Adnan Bilen, Cemil Uğur, Nazan Sala, Şehriban Abi and Zeynep Durgut are charged with “membership in a terrorist organization” based on the news articles they wrote
RUŞEN TAKVA, VAN
The second hearing of the trial against Mezopotamya news agency (MA) reporters Adnan Bilen, Cemil Uğur and Zeynep Durgut, Jin News reporter Şehriban Abi and freelance journalist Nazan Sala on the charge of “membership in a terrorist organization” (TCK 314/2) was held on 2 July 2021 at the Van 5th High Criminal Court.
News reports penned by the journalists are held as evidence for the accusation in the indictment, which alleges that the media outlets the journalists work for have been “publishing provocative content against the state.” Sala is additionally charged with “terrorism propaganda” for her social media posts.
Bilen, Uğur, Abi and Sala were jailed pending trial in October 2020 after reporting on allegations that soldiers tortured two locals in Van. All four journalists remained in pre-trial detention for six months as part of the case before being released at their first hearing in April.
P24 monitored the second hearing, which was overseen by the court’s substitute panel. MA reporters Adnan Bilen and Cemil Uğur were in attendance as well as the lawyers representing the journalists.
In his defense statement, Adnan Bilen said: “In the last five days alone, more than 50 journalists appeared in courts across Turkey. We know that in Turkey, those who reveal the truth must pay a price for doing so. And if there is a price to be paid, we will pay it. Journalists who reveal the truth are put on trial, but have you ever seen the actual torturers who committed crimes going on trial?”
Addressing the court following Bilen, Cemil Uğur said: “Even though this is seemingly a ‘terror’ trial, the truth is that journalism is on trial here. The helicopter incident is not a work of fiction. We uncovered it through eyewitness statements and hospital reports. We are on trial for revealing the truth.”
“Lack of entertainment stories considered a crime”
Lawyer Erselan Aktan said he would not be making a detailed statement since the hearing was overseen by the court’s substitute panel. Aktan said: “Our clients are journalists. There are criteria set by the Supreme Court of Appeals for this profession, and public interest is one of them. These journalists report on issues that the esteemed prosecutor and the judges may not be aware of and their reports encourage you to perform your duty. However, instead of investigating the helicopter torture, the prosecutor prepared an indictment that talks about the Mezopotamya Agency not producing entertainment news. Instead of those who commit crimes, those who write about them are being put on trial.”
Lawyer Ekin Yeter said: “There is no criminal element in the file. Journalists who write the truth are under threat. This is a violation of our right to information as individuals. Almost all news stories dispatched by Jin News and Mezopotamya news agencies were made the subject of the criminal charge in the indictment.”
Addressing the court next, Lawyer Murat Timur said: “The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe [OSCE] requested an explanation from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs regarding this file, asking why these journalists were arrested. You should get rid of this file as soon as possible and immediately issue an acquittal judgment.”
In an interim ruling, the court reduced the signature obligation imposed on Zeynep Durgut to once a month and ordered the continuation of the judicial control measures and the international travel ban imposed on her four co-defendants. The court adjourned the trial until 21 October 2021.