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Former journalist given 5-year sentence in MİT trucks case retrial

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An İstanbul court has handed down a prison sentence of five years to former journalist Erdem Gül in a retrial concerning a report on National Intelligence Organization (MİT) trucks allegedly transporting weapons to rebels in Syria in 2014, the P24 platform reported.

 

Gül was the Ankara representative of the Cumhuriyet daily when the newspaper published a report on the trucks in May 2015 that caused a political firestorm in Turkey and led to the filing of criminal charges against the journalists and others involved in the publication of the story.

Gül, who is currently a district mayor in İstanbul from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), was given the sentence on charges of aiding and abetting a terrorist organization of which he wasn’t a member.

Gül attended the third hearing of his retrial at the İstanbul 14th High Criminal Court with his lawyers. Enis Berberoğlu, a former journalist and a current CHP lawmaker who was the alleged source of the news report, was also in attendance.

Berberoğlu and Gül faced charges of aiding and abetting a terrorist organization.

In April Turkey’s Supreme Court of Appeals reversed a lower court decision that did not impose prison sentences on the two politicians in the MİT trucks trial. Berberoğlu’s trial was halted since he acquired parliamentary immunity after winning a seat in the general election in May.

The prosecutor in the trial called for the punishment of the former journalist for the aforementioned charge.

“I don’t accept the accusations because journalism is not a crime. I want my acquittal. May journalism and justice win,” said Gül in his final remarks before the court issued its verdict.

One of Gül’s lawyers, Fikret İlkiz, said convicting a person of the crime of aiding and abetting a terrorist organization without being a part of it contravenes the constitution, making it impossible for the court to convict his client on this charge.

İlkiz was referring to a Constitutional Court decision in December, which  annulled Article 220 § 6 of the Turkish Penal Code, a controversial law that punished individuals for committing crimes on behalf of an organization without being a member of that organization, citing a lack of clarity and predictability.

The court said the provisions do not prevent arbitrary application by the authorities. The judgment will enter into force in four months’ time.

The panel of judges at the trial rejected the unconstitutionality claim by Gül’s lawyer and handed down a six-year sentence to Gül. The court later reduced the sentence to five years considering its possible effects on Gül’s future.

When the MİT trucks story first broke, it led to a debate about the role of the Turkish spy agency in arming rebel factions in Syria and prompted an investigation into Cumhuriyet daily journalists Can Dündar, who was the paper’s editor-in-chief at the time, and Gül, who published the report.

Gül, who was put in pretrial detention with Dündar in late 2015 following the publication of the story on spy charges for publishing footage purporting to show MİT transporting weapons to Syria, had already spent three months behind bars at the time. He and Dündar were released from pretrial detention based on a decision from the Constitutional Court in February 2016 which found a rights violation in their incarceration.

If his sentence is upheld by the Supreme Court of Appeals, Gül may go to prison to serve his sentence.

Dündar left Turkey in 2016 and has been living in exile in Germany since then, while Gül entered politics and was elected mayor of Adalar in the 2019 local elections.

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