- The Turkish regime's campaign against journalists is "nothing but a persecution against freedom of thought and expression" says investigative journalist Ahmet Şık, taking the witness stand in an Istanbul court
- He is on trial for eight tweets, five articles and one interview critical of the Turkish President Erdogan's regime
- If convicted, he could face up to 15 years in jail
- "I was a journalist yesterday," he said. "I am a journalist today. I will be a journalist tomorrow. So the irreconcilable fight between myself and those who want to strangle the truth will never end."
Turkish investigative journalist Ahmet Şık was in an Istanbul court today with 17 fellow employees of the oldest Turkish daily, Cumhuriyet.
This was Şık's his first day in court in the case for which he was arrested 206 days ago.
The Cumhuriyet journalists are accused of “aiding terrorist organisations" without "being a member” of those networks, and “employment-related abuse of trust”.
Şık is on trial for eight tweets, five articles and one interview.
The prosecutor has asked for jail time of seven-and-a-half to 43 years for the journalists.
If convicted, Şık may serve up to 15 years behind bars.
This is a summary of what he said:
“Once more, history is on our side. You won’t be able to make a terrorist organisation out of Cumhuriyet or a terrorist out of us.
"What I say here today is not my defence or my testimony. On the contrary, they are accusations. Because, this campaign against us is nothing but persecution against freedom of thought and expression.
"In democracies, the judiciary acts with international standards of law. However, some members of the judiciary in Turkey are the gravediggers of justice.
"What I say here is not a defence at all. Saying that would be an insult towards my journalism and ethics.
"Because journalism is not a crime.
"Totalitarian regimes have the common feature of criminalising journalism. I know from my experience that I managed to become the persona-non-grata of every [Turkish] Government from every political era. I am proud of this inheritance that I will leave my daughter.
"I know this Government and its judiciary also have problems with me. Because I’m trying to do journalism. Today, I’m practising journalism not with the power I get from the government but with the power I get from truth.
"I was a journalist yesterday. I am a journalist today. I will be a journalist tomorrow. So the irreconcilable fight between myself and those who want to strangle the truth will never end."
"What we need in these dark days is not the loss of truth. We need truth now more than anything. This is why I will continue respecting truth more than I respect myself and I will continue refusing to be part of those who deny [the truth]."
"But it is obvious that a price must be paid. But do not think for a second that this scares us. Neither I nor the [group] 'Journalists Outside' - whom I am proud to be a part of - are scared of you, whoever you are. Because we know the thing that scares tyrants most is courage.
"And the tyrants should know that no cruelty can prevent the progress of history. Down with tyranny, long live freedom.”
Some in the courtroom were in tears during the speech, while these last words received spontaneous applause. There was such commotion, the judge had to warn the court to keep quiet.
The prosecutor mentioned news articles that are the subject of the court case. But Sik defiantly replied that he was proud of writing them.
He mentioned that the statute of limitation for a news article in Turkey to be sued is four months, and suggested that the prosecutor should go back to law school to learn these intricacies of the media law.
At this point, the prosecutor had enough.
He replied to Şık:
“You have no right to lecture us, we are educated too. We have experience too.”
Şık answered: “Do not ask me questions with [hidden] intentions. Ask me questions.”
The prosecutor then asked Şık about his famous tweet where he said the state is a murderer.
“I haven’t said enough. The state is a serial killer.”
The trial will last until Friday this week.
Other jailed defendants in the case are Akın Atalay, Murat Sabuncu, Kadri Gürsel, Turhan Günay, Güray Öz, Hakan Kara, Musa Kart, Önder Çelik, Bülent Utku and Mustafa Kemal Güngör, while another six are on trial without arrest or in absentia.
Ahmet Şık is charged with creating "propaganda for a terrorist organisation" and insulting the Turkish Republic, its judiciary, military and security forces.
It began last December when 46 year-old journalist announced on Twitter [below]: "I'm being detained. They're taking me to the prosecutor due to a tweet."
It has been seven months until his case was brought to trial.
Several of his tweets are now being used as "evidence" that Ahmet created propaganda for the PKK (Kurdish Workers’ Party), DHKP-C (Marxist-Leninist terrorist organisation) and FETO (Fetullah Gulen Terrorist Organisation). FETO is the name given to a 'network' organised by a exiled former cleric, Fetullah Gulen, whose followers were deemed responsible for the failed coup against Turkish President Erdogan's regime in July 2016.
This last allegation is bizarre, as Şık has been one of the staunchest critics of Gulen and his Islamist sect, and even wrote a book exposing their organisation.
Ahmet is now held under the Turkish government's state of emergency powers, adopted following the failed coup.
This decree is being exploited by the state to jail dozens of journalists, academics and lawyers, as well as the closure of human rights organisations.
According to a 2016 report by the Journalists’ Association of Turkey, in 2016, 780 journalists had their press cards revoked, 839 journalists were brought before court over news coverage.
Now many hundreds of journalists are in jail - making Turkey a 'gulag of the free press'.
Ahmet was arrested over several tweets he made between late November and early December 2016.
Tweet 1: "If Sirri Sureyya Onder is guilty of these charges, then don’t many people including the ones sitting in the [Presidential] Palace need to be charged too?"
Onder, MP for the People's Democratic Party (HDP), a pro-Kurdish political party with seats in the Turkish parliament, was detained in November for terrorism-related charges because of a photograph taken of him with a member of the PKK's media team.
The HDP, however, were part of the group negotiating a peace deal between the Government and PKK, which also including members of AKP - hence the questioning tone of Şık's tweet.
Tweet 2: "Instead of comparing people burned to death in Cizre and people blown up in Istanbul, why don’t you get angry about both of them? It's violence either way."
In February last year, 60 people burned to death in an apartment basement in Cizre, southeast Turkey, when they took shelter during Turkish army bombing campaign against the PKK.
The military claimed it "neutralised" several PKK soldiers, but others, including HDP members, said civilians were among those killed.
Hence Şık's appeal to moral equivalence, which he makes at the same time as not condoning either terrorism or Government-backed arson.
Tweet 3 "Instead of arresting Tahir Elci [lawyer] they chose to murder him, you are a murderous mafia."
Elci was a human rights lawyer who defended the rights of Kurds in Turkey.
He was shot and killed in November last year moments before being due to issue a press statement calling for an end to the violence in the south east of the country.
No one has been arrested for the assassination, but the family and some HDP members blame the Government.
In 2011, Ahmet was previously jailed for 375 days, along with fellow journalist Nedim Sener.
They were accused of being members of a so-called terrorist organisation called "Ergenekon", which the AKP said was plotting to overthrow the Government.
Ahmet's unpublished book, 'The Imam's Army', about the infiltration of Turkey's institutions by followers of Fetthulah Gulen caused his prior arrest.
In 2014, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the Turkish government violated the rights of Ahmet and Sener.
Two years later, Turkey's supreme court quashed the Ergenekon convictions, stating that the prosecutor - who fled Turkey last year - failed to establish that the 'terrorist organisation' had ever even existed.