The second hearing of the trial in which our newspaper stands charged for its editorial policy and which was demolished by our managers’ and columnists’ defences on 24 July will be held today in the courtroom opposite Silivri Prison. At the end of the hearing, the applications for the release of our Editor-in-Chief Murat Sabuncu, our Executive Board Chair Akın Atalay, our Editorial Consultant and columnist Kadri Gürsel and our reporter Ahmet Şık, who continue to be held virtually hostage on unfounded and irrational charges, will be reconsidered. Our accounting employee Emre İper, who has been held in detention for 158 days, will also make a defence at the hearing.
It was not until 24 July that our columnists and managers were able to make their first appearance before a judge in the ninth months of their detention in the Cumhuriyet trial which national and international press professional organisations have described as a “blow to the freedom of expression and the press.” At the hearing of five days’ duration, our columnists and managers demolished the trial with the defences and accusations they made. Istanbul Serious Crime Court No 27, which is conducting the trial, released our readers’ representative Güray Öz, our columnist Hakan Kara, our cartoonist Musa Kart, our Book Supplement Editor Turhan Günay, our lawyers Bülent Utku and Mustafa Kemal Güngör and our manager Önder Çelik in the trial’s first interim ruling. The court bench, ordering the continued detention of Sabuncu, Atalay, Gürsel and Şık, was incapable of advancing beyond the prosecution’s allegations in framing the grounds for this decision.
In ordering the continuation of detention, the court asserted that, “Taking account of the capacities the defendants acted in and the duties they undertook and the period over which they served, an assessment ‘taking actions in conjunction’ had to be made.” In short, the court said that it was not releasing Akın Atalay because he is Cumhuriyet Foundation’s Management Board Deputy Chair and Executive Board Chair, and Murat Sabuncu because he had been editor-in-chief two months prior to his detention. However, six of our seven colleagues who were released are Cumhuriyet Foundation management board members. Here are some excerpts from the Cumhuriyet people’s defences.
Atalay: Editorial policy has not changed
* This prosecution has two mutually complementary aims. The first is to take over Cumhuriyet newspaper or silence it. The second is to show the end that awaits newspapers and journalists who contemplate or entertain the idea of publishing news undesired by the political rulership and articles that will not be to its liking.
* While greeting contrary assessments and criticism with respect and understanding, I wish to state most forcefully that editorial policy has not changed. Essentially, courts cannot be the place and arena for this debate. I thus protest about the diverting of this matter from its own natural channel and its being dragged into penal proceedings that have been taken as far as detention.
* However, the expert, who accuses Cumhuriyet newspaper of engaging in manipulation, veiling the truth and conducting perception management, cuts the top and bottom from the original front page and only takes the portion of the page that serves his ends into his report so as to conceal and veil Cumhuriyet’s headlines about the coupists and conduct perception management.
Sabuncu: Defending the headlines
* We settled at midnight on the headline of our newspaper dated 16 July: “The solution is democracy.” This headline is not in the expert’s report and is not in the indictment.
* How about your home being raided by the police and them coming in as far as your bedroom or me, as a 47-year-old man, being stripped and admitted on entering Silivri? For me, as a journalist, the obligation to defend headlines is more arduous than this.
* I have never been to Pennsylvania. I am not one of the journalists who speak of him giving me a pen as a present... I have penned hundreds of articles and reports... Among these, you will not find a single report or article in which I have praised Fethullah Gülen or anybody else, or flattered him with the expectation of return.
Gürsel: My predictions have come to pass
* If now my pre-trial detention has been turned into a punishment and if my criticisms and warnings about authoritarianism have been included among the grounds for this detention, this situation just shows how justified and well-placed my views were.
* You cannot find a single piece of true evidence to support the charge against me of “knowingly and willingly aiding a terrorist organisation,” because there are no acts, statements or articles of mine that constitute such evidence. I have approached the said organisation for my entire career with maximum suspicion and have been sharply critical of it. When FETO’s name was still the “Brotherhood” and this brotherhood was working together with the AKP government, my view of this structure was negative in a categorical way and this view of mine has not changed at all... Everything that I foresaw happened.
Şık: There is a need for more truth
* Whatever remains when you subtract rights, justice, conscience and merit from the law is what the judiciary in Turkey is just now. We know full well that calls for rights, justice, the law and humanity do not get through to you. I will thus make no application. However, I will suffice with saying that the robes that cover you like armour are fabricated out of human life and freedom.
* I have managed to be the “bad-guilty person” of every political rulership and the judiciary of every period on account of my professional activities. I am proud of this legacy I will leave my daughter.
* What we need in these dark days is not the further loss of truth. We need more truths above all. I will thus continue to respect the truth more than myself and refuse to join the ranks of the sycophantic deniers.
