen’ operation plan, which has not been published and therefore not disclosed. Despite this judgment, the prosecutor is seeking punishment as though the said document had been published, disclosed and destroyed.” “Based on which evidence?" Çalıkuşu demanded.
Çalıkuşu also reminded the General Staff statement that the document allegedly “published” by Taraf had been destroyed by the General Staff in 2008: “You are arguing that a document destroyed in 2008 was disclosed by the defendants. Did this document walk out of the General Staff headquarters by itself?”
Yıldıray Oğur’s lawyer Gülçin Avşar said: “There is a problem with logic here. The prosecutor is demanding conviction for my client for allegedly disclosing a non-existent document. We do not accept this. I request time for my client to be heard by court again.”
Retired military officer Aytın spoke next. “They are saying they did not disclose the operation plan. No, it's been disclosed. It even appeared in the Greek press,” Aytın said. Lawyer Çalıkuşu responded: "There is an expert report submitted to the court, which says that none of the news in the Greek press is related to the Egemen operation plan.” The presiding judge warned Çalıkuşu for speaking without asking for a word.
Baransu’s lawyer Engin said: “Suat Aytın has been making the same claim during the hearings. This has turned into a political manipulation. The court heard his previous statements. He should ask for a continuance if he has anything to say in response to the prosecutor’s opinion.” The presiding judge also warned Engin.
Issuing an interim ruling at the end of the hearing, the court ordered the continuation of Mehmet Baransu’s pretrial detention. Rejecting defense lawyers’ requests for further investigation, the court set 18 and 19 October 2021 as the dates for the next hearing. The court decided to grant Baransu a maximum of 10 hours to present his statement in response to the prosecutor’s final opinion during the next hearing.