International Press Institute (IPI) was disappointed today in the decision of continuing detention for defendant Akın Atalay. The trial against Turkish opposition daily Cumhuriyet was adjourned at the end of this 7th hearing to be heard again from 24 to 27 April, when verdicts are expected. In today’s proceedings Akın Atalay gave his defence and the case failed to progress in any substantial manner.
Prosecutor Bölükbaşı levelled no new allegations, repeating those already in the indictment. His case against the newspaper’s journalists and staff consisted of accusations that the editorial line of the paper had changed since its founding in 1924, that it had failed to remain independent by seeking funds from Europe and that freedom of speech was not permissible in certain circumstances.
In response to the allegation of editorial line changes and the influence of board members of the paper’s foundation, the newspaper’s CEO and sole defendant remaining in pretrial detention, Akın Atalay responded: “Cumhuriyet has an editorial policy based on editorial independence. Headlines, stories to be published next day and other contextual details are never presented to the foundation executive board. This has been like this for decades and I hope it would continue to be so.”
The prosecutor today redefined the remit of freedom of speech in his own terms, claiming that coverage of “tragic incidents like the failed coup in which dozens of people lost their lives” is not permissible in the name of free speech.
He further stated, “press freedom can only exist within democracy, therefore not denouncing acts in threat of democracy cannot be accepted. ‘Fascist Turkish Army’ and such phrases cannot be regarded as press freedom.”
Following this, prosecutor Bölükbaşı claimed that an enquiry made by Cumhuriyet into possible EU funding was an example of their failure to remain independent. Defendant Atalay parried that remark by citing the EU training received by the Ministry of Justice itself.
In his final defence, Atalay repeated his earlier claims and added, “the only thing that can be said and underlined is that we have done nothing to bring our paper into disrepute or position ourselves anywhere near any terror organization.”
Defence lawyer Duygun Yarsuvat called for the release on bail of his client Atalay: “You released two defendants last week. Akin Atalay remains, you should release him on exactly the same basis given that no new evidence has been added to the files nor have any dramatic developments occurred since.”
However, after 30 minutes of deliberation the judge ruled for Atalay’s continuing detention.
The case was adjourned until April 24 to 27 when the remaining defendants and their lawyers will make their final defences before the verdict is given.
IPI Turkey Advocacy Coordinator Caroline Stockford reiterated the fact that the ‘evidence’ in this case is speculative and comprised in the greater part of journalistic articles.
“We call for the full acquittal of all defendants and are of the view that they must not be found guilty simply to satisfy the imposition of their pretrial detention”, Stockford concluded.