Canan Coşkun, İstanbul – Lawyers from the Progressive Lawyers Association (ÇHD) and Law Bureau of the People (HHB) appeared before İstanbul 37. High Criminal Court for a marathon multi-day hearing this week. The six defendants, all of whom were in pre-trial detention prior to the hearing, faced charges of ‘membership in a terrorist organization’ and ‘leading a terrorist organization’.
The multi-day hearing was at times confrontational. On the first day Özkan Yücel, the President of the İzmir Bar Association, was punched by a gendarme officer for approaching Selçuk Kozağaçlı, one of the defendants. The presiding judge Akın Gürlek chose to leave the room instead of intervene. Ultimately the court chose to release one defendant, Ahmet Mandacı, into house arrest, and continue the detention of the other five defendants, Kozağaçlı, Behiç Aşçi, Aycan Çiçek, Engin Gökoğlu and Aytaç Ünsal.
The six defendants were initially arrested on September 12 2017. After a court hearing later that month they were released, however they were arrested again the next morning and returned to pre-trial detention after the prosecutor objected to their release. The prosecution presented the indictment against them six months after that initial arrest. The bulk of the evidence presented against them are cases in which they served as defense lawyers.
Aşçı, Çiçek and Gökoğlu were previously imprisoned in 2013 as part of an investigation led by Adem Özcan, a now-imprisoned prosecutor who is affiliated with FETÖ – the Gulenist movement suspected to be behind the 2016 coup attempt. The evidence from that 2013 investigation has also been included in the latest indictment.
The first day of the multi-day hearing was December 3. After the altercation between Özkan Yücel and the gendarme officer, Çakır rose to present her statement of defense. Partway through her statement, Judge Gürlek (who returned to the courtroom after the physical altercation was over) interrupted to declare that her defense was ‘irrelevant to the charges’.
After Çakır finished her statement, the prosecution’s main witness Berk Ercan joined the hearing via the judicial teleconferencing system SEGBİS. Ercan requested that his face not be shown to the court out of fear that he would be targeted for retribution. Despite not being an anonymous witness, and over the objections of defense lawyers, Judge Gürlek chose to grant the request. At multiple points during Ercan’s testimony Gürlek intervened to remind the witness of his previous statements and direct him as to what he might say. The court then heard from Derya Altın, an anonymous witness. At one point a lawyer for the defense asked a question of Altın, leading Altın to accuse the lawyer of being affiliated with a terrorist organization. Judge Gürlek then removed the defense lawyer from the courtroom and warned the remaining defense lawyers, who protested the removal, to restrain themselves.
The hearing’s second day was closed to the public on the instructions of Judge Gürlek, and the defendants were limited to just three lawyers each. This prompted lawyers for the defense to begin the hearing’s second day by alleging that the judicial panel was biased. The defense requested that a new panel be convened. The panel of three judges rejected the defense’s request, which prompted a protest by defense lawyers. The judicial panel responded by ejecting some defense lawyers from the courtroom, inspiring a mass exodus from the courtroom by other lawyers for the defense, who declared “Just as you wish! Ask the questions alone, and listen to them on your own.” Judge Gürlek heard the testimony of another anonymous witness, and then ended that day’s session.
The hearing’s last session took place on December 5 and was open to the public. After the judicial panel once more rejected the defense’s request that another judicial panel be convened, Judge Gürlek asked the prosecutor for their final opinion. The prosecutor recommended that all six defendants remain in detention. Kozağaçlı then took the floor to respond. Kozağaçlı used the opportunity to allege that Deputy Minister of Justice Selahaddin Menteş had requested that all six defendants remain in detention and had suggested that he could ‘arrange a judge’ to ensure that this happened.
After a 45 minute recess the judicial panel emerged to announce that Mandacı would be released into house arrest and the other five defendants would remain in detention on an interim basis until the next hearing, which they scheduled for March 18.
Updated: December 10