Fourteen defendants in pretrial detention and certain non-detained defendants attended the first hearing heard at Istanbul Serious Crime Court No 32. Alongside the large number of defendants’ lawyers, also in attendance at the hearing were relatives of the defendant students, CHP MPs Sezgin Tanrıkulu, Ali Şeker and Selina Doğan and members of the press.
Argument between the CHP’s Şeker and the Presiding Judge
At the outset of the hearing, the presiding judge said the courtroom was very crowded and asked those who were standing to leave the courtroom so that an orderly hearing could be held. With this provoking uproar among the CHP’s Ali Şeker and certain spectators, when the presiding judge asked, “Did you come to inflame the atmosphere?” Ali Şeker said, “No I came to observe whether a fair trial is conducted.”
Once the standing spectators had been removed from the courtroom following a brief altercation, the court proceeded to hear the defendants’ defences.
“I saw the banner later on social media.”
Defendant Agah Suat Atay, submitting his defence, indicated that he saw a melee while proceeding to a class and he entered the melee to find out what was going on. Atay, saying that he did not make PKK-KCK propaganda, said, “Security was trying to remove the table. I looked to see what was going on. I watched the melee for a while and went to my class. I saw the banner later on social media.”
Defendant, Berke Aydoğan, indicating that he was a fourth-year student in the Philosophy Department, in turn stated, “I do not accept the charge of making terrorist organisation propaganda. Coming out of the library, I saw there was a crowd outside. It appeared there was a problem with a table that had been set up without permission. The dean responsible for student affairs came. She made efforts to calm the situation down. Finally, the crowd dispersed. I did not witness any banners or placards in any form. I may have shouted slogans but these were not slogans that could ever be considered propaganda for a terrorist organisation.”
“None of the slogans contained propaganda”
One of the defendants to submit their defence, master’s degree student Zülküf İbrahim Erkol, stated, “I may have joined in a few slogans but none of the slogans contained propaganda. But, I am of the opinion that this did not have the aim of legitimising the acts of any terrorist organisation and it was not propaganda.”
With the large courtroom being full, physical limitations left many people standing at the hearing held in Serious Crime Court No 32’s own courtroom.
“THE VICE DEAN WAS TRYING TO REMOVE IT”
According to a report by Cansu Pişkin of Evrensel, the hearing was recorded on the audiovisual communications system due to the extent of the case and the number of the defendants. The hearing started with the defence of defendant in pretrial detention, Agah Suat Atay. Stating that he did not accept the charges, Atay spoke about events on the date of the incident. He said that on the date of the incident he saw the crowd as he was passing the area where the tension was experienced while proceeding to a class. Atay, explaining that he went up to the crowd to find out what was happening and watched, said, “The student dean and plain-clothes police were there. On standing and listening for a while, I understood that the table that had been set up there had been put up without permission and the vice dean was trying to remove it. When I left, slogans were not being shouted. There were no banners.” Atay expressed his consent to the sentence being deferred.
PRESIDING JUDGE: HOW DID YOU KNOW THAT IT WAS NOT PERMITTED?
Fourth-year student at Bosphorus Philosophy department, Berke Aydoğan, who is in pretrial detention in the case, also stated that he did not accept the charges. Aydoğan, explaining that on the date of the incident while he was studying in the library he went outside and noticed the crowd, said, “On standing and watching, I realised that the tension was over a table that had been set up without permission. As I was watching the tension, student affairs dean Zeynep Uysal came and tried both to remove the non-permitted table and end the tension. Then the tension ended and I went back to the library.”
Aydoğan applied for the sentence to be deferred. Levent Pişkin, Attorney-at-Law, asked who the non-permitted table belonged to. Aydoğan said he did not know them. Presiding judge Şimşek asked, “How did you know that the table was not permitted?” Aydoğan for his part indicated that he realised this when the dean came.
“WE WERE BEATEN UP AS WE WERE ARRESTED”
Detained student Şükran Yaren Tuncer described how on the day of the incident, as she was passing to the canteen while at the campus to study, she saw a group marching under the slogan, “No to war. Peace right now” and marched along with them. Tuncer said, “The table was approached. After the dean said the table was not permitted, security and two plain-clothes police officers removed the table. ‘Shoulder to shoulder against fascism’ and ‘No to war. Peace right now’ are universal slogans voiced in other languages everywhere in the world.” Tuncer said there were deficiencies in her statements to the police because she had been beaten up while being arrested. Tuncer also consented to the sentence being deferred.
