26 November 2019:
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.
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.
The case that 23 people are being tried for "being a member of an armed terrorist organization" and "propagandizing for a terrorist organization" continued at the İstanbul 27th Heavy Penal Court yesterday (February 14).
Three of the 23 people, including journalist İsminaz Temel, were in pretrial detention.
Announcing its interim decision, the court ruled that Temel shall be released and an international travel ban shall be imposed on her. The Etkin News Agency (ETHA) reporter has been arrested for 16 months.
The court ruled that Erhan Kakça's and Coşun Yiğit's arrests shall continue. The other defendants' international travel bans will also continue.
The next hearing will be held on April 24.
Anonymous witness changed statement
The court board for the case was changed before the hearing. All the arrested defendants and some of the other defendants were present at the court hall.
Statements from the anonymous witnesses have been read in the hearing. Anonymous witness F.K. refuted his/her own statement, saying that the defendants do politics in a legal political party and he/she does not have a finding that relates the defendants to a terrorist organization.
Prosecutor's Office requested continuation of arrest
After the witnesses' statements, the Prosecutor's Office requested that the arrests of the defendants shall continue on the grounds of "the current state regarding the evidence and the suspicion of fleeing."
Temel: My freedom is being restricted
Raising her defense after the prosecutor's opinion, İsminaz Temel said she has been arrested for one and a half year and demanded her release:
"We have been on trial since one and a half year. In the prosecutor's opinion, the reason for the continuation of the arrest is spoliation of evidence and suspicion of fleeing. The last witness testimony was put in the file three years ago. For this whole time, there has not been new evidence or testimony.
"I am working at the ETHA. I have been doing journalism for years. The protests, demonstrations or photos are not illegal. Moreover, I was there as a journalist chasing news.
"I think my freedom is restricted and I demand my release."
Attorney Kılıç: ETHA is a legal agency
Temel's attorney Özcan Kılıç said in his statement, "ETHA, which my client works for, is a legal agency and continues publishing. It is unacceptable that my client is charged because of working for an agency that has not been convicted."
Kılıç requested his client's trial. Attorneys of other defendants also requested their clients' release.
The court ruled for Temel's release and other defendants' arrest to continue.
A court on October 26 ordered Temel and her colleague Havva Cuştan to be jailed pending trial, the ETHA agency reported. The court charged Temel with "being a member of a [terrorist] organization" and "making propaganda for a [terrorist] organization," ETHA reported.
Police threatened to rape and kill 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 and books that were confiscated from the house that they shared, ETHA reported. Authorities accused ETHA of being affiliated with the banned Marxist Leninist Communist Party (MLKP), the lawyers said in the ETHA report.
In a letter that Temel sent to the opposition daily Cumhuriyet in November 2017, she said that she was arrested for her journalistic work and that evidence cited against her including her reporting on protests and funerals and memorial services for MLKP militants who fought in Syria against the extremist group Islamic State. Temel said that in police photos showing her at the events, she can be seen with either her camera or a notebook.
Temel was detained in Bakırköy Women's Prison in Istanbul.
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