Prosecutor’s closing argument in Cumhuriyet proceedings illustrates absurdity of the charges

16 March 2018 — Today, PEN International and PEN Belgium/Flanders observed the seventh hearing in the criminal proceedings against the journalists and other staff of Cumhuriyet daily, who are accused of having committed terrorist crimes. The hearing was set at Silivri prison courthouse, outside Istanbul.

‘Once again, we reiterate our call to immediately and unconditionally release Akin Atalay, and to drop all charges against the Cumhuriyet journalists and staff. Today’s closing statement by the prosecutor served merely to illustrate the absurdity of the indictment and the lack of evidence to support its claims. Contrary to the prosecutor’s opinion, none of the evidence he adduced concerning alleged biased reporting or a supposed change in Cumhuriyet’s editorial line constitutes compelling evidence of aiding and abetting terrorist organisations. In these proceedings, legitimate journalism is on trial’, said Carles Torner, Executive Director of PEN International.

Having now concluded the evidentiary part of the proceedings, the hearing centred on the prosecutor’s presentation of his closing arguments. Based mostly on partial quotes from Cumhuriyet articles, in addition to inconsequential contacts between some of the paper’s staff and suspected terrorists and subjective opinions shared by some of the witnesses, the prosecutor claimed that the newspaper had become a tool for FETO, the organisation of cleric Fethullah Gülen that is accused by the government of having orchestrated the attempted coup of July 2016. The prosecutor said Cumhuriyet’s coverage aimed to mislead the public, to paint a sympathetic image of terrorist organisations, for instance by focusing on gender equality and environmental issues within the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), and thus, allegedly, to serve the needs of terrorist organisations to manipulate public opinion.

‘It is chilling to see how informative journalism and critical opinion pieces are framed as aiding and abetting terrorist organisations. When legitimate and solid journalism is considered a threat to national security, it signals the end for the freedom of the press and with it, democracy itself, which can exist only when the public can inform itself about the policies and activities of those in power’, said Isabelle Rossaert, Vice President of PEN Belgium/Flanders.

Akin Atalay, the Executive Chair of Cumhuriyet’s Board and the only accused to remain in pre-trial detention, delivered a powerful defence statement in which he said: ‘Our friends were asked to testify about Cumhuriyet having changed its editorial policy. The natural response would be: it’s none of your business that we changed the editorial policy; if you don’t like it, don’t buy it … The prosecution regards editorial independence, a principle that we live by, as a criminal activity.’

The next hearing was set for 24 - 27 of April 2018, and will take place at Silivri prison courthouse.

For more information, please contact Laurens Hueting, Europe Programme Coordinator, who observed the hearing.