Hearing in Cumhuriyet case: an unfair trial continues

645x344-police-launches-investigation-on-cumhuriyet-daily-over-terror-support-charges-147790243905515 September 2017 - Last Monday’s hearing in the Cumhuriyet trial casts further worrying shadows over the independence of the judiciary in Turkey, undermining the rule of law and the right to a fair trial, PEN International, PEN Belgium, Norsk PEN, Swiss-Italian and Retho-romansh PEN and PEN Suisse Romande – who observed the hearing – said today.

‘Today’s hearing shows that journalists can no longer receive an independent, impartial or effective trial in the Turkish courts’ said Sarah Clarke, who observed the trial for PEN International. Jørgen Lorentzen of Norsk PEN and Maria Emilia Arioli of Swiss-Italian and Retho-romansh PEN and PEN Suisse Romande urged the European Court of Human Rights to take urgent measures with a view to securing justice for the Cumhuriyet journalists on trial, adding that ‘They have now been held for over 300 days on charges widely considered absurd and spurious, merely for doing their jobs and exercising their right to freedom of expression.’

The hearing, which lasted more than 12 hours, took place in Silivri prison instead of central Istanbul, in an attempt to block protests and the observation of the trial. At the prison courthouse no electronic equipment was permitted, impeding the use of social media, which had featured heavily at the first hearing in June. Moreover, a marked presence of armed law enforcement contributed to an atmosphere of intimidation. Nevertheless, a large number of observers from international and domestic press freedom organisations were present, including PEN International, PEN Vlaanderen, Norsk PEN, Swiss-Italian and Retho-romansh PEN and PEN Suisse Romande.

Monday’s hearing centred on a number of witness testimonies and an expert witness. A number of the former stated that their statements had been taken out of context in the indictment against the newspaper staff. Moreover, no concrete evidence was produced to support the prosecutors’ allegations regarding the use of an encryption application.

At one point, counsel for Ahmet Şik – who has been jailed repeatedly on trumped up charges related to his exposure of corruption and human rights violations in Turkey – proffered that his client’s career to date resembled Sisyphus’s, to which the Chief Justice responded: ‘Thank you for the history lesson, but do not forget what happened to Icarus.’ Şik has won a landmark case against Turkey at the European Court of Human Rights concerning one of his previous bouts of arbitrary detention. ‘Such comments from the bench demonstrate the partiality of the judiciary’, said Sarah Clarke of PEN International.

Despite defence counsel’s insistence on the spurious nature of the charges and the flimsiness or absence of any convincing evidence, the judges in their interim verdict delivered at 11.30pm refused to release the remaining detainees, with one dissenting opinion considering journalist Kadri Gursel.

‘In addition to infringing upon the right to freedom of expression and other human rights including the right to fair trial and protection against arbitrary detention, these journalists’ and others’ continued detention has the regrettable collateral effect of dividing and silencing the members of Turkish communities abroad who still have family in the country’, said PEN Belgium.

The PEN International community will continue to monitor the trial and events in Turkey closely.

For further details contact Laurens Hueting at PEN International, Koops Mill, 162-164 Abbey Street, London, SE1 2AN, UK Tel: +44 (0) 20 7405 0338 Fax +44 (0) 20 7405 0339 e-mail: laurens.hueting@pen-international.org