Eighteen journalists acquitted in 'Özgür Gündem newspaper' case

Journalists were charged with "preventing public officials from performing their duties" int he case filed after a 2016 raid on the now-shuttered newspaper.

The case filed after a police raid on the office of Özgür Gündem newspaper in 2016 has been completed after five years.

The İstanbul 5th Penal Court of First Instance has acquitted 18 journalists of "insulting a public official" and "preventing a public official from performing their duty."

The court hasn't issued a verdict for four other journalists (Amine Demirkan, Bayram Balcı, Ersin Çaksu and Günay Aksoy) whose files were previously separated because they were abroad.

The journalists did not attend today's (December 21) hearing while their attorneys were present in the courtroom.

Attorney Cemal Polat said his client Gülfem Karataş was a reporter for İMC TV at the time and she was aggrieved in the incident even though she was a defendant in the case.

Karataş was attacked and insulted during her detention, said the lawyer, demanding the acquittal of the journalist.

Camera recordings

Attorney Sercan Korkmaz also said the journalists were defendants although they were aggrieved by the police.

"The perpetrators and their actions were not clearly stated in the case file, he said. "Camera recordings about the alleged crime are mentioned. But they are not included in the file."

Attorney Özcan Kılıç said he had witnessed the police raid in question. After the Security Directorate disclosed the news that Özgür Gündem was closed on the internet, police surrounded the street of the newspaper building, he said.

Police officers then came to the newspaper but they didn't show a search warrant, he added. "On that day, there were guests along with 20 editors. While a dialogue with the police for a search was continuing, a police officer whose hand and arm were bandaged started to swear at the journalists in a sexist way.

"At that moment, the police camera was turned on but [the recordings] were not included in the file. Why not?"

Police then detained journalists by beating them with some journalists injured, said the attorney.

The Constitutional Court decision

Lawyer Kılıç also presented the Constitutional Court verdict stating that the closure of Özgür Gündem was a violation of rights to the court.

After the statements of defense, the court concluded that there was no evidence proving the allegations in the case file and acquitted the 18 journalists.

The court also ruled that the "digital materials" seized during the raid should be returned to the newspaper.

What happened?

On August 16, 2016, the İstanbul 8th Penal Court of Peace closed the Özgür Gündem Newspaper on charge of "propagandizing for a terrorist organization." While it was written "temporary" in the court ruling, it was not indicated for how long it would remain closed.

Shortly after the newspaper was closed, Special Operation Police teams raided the newspaper's office in Beyoğlu, İstanbul. Doing a criminal record check on some employees, they detained 22 people.

Held in detention for three days, the journalists and newspaper employees were then indicted on charges of "insulting a public official" and "preventing a public official from fulfilling his or her duty."

The trial began on February 9, 2018. The journalists said that they had been kept waiting in rear-handcuffs for 7 hours, subjected to racist swears and women journalists had been threatened with rape.

At every hearing, the attorneys of the defendants demanded that the seized phones of their clients be returned.

Following the written correspondence between the Beyoğlu Security Directorate and the İstanbul Chief Public Prosecutor's Office, the court could not identify where the related phones were being kept.