Bülent Şık is not acquitted during his first hearing

7 February 2019

First hearing of the trial where food engineer and academic Bülent Şık stands trial on charges of “Disclosure of Confidential Information in Respect of a Duty,” “Securing Prohibited Information,” and “Disclosure of Prohibited Information” was held at İstanbul 2nd Criminal Code of the First Instance; the judge dismissed demands for immediate acquittal and adjourned the trial until 30 May.  

First hearing of the trial where food engineer and academic Bülent Şık is standing trial on charges of “Disclosure of Confidential Information in Respect of a Duty,” “Obtaining Prohibited Information,” and “Disclosure of Prohibited Information” was held at İstanbul 2nd Criminal Code of the First Instance on Thursday, February 7. The hearing was expected to start at 10:45 but Şık’s lawyers filed a request to change the courtroom where the hearing was going to be held. The change of venue was made due to the small size of the initial courtroom and the hearing took place at 14:00 at the İstanbul 14th High Criminal Court.

The Prosecutor demands a prison sentence from 5 up to 12 years for Bülent Şık for sharing the findings of  "The Project on Assessment of Environmental Factors in the Provinces of Kocaeli, Antalya, Tekirdağ, Edirne, Kırklareli and Their Impacts on Health” conducted by the Ministry of Health in a series of newspaper columns that he wrote, titled: “The state has concealed the carcinogen products, we are making them public! Here is the poison list."

There were many who came to the courthouse to show support for Şık. There was a huge turnout at Şık’s hearing and among those who observed the hearing were HDP MP Ahmet Şık, CHP MP Sezgin Tanrıkulu, several peace academics, and representatives from various NGOs.

The hearing began with Şık’s defense: “In order to respond to the accusations specified in the indictment, which are: “disclosure of confidential information in respect of a duty,” “securing prohibited information,” and “disclosure of prohibited information,” I have to refer to the aim and scope of this project conducted by the Ministry of Health.” Şık went on to share the findings and the methodology of the research project. You can read the full statement in Turkish here.

“As a scientist, it is my duty to try to make sure that our country remains a habitable environment”

Touching upon the alleged crimes, Şık clarified that the findings that he shared were already in his possession for he was part of the research team: “The crimes that I have allegedly committed include obtaining prohibited information. However, I have not obtained the information that I have shared in my newspaper column from a third party or somewhere else. The information I disclosed to the public in my articles were already in my possession because I was among the researchers of the project team. My essential duties include planning the food and water research, analysis methods, carrying out analyses, and evaluating the data. Therefore, the information I have disclosed are the information I myself produced from the research data I had at hand with the help of the scientific knowledge have regarding my field.”

“As a scientist, it is my duty to make an effort to make sure that our entire country does not lose its habitable properties such as its soil, water, air, and vegetation.”

“I feel responsible to people who are in despair, such as Dilek Özçelik”

In his defense, Şık also mentioned Dilek Özçelik, a Trakya University student who passed away due to lymphoma last year. Özçelik had been in the news in 2013 when she asked for help from Erdoğan Bayraktar, Minister of Environment and Urban Planning at the time. Özçelik had asked for financial support for her medicine. Stating that he feels responsible towards Özçelik, Şık ended his defense with the following words:

“Confidentiality or prohibition orders regarding a public health issue cannot and should not be tolerated. May Dilek Özçelik rest in peace. I feel responsible towards people who are in despair like Dilek Özçelik. It is their right to know the truth. I deny all accusations and demand my acquittal.”  

Following Şık’s defense, defense lawyer Can Atalay took the floor and presented his statement, explaining that the indictment contravenes the related legislation and demanded Şık’s immediate acquittal.

The following lawyers took the floor in turn and repeated their demand for immediate acquittal: Ankara Bar President Erinç Sağkan, Tekirdağ Bar President Sedat Tekneci, Kocaeli Bar President Bahar Gültekin Candemir, Antalya Bar Vice President Cenk Soyer, Kırklareli Bar President Turgay Hınız, İstanbul Bar Association’s Health Law Board President Burcu Öztoprak Alsulu, and lawyer Yalçın Tura. All of the lawyers who represented various bar associations came from cities that were subject to the Ministry of Health research project, except Ankara. Bar representatives stated that they were in the courtroom to defend the right to life and the right to health of citizens who live in the cities that they represent. They further added that those who are responsible need to be called accountable in the name of public health, and that the addressee of this case cannot be a scientist. Lawyer Tura stated: “It is not Bülent Şık who is on trial today, it is science that is put on trial. While I was listening to Bülent Şık’s defense, I thought of Galileo. I demand that a criminal complaint should be filed against those who kept this information from the public.”

The last defense lawyer to take the floor was Tora Pekin, who stated that the defense is primarily based on the notions of freedom of speech and thought, and then on academic freedom. Pekin also submitted his request to extend the inquiry to the court, further presenting following questions: what kinds of precautions did the Provincial Directorates of Health take in the concerned cities and whether the Ministry of Health itself took any protective measures regarding public health.

The next hearing will be held on 30 May

The judge gave a five-minute intermission to consider the requests for immediate acquittal. Following the intermission, the judge dismissed the requests for acquittal and for the extension of the inquiry.

In addition, it was ruled that the file shall be handed over to an expert in order to draft a report by conducting a digital research on whether anyone other than the defendant has written or published about the news story on any print media or news stories subject to the case. It was also ruled that a letter shall be written to the Ministry of Health, inquiring whether there was ever a confidentiality order regarding the information disclosed in the news story subject to this case.

The next hearing will take place on 30 May.