A Turkish journalist who was accused of defaming an al-Qaeda-linked group in Turkey was denied the opportunity to examine the court papers, indictment and evidence against him, Nordic Monitor has learned.
According to court documents, the hearings in the trial of Hidayet Karaca, a jailed journalist who used to run major TV network Samanyolu and was accused of smearing an al-Qaeda group in a TV program, were held despite the fact that he was not allowed to examine the indictment and evidence presented against him by the government prosecutor. The scandal of denying the defendant the necessary documents was exposed at the eighth hearing in his case being tried by the Ankara 4th High Criminal Court.
The case was overseen by presiding judge Selfet Giray, along with panel members Salih Ay and Oğuz Dik, and it was prosecuted by İsmail Şafak.
During the hearing that was held on Nov. 22, 2016 Karaca, who has been jailed since December 2014, vented his frustration over the court’s failure to deliver the necessary papers so that he could prepare his defense. The 55-year-old journalist, who was once chairman of the association of all TV networks in Turkey, attended the hearing via a teleconference system called Segbis from his prison in Istanbul’s Silivri district. In response to his original request for a copy of the indictment and evidentiary files, the court sent only the header from the indictment and nothing else. The indictment was filed with the court on July 22, 2016.
He said he filed a motion with the court on Aug. 1, 2016 again asking the judges to send a copy of the indictment and evidentiary documents in print and digital format, but he received no response to the motion. “I have received only a 19-page document that merely lists the defendants in the case, nothing else,” he said, adding that the prison administration had also denied his request to receive copies that were stored in the National Judiciary Informatics System (UYAP), which is managed by the Justice Ministry and to which the prison administration has access.
On Aug. 29, 2016 Karaca filed another motion with the Ankara court, but the court remained silent, and he received no response to his third request, either. On Oct. 11, 2016 Karaca repeated his request for the fourth time, listing the document numbers for all his previous motions. The Ankara court sent another batch of documents, about 35 pages, to the prison in Istanbul on Nov. 7, 2016, but not the all case documents. A separate DVD was also provided that included more documents in the case, but the journalist said he had only limited access to a computer in the prison.
During the eighth hearing he asked the judge to ensure he would receive a print copy of the indictment but said the evidentiary documents could be sent on a DVD. As he had been charged in another case in Istanbul where he had to attend proceedings four times a week, he simply did not have enough time to review the documents sent to him thus far.
Most observers of Turkey believe the court proceedings against critics are a sham, politically motivated and lack credible evidence. The criminal justice system is often used by the government to crack down on critical and independent voices, stifle the right to dissent and intimidate opponents.
It has become quite common to see many procedural flaws in the cases of jailed journalists in Turkey, where critical journalists are punished for expressing their opinion or editorial stance. Unfortunately, Karaca’s trial is no exception to this worrying trend in the Turkish criminal justice system. In this particular case, the Ankara court sentenced Karaca to life in prison in June 2018 although he had been deprived of his right to mount an effective defense. He was convicted of attempting to overthrow the Turkish government, despite the fact that he was in pretrial detention when a military coup was attempted on July 15, 2016. He asked how he could have organized a coup from the prison cell where he had been incarcerated since Dec. 14, 2016, but received no response.
Karaca, is an experienced Turkish broadcaster who served as chairman of the Television Broadcasters Association as well as Television Audience Measurement (TİAK). He had worked in the print media for years, carrying out bureau representative assignments for the Zaman daily in İzmir and Ankara before accepting a job with the Samanyolu Broadcasting Group in 1999. When he was taken into custody by police officers who raided the television studio where he was working on Dec. 14, 2014, he was the general manager of the network.
Prosecutors and government officials have accused Karaca of smearing the Mollah Muhammed group, a Turkish al-Qaeda network also known as Tahşiyeciler. Mollah Muhammed – real name, Mehmet Dogan — praised al-Qaeda and its late leader Osama bin Laden and suggested that Muslims all over the world should recognize the authority of bin Laden. The evidence against Karaca was two lines in a soap opera scene from a TV series broadcast on one of the six TV stations he managed. The lines were critical of the al-Qaeda group.
Previous reports by police intelligence, military intelligence and the National Intelligence Organization (MİT) had all described Tahşiyeciler as a terrorist group linked to al-Qaeda.
In seized taped recordings, Doğan was heard calling for violent jihad: “I’m telling you to take up your guns and kill them,” he said. He also asked his followers to build bombs and mortar shells in their homes and urged the decapitation of Americans, claiming that Islam allows such practices. “If the sword is not used, then this is not Islam,” he stated.
Mollah Muhammed and his associates in the cell were detained in an operation in İstanbul conducted by Turkish counterterrorism police against the al-Qaeda-linked radical Islamist group on Jan. 22, 2010. The İstanbul 11th High Criminal Court arrested Doğan and other members of Tahşiyeciler on Jan. 26, 2010. They were later indicted, but while the case was ongoing, then-prime minister and current President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan intervened and secured his release. In the end, all the members of Tahşiyeciler were acquitted by the redesigned judiciary on Dec. 15, 2015 with the help of the Erdoğan government.
In the Istanbul case, Karaca was sentenced to 31 years’ imprisonment. The authorities have also cracked down on his lawyers. “I am defending myself under very difficult circumstances. Some of my lawyers have left, some of them were arrested. I could not even find a lawyer to write a petition for me,” Karaca said during a hearing in August 2016.
The case is just one of many that aim to intimidate journalists and discourage them from writing about al-Qaeda and other jihadist groups and their links to the Erdoğan government.