Sözcü daily trial is adjourned until 18 April

15 March 2019

İstanbul - The trial where nine Sözcü employees including the newspaper’s owner Burak Akbay and Editor-in-Chief Metin Yılmaz face “founding and managing a terrorist organization,” “aiding and abetting a terrorist organization” and “making propaganda for a terrorist organization” charges resumed at the İstanbul 37th High Criminal Court today, following the decision to merge two separate Sözcü daily cases that were heard at the same court. While the file was sent to the Prosecutor’s Office for the opinion as to the accusations to be prepared, all requests by the defense lawyers were rejected.

Among those who monitored the trial where officials from the UK and German Consulates, representatives from the European Union (EU) Delegation, and Republican People’s Party (CHP) MPs Mahmut Tanal and Gürsel Tekin.

Sözcü’s owner Burak Akbay, who has an arrest warrant on his behalf, did not attend the hearing since he is out of the country. Writer Emin Çölaşan attended the hearing via SEGBİS (video-link) from Ankara and defendants Metin Yılmaz, Mustafa Çetin, Yücel Arı, Necati Doğru, Yonca Yücekaleli, Mediha Olgun and Gökmen Ulu were present in the courtroom.

The hearing commenced with the defense lawyers presenting their petition to extend the investigation to the court.

The prosecutor requested additional time for he had not prepared the opinion as to the accusations yet. Upon this request, the panel of judges gave the floor to the defendants and their lawyers.

Noting that he had presented his request in writing before, lawyer Celal Ülgen took the floor and said, “We have objected to the expert examining during the investigation. Some examinations need to be executed during the prosecution process as well. We believe that it is appropriate to give the prosecutor additional time to prepare his opinion as to the accusations only after such examinations are complete.”

When the presiding judge asked what type of examination he is requesting, Ülgen replied, “We request a financial examination, it must be investigated whether there was money transfer from companies owned by FETÖ (Fethullahist Terrorist Organization).”

Lawyer İsmail Yılmaz took the floor next and reminded various reports presented to the court. Yılmaz added, “A report on the findings of the examination conducted per the request of a court in the Bakırköy Courthouse lists the news reports published by Sözcü daily on the night of July 15, 2016 clearly, and this report debunked the allegations in the indictment.”

Criticizing the expert report from an individual named Ömer Faruk Gerçek, Yılmaz said, “This individual does not have the title of an expert. He has been made an expert specifically for this case and the entire indictment is based on his report. We want the court to examine the other report as well. In addition, we have witnesses that we want to bring before the court. Furthermore, the continuation of our client Burak Akbay’s arrest warrant is just strange. The financial report that we had presented already debunked the allegations in the indictment. We request the arrest warrant to be revoked.”

Demanding an additional report to be prepared by professors at the İstanbul University School of Communication who are experts of the subject, lawyer Fahri Eleksiz said, “Relevant experts should examine these news stories and prepare a report on whether these they constitute journalism or propaganda for a terrorist organization. An opinion as to the accusations can be presented by the prosecutor only after such an examination. In addition, we want to present the list of our witnesses and demand additional time for this as well.”

Lawyer Mehmet Serhan Özdemir pointed out that the sheet on the courtroom door lists “membership in a terrorist organization” charge for all defendants and said, “My client is charged with aiding and abetting a terrorist organization and propaganda. On the door of this courtroom it says that he is charged with membership in a terrorist organization as well. I demand that you correct that sheet.”

Lawyer Ceren Yakışır underlined that the court did not evaluate the pieces of evidence in favor of Akbay, emphasizing that those pieces of evidence proved that he does not have any connections to a terrorist organization. Yakışır added, “The financial aspect of the alleged offenses have been completely debunked. He cannot return to his country because of such baseless claims. His father passed away last week and he could not attend the funeral. I leave this to the court’s legal and moral opinion.”

Lastly, the lawyers demanded their clients to be exempted from the hearings.

Following a short break for deliberation, the court announced the interim rulings. The court rejected the defense’s demand to have another financial report prepared, stating that such reports would not contribute to the case and that existing reports are sufficient. The court also rejected the defense’s demand to extend the investigation and bring witnesses before the court. The court ruled for the continuation of the existing judicial control measures for all defendants. The arrest warrant for Akbay was also extended due to the existing strong criminal suspicion. The demand to exempt defendants from the hearings was rejected as well.  In short, the court rejected all demands of the defense. The court ruled for the case file to be sent to the Prosecutor’s Office for the opinion as to the accusations to be prepared and adjourned the trial until 18 April.

About the case

İstanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office had prepared an indictment, which charged Burak Akbay with “founding and managing a terrorist organization” and “making propaganda for an armed terrorist organization” while charging journalists Mediha Olgun, Gökmen Ulu, and Yonca Yücekaleli with “aiding and abetting a terrorist organization without being a member.” Following the fifth hearing of the trial, the file was sent to the Prosecutor’s Office for the opinion as to the accusations to be prepared.

It was decided that two separate Sözcü daily cases shall be merged during the hearing of the trial where five defendants including Sözcü daily’s Editor-in-Chief Metin Yılmaz and writers Necati Doğru and Emin Çölaşan face terrorist propaganda charges which took place on 18 January 2019.