Emre İper before a judge after a full 158 days
Our accounting service employee, Emre İper, who has been detained for 158 days on charges of being a ByLock user, will also make his defence at the hearing. Yasemin Baba, who drafted the indictment into İper, has accused him of being a ByLock user based on a police report without conducting an investigation into whether ByLock was present on the phone. Rather than investigating whether ByLock was present on İper’s phone, the Anti-Cyber Crime Branch Directorate has adduced the things he said on the evening of the 15 July coup attempt and records of calls and massages on the WhatsApp program used by more than one billion people as evidence. İper stands charged at the same time for his Tweets in which he reacted to the detaining of our reporter Ahmet Şık and journalist Hüsnü Mahalli and the attack made on the Müjdat Gezen Arts Centre. Prosecutor Baba has appended to the file as evidence the appearance of İper’s signature beneath the text “I am responsible” to which many columnists, managers, reporters and employees appended their signatures in our paper’s 2 June 2015 edition in view of Erdoğan’s comments about exacting a price following the report into the intelligence agency lorries.
Witnesses will be heard
Additionally, former Cumhuriyet Foundation Management Board members İnan Kıraç, Mustafa Pamukoğlu, Nevzat Tüfekçioğlu, Alev Coşkun and Nail İnal, our paper’s former editor-in-chief İbrahim Yıldız, our former columnist Leyla Tavşanoğlu, our paper’s columnists Şükran Soner and Miyase İlknur, our paper’s News Coordinator Aykut Küçükkaya and Aydınlık newspaper’s columnists Mehmet Faraç and Rıza Zelyüt will be heard as witnesses at the hearing. The witness Alev Coşkun failed to be elected in Cumhuriyet Foundation elections and has written articles about this, and has claimed that “there was a change in editorial policy and circulation has fallen because of this.”
Let the Cumhuriyet trial mark a start
Utku Çakırözer and Barış Yarkadaş, CHP parliamentarians with their origins in journalism, stated in the comments they made before the hearing scheduled for today that the detained Cumhuriyet people should be released at once.
CHP Eskişehir MP Çakırözer, indicating that the way to strengthen democracy and the rule of law was to permit journalists to write freely, said, “Today’s Cumhuriyet trial will mark a start in which it is shown that Turkey is no longer a country in which thoughts and statements are to be imprisoned. The court bench overseeing this trial has the chance of going down in history as judges who contributed to the liberation and democratisation of our country. To this end, we expect a ruling, initially for the journalists to be placed on pretrial release, and then to acquit them.”
For his part, Istanbul MP Yarkadaş, stating that the trials brought against the Cumhuriyet and Sözcü newspapers were watering down the investigations into FETO, said, “Throwing journalists who have spent their lives combatting religious organisations into the bag with FETO robs the trials of credibility.” Yarkadaş, urging people to attend the Cumhuriyet trial to be heard today, commented, “The political rulership will lack the power to destroy the Republic and the paper named after it. The Cumhuriyet employees remain steadfast in incarceration. What gives them the strength to resist is their attachment to the Republic, democracy and justice.”
Support from Europe: They just did their jobs
Prior to the second hearing scheduled for today, messages of support and solidarity came in from various international institutions, bodies and people.
European Parliament Member for Germany, Rebecca Harms, said in her letter, “It is not journalism, but actually putting journalists behind bars, that is a crime because nothing happened apart from a journalist doing their job.” Harms, stressing that there could be no democracy without press freedom, came to the conclusion, “Democracy calls for opposition and contradiction. The Cumhuriyet trial and the fact that more than 150 journalists are in detention in Turkey shows to us that democracy and the supremacy of the law have been trampled in Turkey.”
In the letter coming from PEN Belgium with the heading, “A robust leader greets robust criticism with pleasure,” it is stated, “Just as a garden needs different flowers, not only to be beautiful, but also to be healthy and bear fruit, in the same way, however many different voices there are in a society, that society will be all the more healthy and beautiful.”
The ECPMF in its letter, defining the trial as being politically directed and one that criminalises journalism, called on the Turkish authorities to “immediately release all the defendants and withdraw these absurd charges.” The ECPMF also reiterated that it would not cease monitoring the trial and breaches of press freedom in Turkey.
Letter to the Turkish ambassador
The letter written by the Norwegian writers’ organisation PEN to Oslo ambassador Göktürk included the comment, “We are exceptionally concerned by the situation in Turkey as regards press freedom and the freedom to express views.” Noting that more than 170 journalists and writers are imprisoned in Turkey, it continues, “We hope you will take a step in the right direction by releasing the five journalist employees of Cumhuriyet.”