Ruling to seek Istanbul 23rd High Criminal Court’s permission to merge the case with “Özgür Gündem Main Trial,” court adjourns trial until 6 May
CANSU PİŞKİN, ISTANBUL
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) Turkey representative Erol Önderoğlu, Turkish Medical Association (TTB) Central Committee President Şebnem Korur-Fincancı and journalist-writer Ahmet Nesin appeared before the 13th High Criminal Court of Istanbul on 3 February 2021 for their retrial in the “Özgür Gündem solidarity case,” where they were acquitted of all charges against them in July 2019.
All three were accused of "terrorism propaganda," "incitement to commit an offense" and "praising an offense or an offender" for symbolically editing the now-defunct Özgür Gündem newspaper for one day in 2016 in an act of solidarity with the pro-Kurdish newspaper before it was closed down by the government. In October 2020, the 3rd Criminal Chamber of the Istanbul Regional Court of Justice reversed their acquittals and ordered a retrial.
P24 monitored the first hearing of the retrial, where Fincancı and Önderoğlu were in attendance, accompanied by their lawyers. Nesin, who lives abroad, did not attend.
Addressing the court first, Önderoğlu asserted that he did not accept the appellate court’s reversal decision. Önderoğlu added: “Thirty-eight people who joined in the Özgür Gündem solidarity campaign faced criminal proceedings. Our case is the first one where an appellate court rendered a reversal judgment. I think both the timing of the reversal judgment and the argument cited as the grounds for the reversal are significant.”
Önderoğlu’s lawyer Tora Pekin told the court that they did not accept the reversal decision, adding that the chamber that overturned the acquittals in the Özgür Gündem solidarity trial has become synonymous with unlawful decisions.
Önderoğlu added that in case he receives a sentence at the end of the retrial, he would not accept a deferral of the sentence. “Deferral is supposedly a regulation in favor of the defendant but it entails self-censorship for press members,” Önderoğlu said.
“Appellate court’s decisions are politically motivated”
Following Önderoğlu, Fincancı addressed the court. “This is one of many trials where the rule of law is completely abandoned and the right to a fair trial is violated,” Fincancı said, adding, “Neither the [appellate court’s] decision nor the timing of the decision is a surprise. The appellate court overturned our acquittals more than one year after the trial court’s judgment. The reversal decision followed immediately on the heels of the Turkish Medical Association (TTB) vote, where I was elected chair of the Central Committee. At the time, the TTB was striving to inform the public on the pandemic. But the [political authority] made it look as though a terrorist group member was elected as chair of the Central Committee. So the timing of the reversal decision is significant.”
Demanding her acquittal, Fincancı said she would not accept a deferral of the sentence, “which means admission of guilt.”
Fincancı’s lawyer Meriç Eyüboğlu addressed the court next. “The fact that the court rendered the reversal decision following the elections at the TTB is not the only significance in this case. The Ministry of Justice inquired of the court about the outcome of the appeal countless times. Our shared concern is the politicization of the judiciary and its decisions to be influenced by politicians. Judgments rendered by the 3rd Criminal Chamber of the Istanbul Regional Court of Justice are politically motivated. There are no legal grounds for this reversal judgment,” Eyüboğlu said, demanding the court to reject the reversal decision.
Nesin’s lawyer Efkan Bolaç complained that regional courts have been systematically reversing acquittals and upholding convictions in free speech trials and demanded that the trial court insist on its acquittal judgment.
After hearing all defendants and their lawyers in attendance, the court issued its interim ruling, deciding to comply with the appellate court’s reversal decision. The panel decided to issue a subpoena for Özgür Gündem former Responsible Editor İnan Kızılkaya to testify as a witness. Also ruling to seek the Istanbul 23rd High Criminal Court’s permission to merge the case with the “Özgür Gündem Main Trial,” the court set 6 May 2021 as the date for the next hearing.