The Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK) trial of 44 journalists kicked off on Monday at the Istanbul 14th High Criminal Court in an electric atmosphere with Chief Justice Ali Alçık and defense lawyers exchanging angry words, while the judge also refused to enter the defense lawyers' pleas into the court records on Tuesday and filed a complaint against the court audience who applauded him in protest of his refusal to allow lawyers to speak.
Judge Alçık announced a recess even before the trial began during the first hearing on Monday following a spat with the defense lawyers. He also demanded that the audience leave the courtroom, but the suspects' families and others observing the trial refused to comply with his request.
The court accepted the defendants' response "Ez li virim" ("I am here" in Kurdish) during the initial roll call.
"Specially authorized courts were abolished following the ratification of the Third Judicial Reform Package. These courts are temporary. The reasoning cited in the reform package was that these courts cannot conduct a fair trial. This court has no warrant to proceed," lawyer Baran Doğan told the judge at the beginning of the trial.
Chief Justice Alçık then lashed out at the defense lawyers who were speaking among themselves and denied suspect journalist Ertuş Bozkurt his request to issue his plea in Kurdish.
"Are you going to speak in Kurdish? Why should we grant you the right to speak then? If there is anyone willing to speak in Turkish, we are going to let them talk," Judge Alçık said in response to Bozkurt.
"We are not making a demand for a right. Speaking in one's mother tounge is like breathing. Have you ever heard of anyone making a request to breathe? If you deny the right to plead in one's mother tounge, then your court will regress back to the time of the Sept. 12, [1980 coup,]" said suspect Yüksel Genç.
"We are under more different circumstances than in 2001. There is a television channel broadcasting in Kurdish 24 hours a day. The state accepted the Kurds' existence, universities opened up Kurdish language departments. The introduction of elective Kurdish courses is on the table. Denying the right to plead in their mother tounge violates the journalists' right to defense. A translator should be assigned to them. The Mardin Artuklu University or TRT Şeş (state-owned Kurdish broadcasting channel) could provide a translator," lawyer Deniz Çelik also told the court.
The defense lawyers questioned why the court did not record the trial with a sound device and requested to sit next to the suspects.
News reports turn into criminal activities
Some 44 journalists are currently facing charges in the case, 36 of them arrested pending trial on Dec. 24, 2011.
Suspects Nurettin Fırat, Ertuş Bozkurt, Mazlum Özdemir, Turabi Kışın, Ramazan Pekgöz, Şeyhmus Fidan, Hüseyin Deniz, Yüksel Genç, Nevin Erdemir, Semiha Alankuş, Davut Uçar and Kenan Kırkaya are charged with "being the manager of the KCK/PKK (Kurdistan Workers' Party)" in accordance with the fifth article of the Anti-Terror Law and article 314/1 of the Turkish Penal Code (TCK.)
Sibel Güler, Mehmet Emin Yıldırım, Zuhal Tekiner, İrfan Bilgiç, Ömer Çelenk, Haydar Tekin, Ömer Çiftçi, Selahattin Aslan, Dilek Demiral, Nahide Ermiş, Çağdaş Kaplan, Nilgün Yıldız, Çiğdem Aslan, Cihan Albay, Sadık Topaloğlu, Ayşe Oyman, İsmail Yıldız, Fatma Koçak, Oktay Candemir, Pervin Yerlikaya Babir, Çağdaş Ulus, Zeynep Kuray, Şerafettin Sürmeli, Eylem Sürmeli, Sultan Güneş Ünsal, Murat Eroğlu, Evrim Kepenek, Hamza Sürmeli and Arzu Demir are also facing the charge of "being a member of a terrorist organization" in accordance with the fifth article of the Anti-Terror Law and article 314/1 of the TCK.
Ziya Çiçekçi, Saffet Orman and Enis Yalçın are also charged with being members of a terrorist organization through the same articles, as well as violating article 33/1 of the Law of Assembly and Demonstration.
The journalists waited for eight months before the first hearing took place. The 800 pages long indictment is mostly composed of news reports and telephone conversations made for journalistic purposes.
"Courts will accept Kurdish pleas in the near future"
"It was the morning of Sept. 12, [1980,] and I was a child. Soldiers kept coming to our home. I did not understand what was going on. I did not know any Turkish, and I was five years old. 30 years have passed by, but there are still [security] operations, the children still do not speak any Turkish, and they get beaten up by soldiers whose language they do not understand," lawyer İnan Poyraz told the judge in Kurdish and then proceeded to translate his own remarks into Turkish.
"Turkey is not even abiding by the international treaties that it signed. If the Treaty of Lausanne [of 1923] is to be accepted, then Kurds must be allowed to express themselves in their native tounge in all courts and state offices," he said.
Meral Danış Beştaş also said the repression of the press had reached alarming levels during the reign of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP.)
Lawyer Abdülbaki Boğa further added that the refusal of specially authorized courts to recognize the right to plead in one's native language constituted an act of crime that went against the constitution.
Lawyer Boğa said independent courts were committing this crime without shame, while Chief Justice Alçık responded that it was the people uttering these comments in court who should be ashamed instead.
