Defendants who are facing life in prison on coup plotting charges have been denied access to indictments and evidentiary case files as they stand trial while languishing behind bars in long pre-trial detentions.
Dozens of legal motions filed by the defendants from their prison cells reviewed by Nordic Monitor reveal a systematic and deliberate pattern in the criminal justice system. which has been abused by the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Although the defendants face aggravated life sentences if convicted, they were forced to defend themselves against evidence and charges that they were not provided access to prior to court hearings.
Lt. Col. Savaş Kabaklı wrote to the court on May 30, 2017 that he had filed a motion in the beginning of April that sought permission to review the deposition of informant Murat Yanık, who testified against him, all the evidence in the case file and HTS (Historical Traffic Search) records, which show phone records and signal reception by location obtained from cell towers. Yet two months later, he still had not been given access to the files, undermining his right to a defense.
Kabaklı also stated that he did not have a lawyer although the Code on Criminal Procedure (CMUK) requires the court to appoint one from a bar association if no lawyer represents the defendant in criminal cases. “I cannot adequately prepare my defense,” he complained in a handwritten legal motion sent to the Ankara 17th High Criminal Court from Sincan Prison’s A Block.
In another case Maj. Yusuf Yedidağ wrote to the Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office on May 29, 2017 saying that the indictment against him had been unsealed and submitted to the court. He said he received a copy of the indictment on May 11 but not the evidentiary case file that was supposed to be delivered along with it. He submitted a legal motion through his lawyer, seeking access to the rest of the documents, but the prosecutor’s office rejected the request, stating that defendants in pre-trial detention do not receive a copy of supporting documents in evidentiary files.
There is no such provision in the CMUK or other legal codes preventing defendants from exercising their right to see all documents once the indictment has been submitted to the court and the public trial started. Denial of access to vital documents such as evidence and testimony amounts to a clear violation of the right to a fair trial, protected by both the Turkish Constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights, to which Turkey is a party.
Maj. Yedidağ noted that he must be given access to the case file in digital and print formats to prepare his defense and also asked permission to use a computer for at least 10 hours a week to review the evidence in prison. He also sent the copy of the motion to the Ankara 17th High Criminal Court.
In the third case, Suat Kürşat Gün, a staff major with the Turkish Armed Forces who was jailed in Ankara’s Sincan Prison pending trial, filed a motion on June 8, 2017 with the court over the lack of access to the case file. Stating that the authorities had not responded to his previous requests for a copy of the case file either in printed or digital format, he said he could not prepare his defense without seeing the details of the case. Maj. Gün also noted that he could not afford a lawyer because he had been dismissed from the army by a government decree and that the court-appointed lawyer did not meet with him, either. He complained that his right to a fair trial had not been upheld.
In the fourth case examined by Nordic Monitor, 1st Lt. Uğur Bostan wrote on June 6, 2017 in his legal motion to the Ankara 17th High Criminal Court that the authorities had not provided him with a copy of the indictment and evidentiary case files despite repeated motions from his prison cell. He requested the copies in electronic format and asked the court to order the prison authorities to grant him access to a computer to examine the case filed against him.
Lt. Murat Aletirik is another officer who was prevented from seeing his case file according to the documents. In his legal motion filed with the court on June 6, 2017 Aletirik also complained about the same problem and stated that a copy of the case file was not given to him despite repeated motions he had filed earlier. In an apparent expression of frustration, Maj. Ahmet İlhan Ayşan told the court on June 12, 2017 in a handwritten motion that he would not defend himself because he was not provided with a copy of the indictment or supporting evidentiary file. He also said his request for adequate time to review the case file was not responded to, either. His motions were filed with the Ankara 17th High Criminal Court.
Fatih Sarımehmet, a noncommissioned officer who was accused of plotting a coup against the government, also vented his frustration at failing to gain access to the case file used against him in criminal court. In the brief motion he filed with the court on June 6, 2017, Sarımehmet said he had previously filed similar motions but that the authorities did not grant him access.
There are more records in the court papers that show similar complaints from officers who were remanded to a long pre-trial detention on coup charges. The records clearly show a systematic and deliberate pattern on the part of Turkish authorities to block detainees from exercising their right to access the case file to prepare an effective defense. The prevention or restriction on using a computer in prisons presents another formidable challenge for defendants who were finally given a copy of the case file on a DVD. Such complaints were often raised during the trial hearings when defendants said they did not have a chance to review the case or had very limited time to look at it.
The practice of denying or restricting access to the case file when the trial has already begun demonstrates the government attempt to suppress the voices of alleged coup plotters who may very well expose the false flag coup bid in 2016. The government is afraid that the official coup narrative may be undermined by the testimony of officers given the chance to examine the evidence in their case files.