A Turkish militant indicted twice for membership in the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) was acquitted by a court in Turkey on the grounds that promoting jihadist views falls under the right to freedom of expression, Nordic Monitor has learned.
According to official documents that detailed the militant’s activities, Coşkun Demir, a 27-year-old resident of Turkey’s eastern province of Erzurum, is part of a cell that subscribes to the jihadist network of Halis Bayancuk (aka Abu Hanzala), a Turkish jihadist ideologue who has helped many Turks join ISIL, al-Qaeda and other jihadist groups in Iraq and Syria. Bayancuk has been in and out of prison in Turkey and is currently in pre-trial detention.
Investigators also found that Coşkun was in contact with notorious Turkish ISIL militant İlhami Bali, operating under the nom de guerre of Ebu Bekir, who has been identified as the mastermind behind deadly ISIL attacks in Turkey and helped traffic foreign ISIL militants to and from Syria. The evidence showed that Coşkun communicated with Oğuzhan Gözlemcioğlu, also known as Muhammed Selef under an assumed name, a man wanted on ISIL charges.
In his testimony on May 30, 2018 Coşkun admitted disseminating jihadist propaganda on the Internet and defended his position of seeking the removal of the democratic and secular regime in Turkey and replacing it with an Islamic state based on Sharia law. “I think the republican and democratic system is being used as a religion. Those who are ruled under such a system are infidels, and Turkey is a Dar al-Kufr [a land governed by the laws of infidels]”, he said when asked to explain his social media postings.
He also added that the regime in Turkey must change. Invoking his rights to freedom of speech and belief, Coşkun claimed he rejects violence. He stated that he sees Abu Hanzala as a religious scholar and found it wrong that authorities placed him in detention.
Coşkun was arrested in November 2017 for ISIL activities and indicted on December 21, 2017 under case file No. 2017/492 but was later released pending trial. In May 2018 he was detained again on similar accusations, and a second indictment was filed on June 13, 2018 under case file No. 2018/796. The police found dozens of jihadist books written by Abu Hanzala, Osama bin Laden and other radical clerics during a search of his home. Some of the books were banned in Turkey by court order, yet they were being freely sold, distributed and read across the country.
At the end of a trial that examined both indictments against Coşkun and concluded on November 22, 2018, the new prosecutor, Mustafa Savaş, who was brought in to take over the case, had a sudden change of heart and decided to ask the court for his acquittal on all charges. The panel of judges, composed of presiding judge Yakup Taşlıova, Mustafa Akcan and Mehmet Ali Kibar, at the Erzurum 4th High Criminal Court ruled unanimously for his acquittal on the grounds that he has the right to exercise freedom of expression.
This stands in sharp contrast to the track record of the Turkish government, which has jailed nearly 200 journalists as of today. The ruling Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP) government is the worst jailer of journalists in world, and the unprecedented crackdown on free speech in Turkey in recent years has landed many academics, human rights defenders, lawyers, teachers, doctors and others in prison.