IPI global network representatives monitored the hearings of journalists Deniz Yücel and Ahmet Sever as well as three former Zaman journalists in three separate trials on September 9 at Çağlayan Courthouse in Istanbul.

Below are the observations from IPI representatives on the September 9 hearings.

September 9, 2021

Deniz Yücel and Ahmet Sever

September 9, 2021 was a busy day at Istanbul’s beehive of a justice hall—customarily referred to as “Çağlayan” after the neighborhood where it is located—as far as journalist trials went. In the morning, Ahmet Sever, a former journalist and adviser to the previous Turkish president, Abdullah Gül; and Deniz Yücel, the former Turkey correspondent for Die Welt and president of PEN Germany, were due in court on charges of “insulting President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan” and a public prosecutor, respectively. Sever was investigated and prosecuted in 2018 after the release of his book İçimde Kalmasın/Tanıklığımdır (Not Going to Keep It to Myself: My Testimony). He was accused of openly insulting President Erdoğan based on his several criticisms of the government.

In his book, Sever refers to the government as a “strongman regime that perceives books being more dangerous than bombs.” He calls then-Prime Minister Erdoğan’s actions inconsistent and asserts that a new government system was built to keep him in power. The prosecution presented these passages, along with those that point to the embezzlement of the economic gains from the earlier days of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) rule, as hard evidence against the former journalist and presidential adviser.

Deniz Yücel is similarly being tried for insulting the public prosecutor who leads the case against Osman Kavala. The cause for offense was Yücel’s tweet about the lead investigator, who also had accused Yücel of conducting terrorist propaganda during an interview he had conducted earlier. In this case, the prosecutor is asking for up to two years in prison for “insulting a public official” and “publicly degrading the Turkish nation, state government, and the state’s judicial bodies”.

Yücel had already been detained and prosecuted in 2017 on separate charges of conducting propaganda on behalf of a terrorist organization and inciting the public to hatred and violence. Having spent nearly a year in prison awaiting trial, Yücel was released in 2018. In 2019, the Constitutional Court ruled that the questions Yücel asked during his interview with Cemil Bayık, leader of the terrorist organization PKK, and his criticism of Erdoğan did not constitute a crime on the basis of supporting the coup attempt and inciting people to hatred and violence. Nevertheless, Yücel was sentenced to two years and nine months in prison in 2020 on terrorism propaganda charges, though he was acquitted of instigating public hatred and violence.

Both Sever’s and Yücel’s cases were postponed to later hearings scheduled for December 23 and November 25, respectively, since both defendants reside outside Turkey and the court requested additional information from the judicial authorities in their countries of residence. At the time of writing, the court has deferred Yücel’s hearing once again, to April 12, 2022, having issued a writ requesting his defense statement be taken by legal authorities in Germany, where Yücel lives.

Ali Bulaç, Şahin Alpay, and Mümtazer Türköne

In the afternoon, former Zaman columnists Ali Bulaç, Şahin Alpay, and Mümtazer Türköne appeared before the 13th Heavy Penal Court as defendants in the retrial of the case in which they were previously convicted of being members of an armed terrorist group, attempting to overthrow the democratic and parliamentary order of the Turkish state by resorting to force and violence. The three defendants had been tried earlier and sentenced to eight to ten years in jail. The decision was later annulled by the Court of Cassation and various Constitutional Court verdicts over rights violations suffered by the defendants.

At the hearing, Binnaz Toprak, a retired Bosphorus University professor and a former MP from the Republican People’s Party (CHP), testified as a character witness for Şahin Alpay. Toprak underscored Alpay’s democratic, liberal, and secular character and his academic integrity, which she had witnessed for many years even before she hired him when she worked at Bahçeşehir University as the head of the international relations department. Toprak said that due to his liberal lifestyle and commitment to democratic values Alpay could not have been involved in the coup plot by the Fethullahçı Terrorist Organization (FETÖ). She stated that the only reason why Alpay wrote columns for Zaman was the editorial freedom that the publication had granted to its opinion writers and the extra income, which according to Toprak, is not an uncommon source of livelihood for academics in Turkey. Another character witness, Zekeriya Tüzen, also testified in favor of Alpay’s academic integrity and the dedication of his entire time to scientific work.

The court adjourned until January 11, 2022, to await the Turkish translation of the ECHR decision on Şahin Alpay. The court also subpoenaed new witnesses, Hüseyin Gülerce and Ümit Erol, and issued an arrest warrant for the fugitive defendant Mehmet Özdemir for the next hearing, while staying the ban on the defendants’ right to travel abroad.