Free speech lawyer Veysel Ok on trial for criticizing Turkish judiciary

6 May 2018
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Veysel Ok, one of Turkey's leading media lawyers who also defends German newspaper Die Welt' correspondent Deniz Yücel, will face a freedom of expression trial this Wednesday in Istanbul as a defendant.

Ok faces a prison sentence of up to two years for stating in an interview with the now-shuttered newspaper "Özgür Düsünce" on December 25, 2015, that the Turkish judiciary "came in a single color"  and spoke "with one voice".

According to a report published in the German daily Die Welt, the case was launched following a complaint from President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's office filed on 29 December 2015. The indictment was filed in August 2016, but the court did not accept the indictment until more than a year later when Ok started representing several journalists arrested following the coup attempt last year.

Request for intervention

In the second hearing of the trial, a legal representative for Erdoğan had requested a leave to intervene on behalf of the president. However, the court didn't grant the leave on the grounds that Erdoğan had not been "directly harmed" by the lawyer's statement.

In his defense statement, Ok said, "I have defended many Turkish journalists and almost all were placed in pre-trial detention. I only shared my experience as a lawyer. I do not think the Criminal Judgehsips of Peace are independent. I am part of the justice system myself. I did not intend to insult it. But I have the right to criticize the justice system."

Özgür Düşünce reporter Cihan Acar, who interviewed Ok, also stands accused in the same trial. In his defense testimony, Acar told the court that he had simply gotten a statement from an experienced lawyer.,

Ok's original statement 

In the interview, Ok said: “Previously, judges could hold varying opinions. There was a possibility of being tried by judges who valued freedoms. But now all members of the judiciary come in a single color. We see the judges serving at the Criminal Judgeships of Peace. They are deaf to defense statements or objections. Where the loyalties of these judges lie is clear. Nothing changes the result..because the decisions are pre-ordered.. Either, those in power give orders to the judicial authorities before the investigation, or attack the defendant via the government press.”
Ok, who has been working in the field of freedom of the press for more than a decade, has defended some of Turkey's most prominent journalists alongside Yücel, including Ahmet and Mehmet Altan, Sahin Alpay and Cengiz Candar.

Turkish Criminal Code 301, which criminalizes "insulting Turkishness, state organs, or the judiciary," has historically been used extensively to harass journalists and writers. The Armenian-Turkish journalist Hrant Dink was in court for insulting Turkishness before he was assassinated in 2007. Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk and former Cumhuriyet editor-in-chief Aydin Engin were also charged on the basis of Article 301.

The trial is being heard by the 37th Criminal Court of First Instance. The next hearing on 9 May will be held at 9.30 am.