First hearing of 7 journalists from DİHA and Özgür Gündem was held in Diyarbakır

3 October 2018
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Deniz Tekin, Diyarbakır - Hearing of 7 journalists who are accused of 'terrorist propaganda' and 'targeting those who participated in anti-terror operations' was held at Diyarbakır 9. High Criminal Court. Journalists are facing 3 years in prison, due to their social media posts involving a news story that was published in the now-shuttered Dicle News Agency (DİHA), regarding the military operation that was conducted after the declaration of curfew in Sur, Diyarbakır. Hearing was monitored by Turkey Journalists Union Diyarbakır representative Mahmut Oral and Media and Law Studies Association (MLSA).

The news story which was titled 'Name of the siege: Flag 12, Person in charge: Musa Çitil', revealed a previous legal proceeding against Musa Çitil, who was the head of the military operation in Sur. Çitil was acquitted of the criminal lawsuit, which was filed after the massacre of 13 civilians in Mardin's Derik province, in the 90s.

Former news director of DİHA Ömer Çelik, former DİHA editor Abdulvahap Taş and former DİHA reporter Selman Çiçek were present, whereas Selim Gönenç, managing editor of Özgür Gündem newspaper İnan Kızılkaya and DİHA employees Hamza Gündüz and Çağdaş Kaplan did not attend the hearing. Özgür Gündem newspaper grant holder Kemal Sancılı, who has been in detention from a separate case, was planned to submit his defense via the judicial conferencing system (SEGBİS). However, Sancılı was not brought into the SEGBİS room in Silivri Prison because former People's Democratic Party co-chair Selahatting Demirtaş was submitting his defense via SEGBİS simultaneously, which posed a 'security risk' in the eyes of the prison administration.

Taş: Sharing a news story falls within the ambit of right to information

Hearing started with identity checks and the reading of the summary of the accusations presented in the indictment. Former DİHA editor Abdulvahap Taş started his defense statement by rejecting all accusations and remarking that multiple news agencies and media outlets had reported about the military operation conducted in Sur. He also stated that he shared the news story on his personal social media account because it fell in the ambit of right to information of the public. He added: "I am a journalist, I have never pointed individuals as targets in any of my news stories or my social media posts. I request my acquittal." The presiding judge asked Taş whether he posted the news stories whilst he was working at DİHA. Taş stated that he had been working for Diyarbakır Municipality Press Bureau then.

Çelik: It is not right to make a news story the subject of a criminal investigation

Former DİHA news director Ömer Çelik was next to submit his defense statement after Taş. The presiding judge interrupted Çelik and asked him: "Are you going to repeat what he said?"  Çelik, on the other hand, stated that his defense will be similar to his, however, he has a few things to add to it. Judge responded: "Shortly." Çelik rejected the offenses he is charged with and added: "I shared the news story with relevant documents because I wanted to fulfill my duty as a journalist, in favor of the public interest. This news story was formed in order to enlighten and inform the public over the subject. Even though the news article is considered to be targeting an individual, I would like to remark that this particular individual is not a stranger in the public eye. Therefore it is required for a journalist to report on such an individual. The news story aims not to point an individual as a target, but to inform the public."

Presiding Judge: Are you going to repeat what he said?

After Çelik's statement was completed, the presiding judge asked the same question to Selman Çiçek: "Are you going to repeat what he said? " Çiçek refused the offenses he is charged with and he stated that he shared the news story to inform the people whilst he was a DİHA reporter. The presiding judge shortened the defense statements of the defendants while they were being transferred to the official hearing report.

Defendant Sancılı was not brought into the SEGBİS room for 'security reasons'

Özgür Gündem newspaper grant holder Kemal Sancılı who has been imprisoned in Silivri Prison was not brought into the SEGBİS room, because former HDP co-chair Selahattin Demirtaş was submitting his defense simultaneously on SEGBİS (who is imprisoned in Edirne Prison) which posed a 'security threat' according to the prison administration.

Hearing was adjourned until 2019

Defense lawyer Resul Temur reminded the court that the plaintiff Musa Çitil was sued because of the murders of 13 civilians in Derik, Mardin in the 90s. Lawyer Temur remarked that Çitil was indeed a publicly known figure who had been acquitted in court in 2014. Temur stated that the news story was aimed to inform the public, not to target an individual and requested the acquittal of his clients.

The prosecutor requested to take the defense statements of İnan Kızılkaya, Çağdaş Kaplan and Kemal Sancılı. Court accepted the prosecutor's requests and issued a warrant for defendant Selim Gönenç (who had shared the news story on his personal social media account) whose address could not be found. Hearing was adjourned until 16 January 2019.