3 hearings in 1 day: MLSA lawyers, partners and journalists on trial

22 March 2019

Journalist Salih Turan was released in a trial where he faced charges of terrorist propaganda, while the hearings of civil society professional Aret Demirci, who was on trial for insulting the president and Lawyer Veysel Ok, on trial for denigratıng the Turkish judiciary, were adjourned to a later date

21 March was Newroz, a celebration of spring and freedom, but Media and Law Studies (MLSA) lawyers and staff spent the entire day at the Istanbul Courthouse as MLSA Co-Director lawyer Veysel Ok, MLSA client journalist Salih Turan and Project Coordinator of our partner Friedrich Naumann Stiftung, Aret Demirci, were on trial for talking to journalists and for tweeting.

The first hearing of the day was that of Ok, who is accused of “denigrating the Turkish judiciary,” a crime under Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code, for stating that Turkish courts are not independent in an 2015 interview.

International observers from Amnesty International, Freedom House, Lawyers for Lawyers, Reporters without Borders (RSF), Friedrich Naumann Stiftung, representatives of the US, Swedish and Norwegian Consulates, American Bar Association (ABA), the Clooney Foundation (TrialWatch), the Media and Legal Defense Initiative (MLDI) and head of the Thomas Deller Foundation and Bundestag member Thomas Hacker attended the hearing.

In his defense statement, Ok said “I've been a lawyer for 12 years and have dedicated my career to free speech cases. In that interview, I offered my opinion that the judiciary, which I am a part of, is not independent. I cannot possibly be insulting a body of which I am a part. The criticism that the judiciary in Turkey is not independent has been offered by both government and opposition representatives and international bodies such as the Venice Commission.  My comments fall under the scope of freedom of expression; which is the fundamental element of a democracy.”

The 2nd Criminal Court of First Instance denied a request for a leave to intervene from lawyers for President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, whose office had initiated the case against Ok although the name of the president is not mentioned in any part of the 2015 interview. The trial was adjourned until 20 June.

Civil society professional on trial for tweet

MLSA Co Director Veysel Ok, who appeared in court as a defendant, rushed to another courtroom, this time in his attorney gown, as legal counsel for FNST Project Coordinator Aret Demirci, who was on trial for a criticizing tweet posted on 23 June 2018, one day before the Turkish general election.

Demirci was accused of “insulting the president” in that tweet, which essentially criticized the lack of coverage of opposition party rallies by the mainstream media.

In his defense statement, Demirci noted that the tweet was a criticism of the media. Nevertheless, a lawyer for President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan asked the court to grant him leave to intervene in the case, which the 59. Criminal Court of First Instance accepted.

The trial was adjourned until 8 October.

Journalist Salih Turan released

Journalist Salih Turan, who was charged with “making propaganda of a terrorist organization” for tweeting in Kurdish in a case where he had been in detention for 40 days, appeared before the Istanbul 32nd High Criminal Court in his first hearing.

His defense team consisted of lawyer Newroz Akalan, and MLSA lawyers Veysel Ok and Zelal Pelin Doğan.

Representatives from Freedom House also attended as international observers.

In his defense statement, Turan stated that he has worked as a journalist, editor and a Kurdish translator for years, adding that he had translated many documentaries, TV series and programmes for the state owned TRT Kurdî station. He further noted that the11 tweets in his indictment--the only evidence of his alleged crime--were sarcastic tweets that used an ironical and humorous tone while making commentary on political events, adding that some of them were mistranslated into Turkish in the indictment.

Lawyers for Turan referred to past rulings by the Turkish Constitutional Court and the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) which clearly showed that Turan’s tweets are a part of his right to freedom of expression and asked for his acquittal.

“Is it a crime to tweet in Kurdish. This is perhaps the essential question that needs to be posed here,” said Lawyer Ok, adding that none of the tweets praised violence in any way.

Following the defense statements, the prosecutor submitted his final opinion. After final statements, the Court sentenced Turan to 1 year and 3 months on charges of “propaganda for a terrorist organization” but deferred the sentence. Turan was released after 40 days in prison.