On September 17, 2020, IPI attended the first hearing in Turkey of Cumhuriyet journalists Canan Coşkun and Ali Açar and BirGün reporter Can Uğur, who face criminal charges over their reporting on the investigation opened over the death of 15-year-old Berkin Elvan, who died after being hit on the head by a tear gas canister during the Gezi Park protests in 2013.
IPI representative Renan Akyavaş monitored the de-facto first hearing on September 17 at İstanbul Çağlayan Courthouse where Coşkun and Uğur appeared in court to give their first defense statements. The first hearing was initially supposed to take place on April 9 but was postponed due to the suspension of all judicial proceedings during the first outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The journalists are accused of revealing the identity of a police officer who is a suspect in the murder investigation. They face charges of “targeting public officials who participated in anti-terror operations”. According to Article 6 of the Anti-Terror Law, the three journalists face one to three years in prison.
The hearing, which was scheduled to start at 09:50 began at 10:15 after a 20-minute-delay. Defendants Uğur and Coşkun were called to first confirm their identity and other personal information such as their current residence and profession. Both defendants replied to the latter question that they are journalists. The judges’ panel consisted of three young judges who read out loud the defendants’ rights and the charges against them and asked whether they will give a defense statement.
The investigation was opened in 2016 against the news articles titled “Police officer who allegedly shot Berkin Elvan couldn’t remember his place of duty”, published in Cumhuriyet, and “The reason for confidentiality order on Berkin investigation: Police officer’s reputation [would] be damaged”, published in BirGün.
BirGün reporter Uğur was first summoned to the dock to give a defense. Uğur underlined the fact that the news report was made solely for the purpose of journalism and fully complied with universal journalistic principles and aimed to provide the public with information. The news article published online is accused of revealing the identity of the police officer. However, the article does not contain a photo. And the print edition had a blurred picture and was not actually authored by Uğur. Yet the article that the court presented in the hearing as evidence was the article in the print edition.
Uğur also highlighted the fact that the officer’s name, which was publicly available and included in the investigation because he was a suspect, was not used in full. Only the initials of his last name were used, according to Turkish law.
“The article was prepared based on the legal views from the lawyers and therefore does not breach the confidentiality of the investigation”, Uğur said. “This whole article subject to criminal charges actually reports on the confidentiality order on the investigation itself”, he continued, underlining the absurd lack of substance in the case.
Later, Coşkun gave her defence statement, stating that the police officer was not able to be identified for almost three years. Once it was identified, his identity was made public by the Elvan family’s lawyers in a press conference. “We have been constantly reporting on this investigation since 2013 therefore this report is just a follow-up story as part of our years work”, Coşkun said. “I had already accessed the indictment file. Once I knew the suspect’s name, I dug deep in the file and pulled out the suspect’s statements. I only reported the story because it was in the public interest.”
The court recorded that the third defendant, Ali Açar, was not present at the hearing nor was an unidentified witness who was not ready to be heard. The court ruled in its interim decision to request a document from the Istanbul Police Department stating the department in which the police officer had been working, and adjourned the hearing until November 10, 11:45 in order to listen to the third defendant. The head judge of the panel also hinted to the defence lawyers and defendants that the November 10 hearing would be the final hearing.