By Burcu Purtul Uçar, Hurriyet Daily News (online), March 25, 2016
ISTANBUL – Freedom of the press in Turkey has been confined to court corridors in 2016, said Sedat Ergin, the editor-in chief of daily Hürriyet, who appeared before an Istanbul court on March 25 on charges of “insulting” the president.
The Bakirköy Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office opened the case after investigating a tweet posted on Hürriyet’s Twitter account on Sept. 6, 2015.
The tweet had quoted President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s statement: “If 400 deputies had been gained, then this would not have happened,” and linked it to a recent terrorist attack on Turkish military forces in Daglica.
A case was subsequently opened against Ergin and former daily Zaman editor-in-chief Ekrem Dumanli, accusing them both of “distorting the words of [the president],” “staging a perception operation,” and “insulting the president.”
Ergin appeared at Istanbul’s Bakirköy district 54th Penal Court of First Instance for the hearing on March 25. In his defense, he stated that “the intention was not to be insulting.”
“[Erdogan] said if 400 deputies had been gained [by the government], then these events would not have taken place. Because of a terrorist attack that happened at Daglica that day, the Hürriyet website made a broad interpretation and because of the nature of rapidly processing of news story, adequate control was not possible. However, the headline was removed within a short time. Later we issued a statement saying we were sorry for this mistake,” he said.
“Over the 41 years of my professional life, I have never supported a publishing policy [of] insults. It is not an acceptable situation for me to be tried as a defendant for the first time in such a case,” Ergin added.
Meanwhile, Dumanli did not attend the trial, which was postponed after a decision was taken to bring him forcibly to court as a defendent.
Speaking to reporters after the trial, Ergin said he had been at courthouses to cover trials as a reporter but this was the first time in his life he had been in the dock as a defendent.
“Considering the threats, problems, troubles and sufferings other colleagues of mine have to experience, me being tried [for] insulting [the president] does not look very significant,” he said.
“But this is important, because in the year 2016 courthouse corridors and the hearing rooms have become the habitats of journalists in Turkey. Freedom of the press in Turkey in 2016 is now confined to court corridors,” Ergin added, saluting all colleagues under pressure and threats.
The hearing took place on the same day as the first hearing in the notorious trial of daily Cumhuriyet editor-in-chief Can Dündar and Ankara bureau chief Erdem Gül, over reports on alleged weapons transfers by Turkey’s National Intelligence Agency (MIT) to Syrian rebels.
Ergin said he was hoping for both Dündar and Gül to be acquitted soon.
Turkey’s Erdogan slams foreign envoys for attending journalists’ trial,
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has severely criticized a group of Western diplomats who attended the trial of two daily Cumhuriyet journalists on March 25.
“Yesterday there was a hearing of a known journalist,” Erdogan said in a speech on March 26 in Istanbul, referring to Cumhuriyet Editor-in-Chief Can Dündar. Dündar was on trial on spying charges on March 25 along with his Ankara bureau chief, Erdem Gül. “The situation if those who attended this hearing is very important,” said Erdogan. “The consuls general in Istanbul come to the courthouse. Who are you, what are you doing there?”
The president said there should be “diplomatic propriety.”
“This is not your country, this is Turkey,” Erdogan said, adding that diplomats can operate within the boundaries of missions and adding: “Elsewhere is subject to permission.”
Journalists and diplomats from several countries attended the hearing including Leigh Turner, the British Consul-General in Istanbul who shared images from outside court and messages of support for the journalists on Twitter.
Erdogan accused foreign envoys of making a “show of strength.”
“We all see who those always talk about democracy, human rights, freedom side with when officials elected with public support face off with coup plotters,” he added.
Dündar and Gül, who were released pending trial on Feb. 26 after a decision by the Constitutional Court, are charged with espionage and threatening state security in stories published in Cumhuriyet about National Intelligence Agency (MIT) trucks allegedly transporting weapons to rebel groups in Syria.
The court said the journalists’ 92-day imprisonment over charges of terrorism was a “violation of rights.” President Erdogan and ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) have harshly criticized the top court, which they claim “exceeded its jurisdiction.”
Erdogan said earlier that he “did not respect the Constitutional Court ruling.”
The court on March 25 accepted the president and Turkey’s intelligence agency as civil plaintiffs in the case. Within two hours of the start of the proceedings the judge ordered the trial to be held behind closed doors, granting a request by the prosecution which cited “national security” concerns.
The decision was met with cries of dismay inside the court. Several opposition lawmakers refused to leave, prompting the judge to adjourn the trial until April 1.
Court rules for Cumhuriyet journalists Dündar, Gül to be tried in secret, Hurriyet Daily News, March 26, 2016
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