A day at the Turkish Courts: Day of Judicial Upheaval

February 16, 2018 has been a day of judicial upheaval in the Turkish courts. In several cases that have been heard at different courts today, the indictment of an imprisoned journalist was accepted and then, he was released from prison. Other journalists have received aggravated life sentences, the wrong suspect was brought to court and accused of murdering a student, and finally, a member of parliament was accused of aiding a terrorist organization and for cooperating with journalists in revealing arms deployed to fighting parties in Syria. In addition, a secret witness’ testimony disappeared from the courthouse and finally, a photographer who was released from prison only days ago was requested to be arrested again. This all happened in the same day.



Journalist Deniz Yücel, who has been in prison for over a year in Turkey’s notorious Silivri Prison, had previously announced that he would not want to be a bargaining chip on negotiation table between Germany and Turkey. Yesterday, after German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s meeting with Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım, journalist Yücel has been freed. The news of his release was announced simultaneously with the acceptance of an indictment foreseeing an 18 year prison sentence. State owned Anadolu News Agency published the news of the indictment being accepted alongside journalist Yücel’s release from Silivri Prison, however, the news report did not mention the accusations against journalist Yücel.


Two other imprisoned journalists Ahmet and Mehmet Altan, brothers, about whom release decisions were given by the Constitutional Court as their “personal liberties and freedom of press and expression” have been violated through unjust imprisonment, have been given aggravated life sentences today, alongside 4 others tried in the same case. The case of the Altan brothers had been controversial as the indictment did not accuse them of solid crimes but suspicions. The Constitutional Court ruled that this is violation of their personal liberties, freedom of press and freedom of expression. However, a lower court overruled the Constitutional Court decision. Finally, the 26 Aggravated Felony Court of Istanbul has given the verdict that the journalists have attempted to disturb constitutional order, sentencing them to aggravated life imprisonment, which had replaced the death penalty in 2002.


Another court case that had a hearing today was about the murder of high school student Helin Palandöken. 17 year old student, Helin Palandöken, was shot to death with a shotgun when she came out of school by her stalker -Mustafa Yetgin- who had been threatening her. On the day of the murder, Yetgin had sent messages to Palandöken telling her to “come get her presents” and later a box was found in the suspect’s car containing rope and knives. Today, at the hearing of her trial, instead of an appearance by the prime suspect, Mustafa Yetgin, who was witnessed shooting Helin Palandöken by her classmates, another convict, Mehmet Yetkin, has been brought to court, causing absurdity in the courthouse. The hearing could not proceed due to the wrong suspect being brought to court and the hearing was postponed to a future date.


Main opposition Republican People’s Party CHP’s deputy for Istanbul, Enis Berberoğlu, has been imprisoned for charges of aiding a terrorist organisation without being a member. The accusation emerges from Berberoğlu aiding journalists Can Dündar and Erdem Gül of Cumhuriyet Daily in the case that revealed Turkish National Intelligence Organization MIT’s trucks deploying arms to fighting parties in Syria on May 29, 2015. Journalist, Can Dündar, was given 5 years 10 months and Erdem Gül, a 5 years prison sentence for “revealing documents that should have been kept as state secrets” and for publishing the documents. After the release of the journalists, MP Berberoğlu was accused of espionage for revealing the documents to journalists and sentenced to 25 years on June 14, 2017.


A court case against the Peoples’ Democratic Party, HDP’s imprisoned former co-chair, Selahattin Demirtaş, was based on a secret witness testimony. An indictment called for 142 years in prison for the political leader. ‘Mercek’, the secret witness whose testimony was referred to in the indictment, supposedly given in 2009, has not been found in the trial folder. The trial has been postponed until April 11, 2018. HDP’s former co-chair, Selahattin Demirtaş, is currently in Edirne Prison.


Photographer Çağdaş Erdoğan, who had been arrested for membership to a terrorist organisation while taking photos around Fenerbahçe football stadium in Istanbul’s Kadıköy, was accused of taking photos of a secret National Intelligence Organization building. Erdoğan was taken into custody on September 2, 2017 and arrested at the court after a 12 day detention period. On February 13, 2018, the photographer had been released from prison, and public prosecutor in Istanbul has objected to his release, demanding re-arrest of the photographer.

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