"I learned that Kurds were living in this country during my college years. It was forbidden to speak Kurdish during the 1980s, but another struggle came about, leading to a [hefty] price. Nobody is discussing about the existence of the Kurdish language anymore today. I served for three years in jail on the grounds that I had called a group of people 'Kurds.' You would also reject such an indictment if it had arrived before you now. Life is changing," said Eşber Yağmurdereli.
"I also participated in the KCK trial in [the southeastern province of] Diyarbakır two years ago, and there was a problem about pleading in one's native language there, too. The court delegation there referred to Kurdish as an 'unknown language.' You have now used the words 'Kurd' and 'Kurdish' here, and you are still using them," he said.
"There is only one threshold we need to pass. Nothing could be more natural for the suspects to plead in Kurdish since they are from the Kurdish media. For as long as Turkey's Kurdish problem continues to persist, and their most natural rights are criminalized, then we have reached a threshold. I do not think that the refusal in these trials to allow for pleading in Kurdish will last that long. Courts will begin to accept pleas in people's mother tounges in the near future," he added.
International support for the arrested journalists
The Peace and Democracy Party's (BDP) co-chair Gültan Kışanak, BDP deputy leader Meral Danış Beştaş, Prof. Büşra Ersanlı, the BDP's Şırnak Deputy Hasip Kaplan, Mersin Deputy Ertuğrul Kürkçü, Istanbul Deputies Sırrı Süreyya Önder, Levent Tüzel and Sebahat Tuncel, Van Independent Deputy Aysel Tuğluk, The People's Republican Party's (CHP) Denizli Deputy İlhan Cihaner, Istanbul Deputies Melda Onur and Oktay Ekşi, Istanbul Deputy Provincial Head Zeynep Altıok, Hakan Tahmaz from the Peace Council, Gençay Gürsoy from the People's Democratic Congress (HDK,) lawyer Eşber Yağmurdereli, as well as journalists Aslı Aydıntaşbaş, Yıldırım Türker, Ahmet Şık, Nuray Mert, Nazım Alpman, Hayko Bağdat, Ertuğrul Mavioğlu, Oktay Ekşi, Hilmi Hacaloğlu, Berrin Karakaş, Kadri Gürsel, Erol Önderoğlu, Rober Koptaş and Tuğçe Tatari were all present in the trial.
Delegations from Europe also arrived to observe the suit:
International legal expert and former deputy Prof. Norman Paech, DIE LINKE Hessen Parliamentary Group President Willi Van Ooyen, Neues Deutschland's Editor in Chief Jürgen Reents, Joachim Legatis and Michael Backmund from the Union of German Journalists (DJU,) Hessen Rosa Luxemburg Foundation's manager Murat Çakır, human rights defender Wolfgang Kanz, journalists Edgar Auth, Dinah Riese and Benjamin Hiller, as well as representatives from the International Press Institute also attended the hearing.
Lawyers' pleas go unrecorded
Lawyer Hüseyin Boğatekin said the case file contained evidence that was in violation of the laws and requested the suspects' acquittal during the second hearing of the trial on Tuesday. Hundreds have been arrested in similar cases based on the testimonies of secret witnesses, he added.
"Trials of this kind prove that [they] want a 'state press.' This was what had happened in the time of the Nazis, too. This indictment is a political and conjectural document that needs to be retracted. The mindset that dominates this indictment regards news reports about democratic autonomy, hydroelectric dams and peace as criminal activies. While news stories about the civilian [protests in Friday prayers] do not constitute a crime [when presented] in mainstream media, they are regarded as organizational activities for the Kurdish press," lawyer Ercan Kanar said, adding that the trial represented a dark spot in the history of journalism.
"[They] are also preventing the right of the Turkish public to receive news. The prosecutor is mocking and belittling the people by using such terms as 'so-called Kurdistan,' 'so-called opposition,' 'the so-called future of the Kurdish people' in the indictment. Everything that is regarded as acceptable for mainstream media turns into a crime when the Kurdish press [reports it.] I demand the rejection of this indictment on the grounds that it is chauvinistic, discriminatory and politically-motivated. These are suits filed against peaceful methods to solve the Kurdish problem. Would these trials have come about if the Oslo process was still intact?" he asked.
Lawyer Eren Keskin also noted that news reports about the Pozantı Prison and the Roboski massacre were first penned down by the journalists now standing trial in the court, and that these issues were later debated throughout the entire media establishment in Turkey. "News reports made not with great money but with great courage," he also referred to the press stories mentioned in the indictment.
Chief Justice Alçık did not allow lawyer Baran Doğan to speak, however.
"[You] do not get the floor 10 times over. I already let you speak on the same issue twice over," Judge Alçık said.
When Doğan said he was going to talk about another matter pertaining to procedures, Judge Alçık once more denied his request to speak.
Lawyer Davut Erkan then broke into the conversation and said they had enacted a division of labor whereby Doğan would speak about matters of procedure.
"We have already made a decision. You can leave [the courtroom] if you have any objections. We will go into recess unless you comply with the order in court," Justice Alçık responded.
Chief Justice Alçık also refused to enter the lawyers' statements into the court records and ruled to continue the trial without any audience on the grounds that they had protested the court delegation by applauding. He also decided to file a criminal complaint against the audience by identifying them through camera records in the court.
The hearing is set to continue today. (AS/EKN)