The seventh hearing in the trial of 23 defendants, including Etkin News Agency (ETHA) editor İsminaz Temel and reporter Havva Cuştan, on the charge of “membership in a terrorist organization” and “disseminating propaganda for a terrorist organization” was held on 26 November 2019 at the 27th High Criminal Court of Istanbul.
Eight of the defendants in the case were in attendance with their lawyers in the courtroom. The secret witness testified against the accused during the hearing. Issuing its interim ruling, the court decided not to hear the remaining two witnesses. The court also ruled for the continuation of the judicial control measures imposed on the defendants and adjourned the trial until 13 March 2020.
A report about the hearing, monitored by P24, can be accessed here.
3 September 2019:
ETHA journalists İsminaz Temel and Havva Cuştan’s trial resumes
A trial where 23 people — including Etkin News Agency (ETHA) editor İsminaz Temel and reporter Havva Cuştan — are accused of “membership in a terrorist organization” and “disseminating propaganda for a terrorist organization” resumed on 3 September 2019 at the 27th High Criminal Court of Istanbul.
P24 monitored the hearing, which was the sixth hearing in the trial.
Journalist İsminaz Temel was among the 12 defendants present in court during the hearing.
Temel’s lawyer Ömer Çakırgöz presented to the court an expert opinion penned by Article 19 concerning the charges against his client.
Noting that the expert opinion found a violation of Temel’s rights to a free trial and freedom of expression, Çakırgöz asked for his client’s acquittal. Other defense lawyers requested the court to lift the travel ban imposed on their clients. The court rejected the request for the lifting of the travel bans and adjourned the trial until 26 November 2019.
The hearing began at 12:40, an hour and 10 minutes later than scheduled. Twelve defendants, including Temel, were in attendance.
In addition to P24, the trial was monitored by representatives from the Turkish Journalists’ Union (TGS), Press in Arrest, Media and Law Studies Association and reporters from the Mezopotamya News Agency. A courthouse employee was also in the courtroom throughout the hearing.
It was observed that the judges of the Istanbul 27th High Criminal Court had changed in between hearings. Due to the change in the panel, the previous court minutes had to be read. Presiding judge Tamer Keskin informed those in attendance that the response to an inquiry sent to the Istanbul Police Department’s cyber crimes unit and the letters concerning the order to forcibly bring the witnesses to the next hearing and having the secret witnesses available to be heard, had not arrived yet.
The presiding judge then read out witness Sercan Kaya’s testimony, in which he claimed that he knew lawyers Özlem Gümüştaş, Sezin Uçar and Gülhan Kaya, and journalist Havva Cuştan, who are all defendants in the case. The witness also claimed that all four were linked to the Socialist Party of the Oppressed (ESP).
Later, the presiding judge asked the prosecutor for his interim opinion.
The prosecutor requested the continuation of the judicial control measures imposed on the defendants. Due to the large size of the courtroom and the insufficient sound system, the prosecutor’s opinion could not be heard clearly by those in attendance.
Lawyer Özlem Gümüştaş, who is a defendant in the case, addressed the court and said, “Witness Sercan Kaya was not heard during a public courtroom session. We request the court to hear witness Sercan Kaya in a manner that will allow us to face him.”
Gümüştaş’s lawyer İbrahim Ergün requested for witness Sercan Kaya to be forcibly brought to the next hearing. Interrupting Ergün, the presiding judge asked, “If you were a witness, would you come from Elazığ (a city in Eastern Anatolia)?” Lawyer Ergün responded: “The witness testimony cannot be accepted on the grounds that it wasn’t given according to procedure. Also, there is nothing against the defendants in his testimony. The witness says that he knows my clients Özlem Gümüştaş, Gülhan Kaya and Sezin Uçar are lawyers. It’s true. He also specifies the ESP as an ‘organization.’ The ESP he is talking about is a legitimate institution called the Socialist Party of the Oppressed.”
Temel’s lawyer Çakırgöz then presented the expert opinion penned by Article 19 to the court. Summarizing the expert opinion, Çakırgöz said: “This opinion states that the secret witnesses have influenced the execution of a fair prosecution. The report also considers the prosecution of the defendant for her journalistic activities to be a violation of her right to freedom of expression. The exclusion of the completed evaluation on the confiscated digital equipment is also assessed as a violation of the right to a fair trial.”
Noting that the opinion made reference to case law by the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) the lawyer said: “The expert opinion points out that the Prosecutor’s Office could not present any evidence proving that my client did not attend the demonstrations and funerals as a journalist.” Çakırgöz requested the court to acquit Temel and lift the international travel ban imposed on the journalist.
At the end of the hearing, the court did not deliberate privately on its interim decision, but chose to deliver it in the presence of the prosecutor, the defendants, the lawyers and the audience.
In its interim decision, the court ruled for the witnesses to be forcibly brought to the next hearing; for other secret witnesses to be heard; for defendant Mahksut Toprak to be forcibly brought to court; and for defendant İdil Özbek to deliver her defense statement via the video-conferencing system SEGBİS. The court rejected the request for witness Sercan Kaya to be heard as a witness once again on the grounds that it would not have an effect on the merits of the case and ruled to keep the travel ban imposed on all defendants in place.
The court set 26 November 2019 as the date for the next hearing.
