Second 'Cumhuriyet' hearing: no release brings no relief


The second hearing in the 'Cumhuriyet' trial against members of Turkey's newspaper 'Cumhuriyet was held on Monday in a small courtroom at Silivri prison. Less space for observers, no phones, and no release.

Cumhuriyet trial, 2nd hearing In the second hearing of the 'Cumhuriyet' trial witnesses were heard for and against the journalist workers (picture: Tarık Tolunay/Murat Başol/bianet)

The second hearing in the 'Cumhuriyet' trial against members of the oldest opposition newspaper in Turkey was held yesterday in a small courtroom at Silivri prison outside Istanbul, Turkey. A good excuse for the guards: no electronic devices were allowed inside the room this time, which made it much more difficult to get information out to the public. However, the distance to the city did not prevent people from showing their solidarity on the spot.

The second interim court ruling came late at night, only close to midnight: disappointingly, the detention of five 'Cumhuriyet' journalists, executives and staff were extended for another two weeks. The arrests have been widely condemned as an attack on free speech. Some of the workers have been in prison for ten months.

First defence after 158 days in prison

After the first hearing week in July, seven defendants were released pending trial. Akın Atalay, Kadri Gürsel, Murat Sabuncu and Ahmet Şık, who also made their testimonies in the first hearing, had to remain behind bars. In yesterday’s hearing, defendant Emre İper, an accountant at 'Cumhuriyet', gave his first defense after 158 days in prison. Former 'Cumhuriyet' Foundation Manager İnan Kıraç, columnist Şükran Soner, correspondent Miyase İlknur, former public accountant Aydınlı Mustafa Pamukoğlu, news coordinator Aykut Küçükkaya and former editor-in-chief Ibrahim Yildiz gave testimonies as witnesses.

Emre İper has been held since April on allegations that his phone contained a secretive communications app. The usage and technical details of this app, “ByLock”, a communication software allegedly used among members of Gülen Community, had a ridiculously huge part in this hearing. The trial also heard from forensic expert witness, Koray Peksayar, who was asked by the judge about ByLock specifications.

At the beginning of the hearing defence lawyers complained that additional information was added last Friday after working hours, too late to prepare for the trial.

'Cumhuriyet' columnist Kadri Gürsel forcefully dismantled the prosecution's argument against the journalists: "The reason that I am here in front of you is not because I ‘helped a terror organisation while not being a member.’ I'm here because I was an independent, critical, questioning journalist and because I have never compromised my work as a journalist and always insisted on doing my job correctly. I stand for a fully democratic, free society and freedom of expression which Turkey does not have.“

Murat Sabuncu has spent less time in his position as editor-in-chief of 'Cumhuriyet' than he has in jail, being arrested two months after his appointment to the position. Akin Ataly, 'Cumhuriyet' Foundation Executive President, said the trial, “is an exposure of today's Turkey.” He continued, “I will not give up on justice for everyone, regardless of the intensity of the injustice and illegality I am going through."

Şık said during the trial, “The prosecution desperately tried to portray my reporting as a criminal activity. I pose questions, I am a journalist, I have the right to be suspicious. I do what a prosecutor should be doing.“ Şık claims that the Turkish government is working like a mafia for the continuation of its empire and so is arresting its critics. He accuses the prosecution of illegally distorting the truth to create evidence against him.

After a long afternoon, the prosecutor of the case demanded the extension of detention for all suspects on trial. The defendants’ lawyers objected to the prosecutors’ request and demanded the release of their clients pending trial.

Fikret İlkiz, one of the defence lawyer for 'Cumhuriyet', said before the court that if the crime of Ahmet Şık (investigative journalist at 'Cumhuriyet', known as one of the most outspoken critics of the Gülen terrorist network) is journalism then, “his whole life is a crime. When you look at the law, there are no articles to justify the accusations set against the defendants.“

A 'healthy' decision

Hasan Fehmi Demir, another defence lawyer argued, "This case is an attack against freedom of thought and the right to receive information."

In the end the judges rejected the defendants’ request, at 11.30 pm at night: “The court has decided to keep the suspects arrested until witnesses are heard,” chief judge Abdurrahman Orkun Dag said after the 13-hour session. The court wishes to hear from three witnesses who did not appear yesterday and says it will need an expert to examine the digital data. "After hearing the witnesses, we think a more healthy decision could be reached.”

The hearing will continue on 25th September – which means another two weeks unnecessary imprisonment for the Cumhuriyet defendants:

Many gathered outside the court in Silivri to protest the trial and call for justice for the victims of Erdogan’s clampdown on opposition voices. According to defence lawyer Mehmet Durakoglu, 70 percent of the people in Turkey do not trust the judiciary.

Several international observers were on the ground again to monitor the trial. Among them Mehmet Koksal from the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) and Steven M. Ellis, Director of Advocacy and Communications of ECPMF’s partner, the International Press Institute (IPI).

Ellis criticised the “unseemly display of force” and said observers were “extremely disappointed” by the ruling. “We call for them to be freed immediately, and renew that call for every journalist behind bars in Turkey for his or her work”, Ellis said after the hearing in IPI’s statement.

The trial proceedings will return to Istanbul’s Çağlayan courthouse, where the first hearing took place.

The European Federation of Journalists has condemned the court’s interim ruling and renewed its calls for all the journalists to be released. The OSCE Representative for Freedom of the Media, Harlem Désir, added his voice to calls for the journalists’ release, calling the accusations “baseless.”

The Secretary general of Reporters Without Borders, Christophe Deloire, called the trial “a mockery of justice.”

Musa Kart, cartoonist at Cumhuriyet told taz gazette,”This process is an attempt to publically slander Cumhuriyet. As a satirist, I say the joke’s getting old and the comedy should end immediately.“

Already after the first hearing, the ECPMF and other international observers condemned the trial as a solely political one, which criminalizes journalism and tries to silence independent media and critical voices in the country, in a joint statement.

The ECPMF stands in full solidarity with the Cumhuriyet journalists. “Media freedom is at risk in Turkey, journalists remain in prison due to totally absurd and arbitrary accusations without evidence. We need to keep watching and continue raising attention", ECPMF's Advocacy officer Nora Wehofsits, who was observing the first trial in Istanbul herself, said after the ruling.

For more information:

Here you find ECPMF's in-depth blog of the first hearing in Juy 2017   

Here you find a very special article about the impact of the 'Cumhuriyet' trial on the people in Turkey (by Gülsin Harman)

Bianet on the second trial (more pictures)

Please find here our tweets on the 2nd hearing