Turkey’s prominent investigative journalist and writer Ahmet Şık, who is being tried alongside other journalists from Cumhuriyet daily, has been ejected from the courtroom after sharing what the judge considered a political defence. The chief judge has ordered that journalist Şık not attend upcoming hearings.
“We have a government that treats those who are not with them in this country as terrorists in different ways and to different degrees,” said Şık, who faces charges of sponsoring three different “terrorist groups” with vastly contradictory aims, reported the online news outlet Ahval.
“There is a judiciary which works in the interests of this government, turning this terrorist treatment into preposterous charges,” said Şık, who is accused of working on behalf of the Islamist group Islamic State (ISIL), the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the Gülen movement.
“This is not a political case,” Chief Judge Abdurrahman Orkun Dağ reportedly said. “If you continue in this manner I will stop you from talking.”
Şık replied that the case itself was political and the judge ordered him thrown out of the courthouse. As he was being dragged out of the hearing, Şık said “I hope one day you too are tried in this way.”
Over the incident jailed defendants have refused to testify in solidarity with Ahmet Şık. While the prosecutor has asked for continuation of the imprisonment of the journalists defence lawyers have asked for their release underlining the fact that the case is empty.
However, the court has ruled one more time against the demand of defendants to release them from prison. Next hearing was set for March 9, 2018 at notorious Silivri high security prison. Over the court’s interim decision the Journalists Without Borders (RSF) has tweeted that “This is not justice, this is revenge!”
The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) media freedom representative has also urged Turkish authorities to release all imprisoned journalists in the country and drop charges against them on Monday, in a statement that came after a court ruling on the continued arrest of daily Cumhuriyet staff who have been tried on terror charges.
“I repeat my call to authorities to put an end to the trial, which held Cumhuriyet staff unjustly in prison for over a year, accusing them of severe charges that have not been proven,” OSCE media freedom representative Harlem Désir stated.
He expressed his concerns on the trial as well as its negative effects, which have resulted with “significant hardship and despair for the journalists” and “the weakened public debate and democratic process in Turkey.”
Désir noted that the case amounted to “a major threat for meaningful journalism” and “critical debates in the country.”
“Ahmet Şık and his colleagues embody what professional journalism is about. Instead of depriving them of their freedom, it is time to protect their important work,” he said. “The possibility of long prison sentences for differing views remains a terrible reality for every journalist in Turkey, including those released pending trial. This renders the situation of media freedom and free expression nothing short of critical,” Désir noted.
The representative also emphasized that the daily did not have any relation with terrorism or last year’s failed coup, citing its independence. He added that the office would continue to monitor the trial of the journalists.
The International Press Institute (IPI) had also released a written statement ahead of the Cumhuriyet hearing which includes 20 defendants, 5 of whom are in jail. Expressing that charges that the Cumhuriyet newspaper employees sought to seize control of the paper and slant its coverage to support terrorist groups were “preposterous”, IPI commented that accusations that news reporting and commentary criticizing the government or scrutinizing the government’s policies was intended to aid the Gülen movement was “absurd.”
Calling attention to the fact that some of the defendants had been in jail for 14 months, it was stated in the press release that the “conduct of investigations apparently intended to bolster charges decided in advance are disgraceful.”
The statement has continued as follows:
“Three IPI members are on trial: Our fellow IPI Executive Board Member Kadri Gürsel, Cumhuriyet Editor-in-Chief Murat Sabuncu and investigative journalist Ahmet Şık. Both Sabuncu and Şık have been held since late 2016 on the ground that their release might allow them to tamper with “evidence”, i.e., publicly available news reports or commentary posted months or even years ago.”
“The drawn-out pre-trial detention of these respected journalists and dozens more represents punishment without conviction and demonstrates a significant departure from respect for human rights and the rule of law, two fundamental pillars without which actual democracy cannot exist.
“It is clear that this case is intended to silence Cumhuriyet, one of the country’s few remaining opposition voices, and to send a message to others who might dare to publish news or criticism deemed unwelcome by the ruling political establishment.
“Such behaviour is both wholly unacceptable and completely antithetical to justice, good governance and human decency.
“We urge Turkey’s government to free our colleagues and dismiss this case, to take similar steps in the dozens of other cases in which journalists face imprisonment for their work and to end its systematic repression of the fundamental human right to share and receive information.”
Turkey is the biggest jailer of journalists in the world. The most recent figures documented by the SCF has showed that 248 journalists and media workers are in jails as of December 19, 2017, most in pre-trial detention languishing in notorious Turkish prisons without even a conviction. Of those in Turkish prisons, 221 are arrested pending trial, only 27 journalists remain convicted and serving time in Turkish prisons. An outstanding detention warrants remain for 139 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.