“MY STATEMENT AT THE POLICE WAS TAKEN UNDER DURESS”
Detained student Yusuf Noyan Öztürk also rejected the charges. Öztürk, describing how his statement at the police was taken under duress, said, “I spent fourteen days under arrest and was told that my life and that of my family would be ruined and, unlike the other friends, I was held on my own. I was threatened by the security forces there. It was a tough period for me. In the police statement, my former lawyer permitted statements I did not make to pass into the record. For this reason, my statement here applies.”
Öztürk, describing how on the date of the incident he was studying in the cafe on the campus, said, “There was a distance of seven or eight steps between me and the placards. I felt no qualms about being there. The slogans I shouted neither had propaganda content nor did I shout them for propaganda purposes. I have lost one term and this is a critical period for me. I want to compensate for what I have missed in the summer school” and asked that he be acquitted.
“WE WERE TARGETED AND DETAINED”
Detained Chemistry student Esen Deniz Üstündağ also rejected the charges. Üstündağ, stating that she saw the crowd while going from the library to the laboratory on the date of the incident and stopped to watch, said, “Events like this are always happening, but we were in fact targeted and detained in this event. My studies will be extended by two years. My right to an education has been usurped. I have no ties to any organisation” and asked that she be released and acquitted.
Sevde Öztürk said, “On the date of the event I was in the library to study. An argument was raging in which two groups with opposing views were confronting one another but without physical contact. The group that set up the table were trying to stoke things up. Slogans come under political criticism. It is hard to understand how the slogans that were chanted had an organic tie with a terrorist organisation. I reject being labelled as a terrorist for slogans speaking of peace. I am opposed to war everywhere in the world. They were chanted with political content, not for propaganda purposes.”
“I HAVE BEEN LABELLED A TERRORIST”
Detained Kübra Sağır said, “The dean and plain-clothes police called on the table to be removed. I have no tie with any organisation. I have been held in detention for three months thanks to footage that was taken by the group that set up the table and was distributed to the press. I have been publicly labelled a terrorist. I ask to be released and acquitted.”
Detained İsmail Gürler said, “I did not chant slogans. There was no organisational propaganda with violent content in the slogans. I did not engage in action with violent content. It will also be seen in the footage that I was watching them from a distance with my hands in my pockets. I did not give up going to school after the incident. But, just as I was leaving school one day, I was brusquely arrested. They took me around in the team car for two and a half hours and beat me. On entering the custody suite, they stripped me together with my friend Muhammet Bilgin naked and beat us up in that state.”
Detained Turkish Language and Literature preparatory class student Enes Karakaş said, “Those who set up the table were met with slogans amounting to political criticism. The opposing side made alienating and manipulative statements saying that we had issues with the Turkish flag and the war fallen. And, in response to this, I made populist political criticism making a comparison to Farm Bank.”
“I DID NOT FLEE AND HIDE”
Detained Sociology student Mete Ulutaş, stating that he had three remaining courses before graduating, said, “I have kept up my vegan life for three years so that no other living being suffers. So, I have no tie with any terrorist organisation. I did not flee and hide. I continued to attend my school. My application for a master’s degree is in limbo. I ask to be released so that my right to education is obstructed no further.”
One of the students on pretrial release, İbrahim Musab Curabaz said in his defence, “Making propaganda for violence is an unacceptable charge for me who lived through the explosion that took place in 2016 in Kızılay Square.” The other students on pretrial release also stated that they were innocent and asked to be acquitted.
LAWYERS APPLIED FOR RELEASE
Following the students, the court moved to the lawyers’ defences. In the defences by the students’ lawyers, Aynur Tuncer relied on the unlawful evidence in the file, Metin Sezgin spoke of the need for the action to be considered an exercise of freedom of expression, while Levent Pişkin argued that the elements of the imputed offence had not been constituted. Yıldız İmrek, Attorney-at-Law, also submitted examples from European Court of Human Rights and Constitutional Court rulings and made statements on rights and freedoms. The lawyers applied for immediate acquittal at the initial stage and, should the court be minded otherwise, for release.
The court bench announced its ruling and ordered the release of the fourteen detained students.
The students were released in their entirety.