Turkish court releases journalist Ömer Çelik as kept others in prison

An İstanbul court has released journalist Ömer Çelik, the news director of now-closed Dicle news agency (DİHA) on Tuesday, as the court decided for continuation of other journalists’ imprisonments, according to a report by Elif Akgül for Bianet.

Six journalists who have been tried before İstanbul 29th High Criminal Court on Tuesday over reporting on the emails of Berat Albayrak, son-in-law of Turkish autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Minister of Energy and Natural Resources, leaked by the hacktivist group RedHack. The journalists are being charged with “being a member of an armed terrorist organization,” “propagandizing for a terrorist organization,” “blocking, damaging information system,” and “altering or destroying data.”

Many journalists and acquaintances of the defendants were not allowed in since the hearing was held in the small court room. Minister Albayrak has also requested to attend the trial.

Journalist Tunca Öğreten, former editor of Diken online news portal, journalist Ömer Çelik; journalist Mahir Kanaat from BirGün daily; DİHA correspondent Metin Yoksu;  journalist Eray Sargın, editor-in-chief of Yolculuk newspaper and ETHA Managing Editor Derya Okatan attended the hearing. Öğreten, Çelik and Kanaat have been behind bars for 304.

According to the report, defendant Derya Okatan was the first defendant to give statement of defence. Before beginning Okatan has reminded that his attorneys were detained on October 19 and said: “While preparing for the trial, my attorneys were taken into custody a few days ago. […] We could only prepare for the hearing at the last minute. That was an interference with my right to defence… If the state has actions which it doesn’t want the people to know about, it transforms these into ‘state secret.’ In Turkey, state secrets consist of crimes committed against the people. I am a journalist, who supports the idea that the people learn about these secrets.”

Eray Sargın, making his defence following Okatan has also said that talking about the content which was considered a crime by the prosecutor’s office, identified as news that had already been covered by other media outlets in the rest of the world.

Mahir Kanaat has underlined his testimony that while being detained, they had been told that their depositions would be taken when collecting evidence was completed and noted that there was an sealing order on the file and they learned about the accusations against them from pro-government Sabah daily. “I have been kept in prison for 10 months though being not quilty and for no reason”, Kanaat added.

Journalist Öğreten reminded that he was being charged for reporting on the emails of Minister Albayrak leaked by the hacktivist group RedHack and said that “Not the ones who steal the wallet, but the ones who report about it, are being tried.”

Bianet reported that the chief judge of the trial held before İstanbul 29th High Criminal Court is Mustafa Çakar who was also the judge who ruled that the defendants in Cumhuriyet trial, journalist Meşale Tolu, Die Welt reporter Deniz Yücel and Özgür Gündem daily’s Advisory Board member Aslı Erdoğan be arrested in previous trials of the journalists.

Turkey is the biggest jailer of journalists in the world. The most recent figures documented by the Stockholm Centre for Freedom (SCF) has showed that 256 journalists and media workers are now in jails as of October 23, 2017, most in pre-trial detention languishing in notorious Turkish prisons without even a conviction. Of those in Turkish prisons, 232 are arrested pending trial, only 24 journalists remain convicted and serving time in Turkish prisons. An outstanding detention warrants remain for 133 journalists who live 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 more than 180 media outlets after the controversial coup attempt.

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