Thirty-six journalists and media workers whose trial began in central Istanbul on 10 September (see below) will remain in provisional detention for at least two more months after the judge abruptly ended the first series of hearings yesterday, rejecting defence petitions and transferring future hearings to Silivri, in Istanbul province.
"Two more months in prison!" Reporters Without Borders protested. "When the next hearing is held on 12 November, 36 of the 44 defendants will have spent nearly a year in provisional detention. Despite the 5 July reform law, hardly any more grounds are being given for these decisions than before.
"Furthermore, by deciding to henceforth hold this mass political trial 100 km from Istanbul, the court is trying to prevent civil society from observing it, and this is unacceptable."
The atmosphere was tense during the first three days of the trial, in which the defendants are accused of forming a "media committee" that took its orders from an outlawed Kurdish separatist organization. After clapping and protesting noisily during the 11 September hearing, observers were barred from the court yesterday.
The presiding judge ended the first series of hearings two days earlier than planned, before the indictment could be read out in court. On the prosecution's recommendation, the court rejected all of the defence lawyers' requests – conditional release, permission to dispute the validity of the charges, and permission for the defendants to use their mother tongue, Kurdish, during the trial.
When the requests were rejected, the defendants placed black bandages over their mouths and turned their backs on the jury in protest.
"We feel like bit players in this hearing," defence lawyer Sinan Zincir told the court. "We do not accept the way this court is treating us, nor do we accept the presence of members of the security forces in the law court."
Fellow defence lawyer Ercan Kanar called on the court to end the public's exclusion and to treat the defence fairly. He also announced his intention to ask the High Judiciary Council (HSYK) to dismiss the jury.
10.09.2012 - Authorities asked to stop criminalizing journalism as trial of 36 detained pro-Kurdish journalists gets under way
The trial of 36 journalists with pro-Kurdish media who have been held since 20 December 2011 opens today in Istanbul. Reporters Without Borders, whose Turkish correspondent is attending the trial, calls for the release of all journalists detained in connection with their work and urges the judicial authorities to give them a fair trial.
"This mass trial recalls darker times that we had hoped were a thing of the past," Reporters Without Borders said. "Despite all the promises and some marginal improvements, the judicial system is persisting with the serious abuses that we have been condemning for years – criminalization of critical and activist journalism, articles treated as acts of terrorism and systematic abuses of the anti-terrorism law and pre-trial detention.
"This repressive approach to the media and civil society not only threatens freedom of information and violates Turkey's international obligations but also makes it more unlikely that a peaceful solution will be found to the Kurdish problem in the near future and undermines the credibility of Turkey's attempts to play the role of a regional model."
A total of 44 journalists with pro-Kurdish media such the newspaper Özgür Gündem and the news agency DIHA go on trial today – the 36 who have been held ever since their arrest last December and eight others who have since been released.
They are above all accused of taking orders from the KCK – the urban wing of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), an armed separatist group that is outlawed – and of forming "media committees” at the KCK's behest. Most of them are charged with membership of an illegal organization or with being one of its leaders.
In support of these charges, the 800-page indictment refers above all to published articles and to the journalists' contacts and conversations. As in the trial of journalists working for Oda TV, much is being read into their supposed reasons for covering certain events or talking to certain sources.
As far as the prosecution is concerned, contacting or interviewing pro-Kurdish activists, including members of the legal BDP party, is clearly a crime, and coverage of mistreatment of detainees, violent crackdowns on demonstrations or a deadly mistake by the Turkish air force must have been carried out on the KCK's orders in order to discredit the authorities. Part of the prosecution case file is being kept secret in violation of the rights of defence.
Although the trial's scale is unprecedented in recent years in Turkey, the trial is far from being isolated. Journalists are being tried every week, in most cases under the anti-terrorism law. The trial of 204 people, including Nobel Peace Prize nominee Ragip Zarakolu and three other journalists, under a separate section of the KCK case will resume on 1 October (LINK).
A court in the southeastern city of Diyarbakir is to rule on 13 September on a request for the conditional release of Hawar journalist Bedri Adanir, who has been held since January 2010. The trial of Murat Aydin, a DIHA journalist who has been held since October 2011 on a charge of "PKK propaganda through the media," is to begin in the eastern city of Van on 18 September.
The trial of Ahmet Sik, Nedim Sener and the Oda TV journalists will meanwhile resume in Istanbul on 14 September.
- Read Reporters Without Borders' recommendations in the report: "A book is not a bomb! Media and justice in Turkey – mistrust and repression" (June 2011)
- Read our previous statements on Turkey
- Read FIDH / OMCT fact-finding mission report "Human rights defenders, guilty until proven innocent" (June 2012)
(Picture: Bülent Kilic / AFP)