Erhan Akbaş, Van – Two journalists, İdris Yılmaz and Erhan Akbaş, faced defamation charges at Erciş 2. Court of First Instance for publishing articles critical of the actions of the government-appointed mayor of Erciş Municipality.
Erciş Municipality is one of many municipalities in predominantly Kurdish regions where an elected mayor was dismissed by decree and replaced by a government appointee. The charges against Yılmaz and Akbaş revolve around the publication of articles such as "Municipally owned lands on sale by the appointee", "New logo of Erciş Municipality turns out to be stolen", "Appointee's intolerance towards Kurdish signs ", "Appointee tries to abolish visibility of women in Erciş" and "Erciş Municipality dismisses a wide range of its workers".
Akbaş attended the hearing in-person. Yılmaz, who is currently detained in Elazığ Prison on criminal charges in a separate case, appeared in court via the judicial teleconferencing system SEGBİS.
Yılmaz’s defense statement was predicated on press freedom and his right to freedom of expression. “The press must be free and journalism is not a crime. Article 3 of the constitution says so. Journalist's duty is to criticise the irregularities that create negative public reaction. We published these stories because they were newsworthy. We have never insulted the appointee Mehmet Şirin Yaşar personally. We even called him to get a response, however he never returned our calls. He did not inform the public about any of his policies therefore we articulated the public response against them. We are not criminals, we are journalists. I request my acquittal.”
Akbaş focused on the positive impact of their articles as justification for their critical reporting. “We are journalists. When you take a look at our news stories, they are all made for public interest. After we published our news story regarding the stolen logo of Erciş Municipality, they started searching for a new logo. They organized a competition for a new logo, with a 5 thousand TL prize for the winner. Afterward, they made many changes on various signs and spent thousands of liras from the budget, which meant that former appointee Mehmet Şirin Yaşar damaged the public institution that he represented. He is the one that should account before the public, not us."
The court adjourned the hearing until November 14 to allow the prosecution to get the testimony of Mehmet Şirin Yaşar, a relevant witness.
Updated: December 5 2018