Turkey: Kafkaesque Taraf trial confirms extent of Turkey’s lack of rule of law

ARTICLE 19 is concerned at observed violations of the right to a fair trial in the trial against journalists and editors of the Taraf newspaper in Turkey. Inadequate time and facilities to prepare one’s defence, and repeated changes in the composition of the panel of judges reveal a disregard of basic rights to defence and standards of fair trial as guaranteed under international human rights law. ARTICLE 19 calls the Turkish government to drop all politically motivated charges against all defendants in the Taraf case and guarantee the right to a fair trial and due process in all cases.

In his statement before the court, detained journalist Mehmet Baransu claimed to have faced several barriers in the preparation of his defence. Since the start of the trial, the defendant lamented that he was not granted adequate time and facilities by the prison administration to prepare his defence. He stressed that since the previous hearing of this trial, every week he was given six hours on Mondays and one hour on Wednesdays for the preparation of his statement, which he considered insufficient given the high number of trials he is currently facing.

ARTICLE 19 is also concerned over the observed change of panel of judges presiding the trial. Independence and impartiality of tribunals are fundamental elements to guarantee the fairness of a trial. We are alarmed that the observed rotation within the composition of the judicial panel in the trial may be an indication of political interference, which would be incompatible with the notion of an independent tribunal as required by law. Changes in the panel of judges have also been observed in other trials against journalists in Turkey, including in a separate trial against Mehmet and Ahmet Altan earlier this year.

Director of Programmes at ARTICLE 19, David Diaz-Jogeix, underlines that “adequate time and facilities to prepare one’s defence and the right to be tried before an independent tribunal are essential fair trial standards. These abuses question the functioning of the rule of law in Turkey”.

 On 1-2 November 2018, ARTICLE 19 and the Bar Human Rights Committee (BHRC) monitored the fourth hearing of journalists and editors affiliated with the Taraf newspaper: Ahmet Altan, Mehmet Baransu, Yasemin Çongar, Yıldıray Oğur and Tuncay Opçin.  The trial has been adjourned until the 3-4 January 2019, when ARTICLE 19 and BHRC will continue to monitor the proceedings.

All defendants face politically motivated charges of “acquiring and divulging documents concerning the security of the state and its political interests” contrary to articles 326-327 and 329 of the Turkish Criminal Code. These documents are allegedly related to the ‘Egemen Operation’ plan on a war against Greece. Baransu and Opçin are also accused of membership of a terrorist organisation.

ARTICLE 19 calls on the Turkish government to immediately stop its relentless judicial harassment against journalists and writers, to restore the independence of the judiciary, and to reform relevant laws on freedom of expression in accordance with international human rights standards.