IPI monitored the first hearing of the case in which AFP photojournalist Bülent Kılıç, who was tortured and detained by the police while covering the Pride March in Istanbul on June 26, 2021, is facing charges of “resisting public officials to obstruct them from duty” and “publicly insulting a public official”. The hearing was held in Istanbul 19th Criminal Court of First Instance on Thursday, October 26, 2023.
The charges in question relate to the incident in June 2021, when Kılıç was assaulted by the police. The moment when Kılıç, who was prevented from breathing by police officers pressing their knees on his back and throat, shouted “I can’t breathe” while he was taken into custody, was captured on camera.
Kılıç filed a complaint against the police who beat him and demanded compensation for his broken camera. The court decided to pay compensation to Kılıç due to the police’s disproportionate use of force, but decided not to prosecute the two police officers involved in the incident. On the same day, a lawsuit was filed against Kılıç upon the complaint of the same police officers.
At the hearing, Kılıç was defended by the Media and Law Studies Association (MLSA) Legal Unit. Along with IPI, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and Journalists’ Union of Turkey (TGS) monitored the hearing.
Regarding the allegations against him in the police incident report, Kılıç said the following: “The allegations that I insulted the police are lies, what happened was documented on video. Police officers insulted me. I was just doing my job. I have been a journalist for 20 years. The police first attacked me verbally and then physically, hit me with my camera and threw my camera on the ground. As can be seen in the video report, I was tortured. They tried to get other police to find my camera because they knew what they were doing was a crime. Beyoğlu District Police Chief personally apologized to me regarding the incident. I do not accept the accusations, I demand to be acquitted.”
Kılıç’s lawyer Veysel Ok defended him as follows: “This indictment is completely shameful. My client was tortured screaming ‘I can’t breathe’. The police used the President’s name to cover up their own crimes and to claim that they were insulted (by Bülent Kılıç). My client is being tried instead of the police officers.”
Sedat Kılıç, one of the complainant police officers, arrived late to the hearing. Claiming that everything written in the incident report was true, Kılıç said that his complaint against journalist Kılıç still stands.
The court rejected the question asked by Lawyer Ok to the complainant police officer, “Do you have a practice of forcing people to the ground and choking them?” and deemed it as irrelevant to the content of the case file.
The complainant police officer Kılıç called three police officers from the Istanbul Counter Narcotics Branch Directorate as witnesses. The first witness, Emre Sunar, stated that he was 4-5 meters away from where police intervened to Bülent Kılıç and that he heard the insults put forward in the police incident report.
The court rejected Lawyer Ok’s further question “Who is a person carrying two cameras during a demonstration assumed to be (by the police) and on what basis did the police use violence against journalist Kılıç?” and also deemed that question as irrelevant to the content of the case file.
The police witness argued that journalist Kılıç had a “tendency” to resist the police and that the police used its authority to exercise violence granted by the law.
Other witnesses, police officers Ercan Tuğay and Cemal Tuzak, said that they did not remember the incident. Tuğay said that he did not remember the incident and said that the content of the incident report was correct. Tuzak said, “There were 35-40 meters between me and the scene. I don’t remember the moment when the incident happened. As the police officers on duty that day, we were ‘invited to sign’ (the incident report) as a group”. Tuzak did not answer the judge’s question, “How is it possible that you signed the report of an incident that you did not witness?”.
Speaking again after the witnesses, journalist Kılıç stated that he did not insult the police officers, and that it was clearly seen in the video footage that it was the complainant who insulted him.
In his concluding remarks, lawyer Ok underlined how legally problematic the police’s incident report was.
Considering that the defendant’s defense statement had been taken, the court accepted the defense lawyer’s request for Bülent Kılıç to be excused from the hearings, rejected the request to hear the Beyoğlu District Police Chief in the next hearing and decided to request the video of the incident recorded by the journalist and adjourned the next hearing to February 15, 2024.
IPI will continue to monitor journalism in Turkey on trial. In addition to demonstrating solidarity with journalists facing repression, we seek to remind Turkish authorities of their obligations to respect and protect media freedom under international and domestic law.
For IPI’s previous trial observations, please click here.