February 24, 2016

Court refuses to share investigation files with lawyers in Tahşiyeciler trial

An İstanbul court on Wednesday declined to share with defense lawyers investigation files concerning individuals who are accused of conspiring against an al-Qaeda-affiliated group, a move that has raised concerns over the conduct of a fair trial.

At the fourth hearing of the trial in which dozens of suspects including journalists face charges of membership in a terrorist organization for allegedly conspiring against the al-Qaeda-affiliated group Tahşiyeciler, defense lawyer Ömer Kavili asked the İstanbul 14th High Criminal Court, which hears the trial, about the number of investigation files and wanted to have access to the documents that are being kept secret from the lawyers.

The presiding judge of the court did not answer Kavili's questions, prompting the lawyer to leave the courtroom in protest as he said: "I am not informed about the content of the files. There cannot be such a trial."

Journalists and media professionals make up almost half of the suspects in the trial and include Samanyolu Broadcasting Group General Manager Hidayet Karaca. The suspects are accused of targeting and conspiring against the radical Islamist group Tahşiyeciler and its leader, Mehmet Doğan.

At Wednesday's hearing, Karaca and some other suspects and their lawyers were in attendance, while other jailed suspects did not attend the hearing. The indictment was read out to a nearly empty courtroom at both the third hearing on Tuesday and the fourth hearing on Wednesday after the lawyers of all the defendants, with the exception of Karaca's lawyers, left the courtroom. Suspects normally need to be in attendance when the indictment is being read aloud in a courtroom.

Lawyer Nazif Akaş, who represents Karaca, told the court that defense lawyers have some requests for the removal of judicial shortcomings and maintenance of a fair trial. "There is a need for the court to take some measures to hold a fair trial," he said, adding that there are some missing documents that need to be shared with the lawyers.

Fikret Duran, another lawyer of Karaca, said he and his colleagues submitted a 17-page petition to the court on Tuesday asking it to eliminate the shortcomings in the investigation file.

Yurtkan Yücel, a lawyer representing former police chief Ali Fuat Yılmazer, told the court that the investigation was launched based on a notice, hence prosecutors should have received permission to investigate his client at the time of the launch of this investigation. The lawyer said since no permission was received, either the indictment should have been returned or the trial should stop, according to the current laws.

All the requests made by the lawyers were rejected by the court. The defense lawyers complained that the court was rejecting all of their requests without making any explanation.

Tuesday's hearing continued until after 9 p.m.

At one point, journalist Karaca asked the court for a break, saying that he was too exhausted.

"Esteemed judges, I have been standing since 5 a.m. Bringing us here from Silivri [prison] and returning there takes hours. There will be a hearing tomorrow, too. I just request that a break be given," Karaca said.

But the court rejected his request and the hearing continued with the reading of the indictment.

In the first hearing, held on Dec. 22, 2015, lawyers requested that the judges presiding over the case be changed. The court then decided to send the request to a higher court, the İstanbul 15th High Criminal Court, which rejected the request on Jan. 22.

On Tuesday's hearing, Duran said defense lawyers had been unable to check thousands of documents and about 300 DVDs. These documents were being presented as evidence to justify the continuation of his client's arrest, Duran said. “We have already submitted a petition to see the documents and DVDs, but no one has even responded to this petition, so we have not been able to access them,” he added, and again asked for the judge to be changed.

On Tuesday, lawyer Kavili revealed a significant detail, saying that the İstanbul 15th High Criminal Court stated in its reasoned decision when it rejected the lawyers' earlier request to change the judge that it had overseen the minutes of the first hearing, even though the minutes had not been transcribed. Kavili said the court made its decision before reading the minutes of the first hearing and so its ruling is unlawful.

Each hearing in the case is recorded via an IT Voice and Image System (SEGBİS) system. These records are then transcribed by clerks. According to the law, the İstanbul 15th High Criminal Court should have checked the transcript of the first hearing before giving its decision.

Among those who are accused in the indictment are Turkish-Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen, former İstanbul Police Department Counterterrorism Unit Police Chief Ömer Köse, former İstanbul Counterterrorism Unit Police Chief Yurt Atayün, former İstanbul Deputy Police Chief Kazım Aksoy, former İstanbul Police Department Intelligence Unit Police Chief Erol Demirhan, former İstanbul Police Department Intelligence Unit Deputy Police Chief Ahmet Öztürk and former İstanbul Police Chief Yılmazer.

The indictment seeks up to 34 years in prison for Gülen on charges of "forming and leading an armed organization," while Karaca is accused of "membership in a terrorist organization" and faces up to 27 years in prison. However, the indictment fails to provide any evidence to show that Gülen or the other suspects either possess arms or have been involved in terrorist activity.

Published on Today's Zaman, 24 February 2016, Wednesday