Jailed veteran Turkish journalist Şirin Kabakçı: My only crime is doing journalism

Jailed Turkish journalist Şirin Kabakçı, who used to be Konya bureau chief of the Zaman newspaper, Turkey’s most highly circulated newspaper before the Turkish government’s unlawful takeover and closure of it in 2016, stated on Tuesday that “I have been in jail for 14 months and can only now express myself for the first time. My only crime is doing journalism.”

Veteran journalist Kabakçı presented his defence on Tuesday during the first hearing of his trial at the İstanbul 35th High Criminal Court, the proceedings of which were opened by the presiding judge, who read a list of the accusations against Kabakçı.

According to tweets posted by @P24DavaTakip, which has been following all the trials of journalists in Turkey, the prosecutor presented the insurance registration of journalist Kabakçı filed by the Zaman daily, the records of his phone calls (HTS), his participation in protests against the detention of Zaman daily former editor-in-chief Ekrem Dumanlı and the arrest of Samanyolu Broadcasting Group General Director Hidayet Karaca as evidence against the journalist.

Kabakçı stated that he is just a journalist and added: “I started journalism as a reporter in 1990. I reject all the accusations against me. I am entitled to receive a permanent press card after having had press card for 18 years. I used to made my living through journalism.”

“According to our laws, a journalist’s duty is to report the news on behalf of the public. So journalists perform a public service. The Turkish Republic, which is a democratic state of law, has guaranteed press freedom through articles in its constitution and by signing relevant international conventions,” Kabakçı said. “Protesting is not a crime, either, according to our constitution. Also, the phone calls I made were interviews for professional purposes. Moreover, the international trips I took were for the purpose of following the news.”

Some excerpts from the defence statement of veteran journalist Şirin Kabakçı are as follows:

“I joined the international trips organised by the deputies of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), former Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu and Sümeyye Erdoğan (who is the daughter of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan). I participated in these travels with the assignment of the administration my newspaper and I did not do anything other than journalism during these international trips.

“I have been in jail for 14 months and I could express myself for the first time. My only crime is doing journalism… I have been accused of ‘being a member of an armed terrorist organization’ just because of my legal and legitimate works and actions. That is contrary to the Turkish Constitution. The witnesses had said that Kabakçı was the provincial bureau chief of Zaman daily. Of course, I do not deny that.

“I have had no revenue other than my salary along my life. I have never seen and I have never been given money that’s source is not open. I had an account in Bank Asya for my salary (deposited by Zaman daily). But I did not deposit and I did not keep any money in the bank for a long time. I did not deposit money into my account in Bank Asya and I did not get instructions from anybody to do that.

“I did not participate in any protest organised by any organisation. I only participated in the protests organised by my company which I used to work for.

“People from all walks of life could call me and talk. The HTS records in the indictment have been prepared ill-intentionally. Also, I did not know that my phone calls before 2013 would be put as a crime before me in 2017.

“I did not attempt to escape. If I had such an intention, I would not make an official declaration about my address change when I moved my house. As you can see from the file, my passport was not canceled until January 2018, either. If I had an intention to escape, I could escape. I was detained at my official address.”

Following a question directed by the chief judge of the court panel about his previous testimonies, the veteran journalist Kabakçı stated that he does not admit his previous statements that he gave before the local court, which ruled his arrest, by saying that his  statement was given under psychological pressure.

As the prosecutor demanded the continuation of the pre-trial detention of journalist Kabakçı, his lawyer demanded Kabakçı’s release from prison and his acquittal. His lawyer also stated that nobody could be accused of committing a crime when an action was not a crime at the time of the action happens according to the law. He also stated that no crime can be created by the decisions of the National Security Council or the instructions of the political power.

However, the court ruled for the continuation of journalist Şirin Kabakçı’s pre-trial detention and decided next hearing to be held on August 16.

Turkey is ranked 157th among 180 countries in the 2018 World Press Freedom Index released by Reporters Without Borders (RSF). If Turkey falls two more places, it will make it to the list of countries on the blacklist, which have the poorest record in press freedom.

Turkey is the biggest jailer of journalists in the world. The most recent figures documented by SCF show that 242 journalists and media workers were in jail as of June 3, 2018, most in pretrial detention. Of those in prison 182 were under arrest pending trial while only 60 journalists have been convicted and are serving their time. Detention warrants are outstanding for 142 journalists who are living in exile or remain at large in Turkey.

Detaining tens of thousands of people over alleged links to the Gülen movement, the government also closed down some 200 media outlets, including Kurdish news agencies and newspapers, after a coup attempt in Turkey on July 15, 2016.

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