17 July 2018:
Journalist Cuştan released, Temel to remain in prison
ETHA reporter Havva Cuştan released after 9 months in pre-trial detention, İsminaz Temel ordered to remain in jail
An Istanbul court on 17 July ruled to release journalist Havva Cuştan after nine months in pre-trial detention, while ordering to keep her colleague İsminaz Temel in jail. Both reporters for Etkin News Agency (ETHA) stood before court in a case in which 23 defendants are charged with “membership in a terrorist organization” and “conducting propaganda for a terrorist organization.”
Thirteen of the defendants, including Cuştan and Temel, were under pre-trial detention ahead of the first hearing held over two days on 16 and 17 July. The 27th High Criminal Court of Istanbul, which oversees the case, ordered the release of five defendants including Cuştan under judicial control measures. Eight other defendants, including Temel and two lawyers, Özlem Gümüştaş and Sezin Uçar, were ordered to remain in prison until the next hearing of the trial, scheduled for 29 November 2018.
The first session of the hearing was marked by the presence of plainclothes police officers among the audience. Lawyers told the court that the police officers had been recognized by the defendants as the same officers who arrested and interrogated them at the police department. Stressing that their attendance at the hearing would have an adverse effect on the defense statements of the defendants and prevent them from expressing themselves freely, lawyers requested that the police officers. The judges refused the request on grounds that the hearing was open to public. Although the said police officers were seen leaving the courtroom following the lawyers’ request, they nonetheless remained in the halls outside the courtroom during the entire hearing.
Cuştan: Police who tortured me was in courtroom
ETHA reporter Cuştan told the court during her defense statements that one of the police officers who was present among the public and subsequently left the courtroom had tortured her during the police raid in her house. She had been subject to both physical and verbal violence by the police as she was being arrested, Cuştan told the court. “When they raided my home [police] beat me while they were taking me to my room. I was handcuffed from the back and subject to torture for two hours,” Cuştan said. “[My] press card [was] burnt. Racist writings were painted on the walls, they forced us to listen to racist music. We were threatened with abuse and rape,” she added.
Speaking on the accusations levelled against her reporting, Cuştan noted that commemorations she attended as a journalist, including for victims of successive terror attacks in Suruç and Ankara in 2015, had been described as a crime. “While Turkey says it is fighting against ISIS, commemorating those who were precisely killed by ISIS is considered as a criminal activity. What a self-contradiction,” Cuştan said. She also added that she has reported on commemorations on many more occasions than the indictment suggested, including those held in the aftermath of the mining disaster in Soma or murders of women.
“I am confronted to the same mentality that considered a phone call to a [restaurant] as evidence during the Cumhuriyet trial, only in my case it’s about being in some cemetery,” said Cuştan, referring to the high-profile case against the newspaper Cumhuriyet, which was also overseen by the same court. “If I wasn’t chosen to sit here [as a defendant], rest assured that I would be following the trial among the audience,” said Cuştan, who also reported on trials for ETHA. “I love my job. I demand my release,” she said.
Fellow ETHA reporter Temel said they were facing trial because of the socialist editorial line of their agency and their reporting. “Media is the voice, the pulse and lifeblood of society. The government has tried to take everyone hostage by silencing them. Journalists were targeted the most,” Temel said.
Referring to the accusations in the indictment, Temel deplored that ETHA has been considered as the “publishing organ of a terrorist organization” and its articles treated as evidence. “ETHA is an agency looking to embrace all the segments of society,” she said.
Temel acknowledged having attended all the events and demonstrations cited in the indictment, but stressed that she had been present as a journalist. “The indictment itself is almost a proof of that. In all the pictures in the case file I either have a camera on my neck or a notebook in my hands,” said Temel, while also stressing that attending press statements or marches shouldn’t be considered as a crime regardless. “But I was there as a reporter” she insisted, demanding her release.
After hearing defendants’ statements and their lawyers over two days, the court ruled to order the release of five defendants out of the 13 who had already spent nine months in pre-trial detention, most of them members of the left-wing Socialist Party of the Oppressed (ESP). The five defendants who were released under judicial control terms are: Journalist Havva Cuştan, Meral Tatar, Özgen Sadet, İsmail Geçer and Onur Binbir.
Police detained Havva Cuştan, a reporter for the socialist Etkin News Agency (ETHA), along with one of her colleagues and several socialist lawyers, politicians, and activists, in a series of raids in Istanbul on October 19, 2017, according to the independent news site Bianet.
A court on October 26 ordered Cuştan and her colleague İsminaz Temel to be jailed pending trial, the ETHA agency reported. The court charged Cuştan with "making propaganda for a [terrorist] organization," ETHA reported. Authorities accused ETHA of being affiliated with the banned Marxist Leninist Communist Party (MLKP), the lawyers said in the ETHA report.
Police threatened to kill or rape the journalists and they burned their press credentials, according to an ETHA report that cited the journalists’ lawyers. CPJ was unable to verify the report.
As of December 4, 2017, the Turkish Embassy in Washington D.C. did not respond to CPJ’s emailed request for comment on claims that jailed journalists are mistreated.
The lawyers said that the journalists were questioned about stories they produced including about protests and funerals and memorial services for MLKP militants who fought in Syria against the extremist group Islamic State, and books that were confiscated from the house that they shared, ETHA reported.
Cuştan is at Bakırköy Women's Prison in Istanbul.*
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