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Turkish court rules to continue pretrial detention of journalist Öztürk

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A Turkish court ruled for the continuation of the pretrial detention of Ece Sevim Öztürk, an investigative journalist who has been behind bars since June, at her first hearing on Thursday, adjourning the trial until Dec. 11, according to a report by the Evrensel daily.

Öztürk, the editor-in-chief of the Çağdaş Ses news website, was detained on June 8 and arrested on June 20 shortly after the release of a documentary she shot about a failed coup attempt in Turkey on July 15, 2016.

Accused of aiding a terrorist organization and disseminating propaganda on behalf of a terrorist organization in six tweets she shared on Twitter and in a documentary titled “The Darkest Day of the Naval Forces: July 15,” Öztürk has appeared before a judge for the first time since she was arrested five months ago.

The first hearing in the trial of Öztürk, who has also been accused of “aiming at creating chaos before the June 24 general election,“ was held at the İstanbul 37th High Criminal Court on Thursday.

Reminding that she is an investigative journalist during her testimony before the court, Öztürk stated that she has been held in solitary confinement at the Bakırköy Prison for Women for five months only because of the news reports she wrote. Referring the spectators in the courtroom, Öztürk said: “I haven’t seen this many people in a long time. That’s why I’m a little confused.”

“I am accused of inciting chaos before June 24 elections. However, I was looking into some aspects of the July 15 coup that had remained unclear for one-and-a-half years, and I was writing a book on it,” Öztürk said and and added: “I’m specifically accused of writing about the Marmaris case. I wrote that some evidence related to the assassination attempt against the president [Recep Tayyip Erdoğan] was brought before the court. In my news stories about the Marmaris case, I said there was another team in this assassination attempt against the president. My goal was not to discredit the court but to ask for the elimination of the shortcomings.”

Öztürk recalled that a file that was closed in Dalaman case was reopened for five suspects after her news stories about the Marmaris case and said, “The press is the fourth estate, and my news stories have confirmed that.”

Emphasizing that her tweets were within the scope of freedom of expression, Öztürk said: “I prepared the documentary film based on the navy case [related to July 15 coup bid] and its supplementary dossier. The documents are real and official. Is writing news reports and producing a documentary based on official documents a crime?”

“Moreover, when I started preparing these news stories and the documentary, (Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) leader Devlet] Bahçeli had not even called for an early general election. How could I have incited chaos before the election?”

“I was tried in numerous cases against me, and I was acquitted in all of them. It is illogical to blame a journalist for doing her job with honor and pride. I have not committed any crime attributed to me, but I admit to having written all the news stories and tweets. None of them was criminal.”

Öztürk’s lawyer, Efkan Bolaç, condemned the trial as shameful and said: “My client’s only mistake was being curious. Punishment for that is not correct. The judiciary in Turkey is reluctant to enforce the law. In the indictment there is no crime, but they tell Öztürk to prove her innocence.”

Bolaç requested that the court acquit Öztürk and to release her from prison.

However, the prosecutor demanded the continuation of her pretrial imprisonment, claiming that there is a strong suspicion of a crime having been committed and the belief that she poses a flight risk. The court ruled to keep Öztürk in jail and set the next hearing for Dec. 11.

The prosecutor had alleged in his indictment that Öztürk attempted to cast doubt on the legitimacy of the general and presidential elections held in Turkey on June 24 before and after the elections, tried to create social chaos in a bid to reinvigorate the Gülen movement and made efforts to save its jailed members from prison.

The indictment claimed that under the pretext of journalism, Öztürk posted messages on social media about the coup attempt and the coup trials to create a public perception in favor of the coup plotters. Öztürk’s reporting on the coup attracted much attention on social media and was quoted by several news outlets in Turkey.

(Turkish Minute with Stockholm Center for Freedom [SCF])

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