Trial in Turkey - "This is not a book by Kafka, this is real”

This is the translation of the article “Prozess in der Türkei - ‘Es ist kein Kafka-Buch, sondern Realität’” published in the German news service “n-tv”. An interview with ECPMF's Advocacy Officer Nora Wehofsits on the "Cumhuriyet" trial.


Ahmet Sik - Cumhuriyet trial Ahmet Sik in the "Cumhuriyet" trial (by Murat Başol)

In Turkey 17 employees of the newspaper “Cumhuriyet” are standing trial being accused of supporting several terror organisations. “This trial is a farce,” says the German trial observer Nora Wehofsits (of ECPMF). “In fact freedom of expression is standing trial”. Weren’t you afraid of going to Istanbul to monitor the trial?

Of course one worries if just two weeks before a German coach of Amnesty International was arrested, as well as other Germans. It’s difficult to assess all risks considering the arbitrariness in Turkey these days. We discussed the issue of what if we are considered terrorist supporters because we are supporting journalists under threat. 

Were you threatened by the Turkish side yourself?

No. It’s critical media workers in Turkey who are threatened, also those who still live in freedom, as is media freedom itself, being a cornerstone of democracy.

Why did the European Centre for Press and Media freedom decide to monitor the trial on-site?

This is a test case for free media in Turkey. We stand up for the injustice happening to the defendants. It is of utter importance to show that we are here, and that we are observing.

How difficult was it to get an accreditation?

An accreditation wasn’t necessary because I wasn’t there as a journalist but in my role as an international observer. Nevertheless also journalists were allowed inside the court room. And it was packed. Obviously in the beginning there wasn’t even enough room for the defendants themselves, who were encircled by military police.

What is your overall conclusion of the proceedings opening?

This is about much more than the clarification of the indictments which are bizarre and inconsistent. This trial is a farce. The flimsy evidence plainly criminalises journalistic work. In fact quality journalism and freedom of expression are standing trial - personified by critical voices of the intellectual elite of the country.

Did it look like there is rule of law?

On the outside everything seemed like it should be: judges, prosecutor, defence, indictments, observers. For the first time in months of pretrial detention the defendants were able to publicly defend themselves. Their lawyers dismantled the absurd indictments. Soon it was absolutely clear, that the independence of the judges must be questioned. This is a political trial - with real consequences for the defendants and their families as well as for the trust in Turkey’s respect for human rights.

What impressed you most, emotionally?

I was very moved by how the defendants held themselves up and how humorous they presented themselves with their loved ones. They won’t let themselves be intimidated. During recess good wishes and blown kisses were exchanged. When Ahmet Şık was giving his testimony it gave me goose bumps. Even though I don’t speak a word of Turkish I realised the impact and intelligence of his sentences. The English translation confirmed my emotions.

When will you go back?

The trial continues in September. There are almost 160 trials against journalists to follow. We will keep on observing what is going on. And hopefully we can go back soon.

Weren’t you relieved when you were flying back to Germany?

After this intense week I had very mixed feelings about going back to my safe nest while some of the defendants had to go back to jail. That was surreal. The defendants face up to 43 years in prison. This is not a book by Kafka, that I can put to the side, this is real. A harsh reality just a few hundred kilometres away. 


Please find here a personal review of the trial by Nora Wehofsits.

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