The International Press Institute (IPI) has berated the pre-trial detention of two Turkish journalists, Cumhuriyet Editor-in-Chief, Murat Sabuncu, and investigative journalist, Ahmet Şık.
It said the detention had caused damage to press freedom in the country.
It, however, welcome the release on bail of the two journalists.
IPI Turkey Advocacy Coordinator, Caroline Stockford, attended the sixth hearing of the trial against Cumhuriyet, Turkey’s most prominent opposition daily, at Silivri detention facility on Friday, March 9.
Sabuncu and Şık were freed following the hearing.
Despite satisfaction over the two releases, Stockford strongly criticized severe shortcomings in the rule of law.
“We are thrilled that IPI members Murat Sabuncu and Ahmet Şık, who never should have been behind bars in the first place, are free again,” Stockford said.
“But we are disturbed by clear signs that Turkey’s judiciary is not able to guarantee journalists a fair trial.”
She pointed in particular to the words used by the lead judge in the case to deliver the verdict regarding the detention of four of the 18 defendants in the case, who have served an average of 16 months in pre-trial detention.
At 22:10 local time, after two hours of deliberation, the judge made the following statement:
“Defendant Murat Sabuncu, it is said that you have missed the Bosphorous. Go on then, go and see it! Ahmet Şık, it is said that your mother is a saint, and has missed you, so I will let you go and see her. Aydoğdu (a defendant unrelated to the newspaper, implicated over a Twitter account) your case is different, you will continue in detention and Akın Atalay (Cumhuriyet CEO) they always say the captain must go down with the ship, so you are going to stay.”
IPI said the flippant nature of the judge’s remarks strengthened the case that the proceedings against Cumhuriyet amounted to no more than a show trial.
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The release order came two days after Cumhuriyet reported the existence of a manual suggesting that trial judges should consult Turkey’s High Council of Judges and Prosecutors (HSK) before releasing suspects in cases involving charges of membership in a terrorist organisation or – as in the Cumhuriyet hearing – “aiding a terrorist organisation while not being a member.”
“Recent events, including the judge’s remarks on Friday, raise serious questions about the impartiality of Turkish courts in these cases,” Stockford said.
“We urge the Council of Europe to formally recognise that there exists no effective, impartial or speedy judicial recourse to applicants in Turkey and to review the Köksal case that is currently blocking Turkish applications to the European Court of Human Rights.”
IPI stated further: “Freedom of expression, the right to speedy, impartial and effective domestic legal recourse and personal freedom are human rights enshrined in the European Convention and must be protected by all signatory parties, including Turkey.
“The European Court of Human Rights and the Council of Europe have a responsibility to respond effectively to violations of such rights.
“Despite their release, Şık, Sabuncu and other Cumhuriyet journalists including IPI Executive Board Member Kadri Gürsel continue to face prison time in the case.
“IPI will continue to monitor the trial against them and advocate for a full acquittal.”