Protests and controversy shadow KCK press case
The KCK trial against journalists started this week amid concerns over the judicial process and freedom of the media.
By Ozgur Ogret for SES Türkiye in Istanbul -- 14/09/12
The mass trial of 44 journalists, newspaper staff and distributors in the scope of the Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK) case opened in Istanbul this week amid concerns of journalists groups and human rights advocates that the trials are politically motivated to silence opposition press.
Protesters in support of the journalists gathered outside the Caglayan Courthouse in Istanbul September 10th. [Ozgur Ogret/SES Türkiye]
The suspects, 36 of whom have been under arrest for more than a year, are accused of working for the "press and distribution network" of the outlawed KCK, the alleged Kurdish umbrella organisation that includes the PKK.
An indictment more than 800 pages accuses all the major Kurdish media organs and news agencies of being under the direct orders of KCK. Journalists, editors, accountants and distributers are accused of "being a member of a [terrorist] organisation," among other things.
"This trial is meaningful in the quality of being the biggest journalists' trial in the history of the Republic of Turkey," Necati Abay, spokesperson for the Solidarity with the Arrested Journalists Platform, said. "This trial is a typical example of mass injustice for journalists."
Head Judge Ali Alcik and defence lawyers repeatedly clashed over court proceedings in what the defense termed a politically motivated case based on circumstantial evidence.
On Monday, Alcik allowed a limited audience in the courtroom as public protests outside the courtroom disturbed the proceedings. Monday's hearing was postponed from the morning to the afternoon after protests outside the courtroom were met by the chants of "the free press cannot be silenced" from inside the courtroom.
Alcik closed the rest of the trial to the public Tuesday and filed charges against those inside the courtroom who chanted. On Wednesday, the court decided to end the trial a day early and move the next four hearings, scheduled to begin on November 12th, to the high security prison of Silivri.
The court discussed the demands of the defense on Thursday and released two defendants -- Çağdaş Ulus, reporter for the daily Vatan and Cihat Ablay, employee of the Fırat Distribution Company -- pending the trial.
As has been the case in other KCK trials, Alcik denied the defense's request to allow defendants to speak Kurdish at the trial. Alcik said the defendants know a Turkish and Kurdish defense would prologue the trial. The defense's argument about the Lausanne Treaty on the rights of the minorities was rejected on the grounds of the Kurds not being recognised as a minority.
In protest against the court's decision to deny Kurdish defense and hold a closed trial in Silivri, in a symbolic gesture to show they were being muzzled on Wednesday (September 12th) the defendants covered their mouths with black ribbons.
"This [denying defense from giving their testimony in Kurdish] only happens in PKK cases," Ozcan Kilic, the defense lawyer for the daily Ozgur Gundem, told SES Türkiye, noting that translators are allowed and provided for Kurds who face nonpolitical criminal charges.
Kilic said the suspects do not do this to block or lengthen the trial but "to put a rights issue on the agenda, Kurds use this method."
Another defense lawyer, Davut Erkan, told SES Türkiye that all of their demands were dismissed, including the request that evidence collected for and used in the indictment illegally not be used, such as police searches not conducted according to the law and wiretapping of private conversations not related to the subject of the trial.
"Our presence there became meaningless. The lawyers made dozens of demands in two days, none was granted," Erkan said.
The indictment is questionable, according to defense and press rights groups, because regular journalistic or commercial activities are considered under the rubric of taking orders from the PKK.
Meanwhile, the government has defended its stance, with high-level officials including Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan arguing that only a handful of the accused are actual journalists, while accusing the media of distorting news, making propaganda for the PKK and criticising the government.
Mehmet Emin Yildirim, former chief editor of the Kurdish daily Azadiya Welat, is among the accused. The indictment claims he provided logistic support to PKK members based on a piece of paper that was found among his possessions. The paper lists three shaving razors, one tube of toothpaste, one toothbrush, nine batteries and a small radio.
There are also two posting bills for packages containing these materials. The two packages were sent to prisons where Yildirim's friends, including Vedat Kursun, one of his several imprisoned predecessors as editor-in-chief of Turkey's sole Kurdish daily. The indictment argues he sent the packages to maintain Kursun's sympathy to the KCK.
Yildirim, like Kursun and everybody in the indictment also made "terrorist propaganda" through their coverage of the news.
Dicle News Agency reporter Ismail Yildiz reported about a bomb set off inside a trash container near his office. His conversations on the bombing were tapped by the police. In the recording he said he was at the bombsite before other media and "the police are just arriving." The prosecutors came to the conclusion that he knew about the bomb beforehand as a member of the organisation which set it off.
"We are concerned at the large number of journalists behind bars in Turkey and at the lack of due process in their detention and prosecution," Nina Ognianova, the Europe and Central Asia Program Co-ordinator of the Committee to Protect Journalists, told SES Türkiye. "We urge Turkish authorities to guarantee the right to a fair trial to all defendants, including their ability to build and present an effective defense in court. In a democracy, no journalist should be jailed for their work."