Journalist’s lawyer Veysel Ok prosecuted
On 9 May 2018, renowned media lawyer Veysel Ok appeared before the 37th Criminal Court of First Instance in Istanbul for allegedly openly insulting the Turkish justice system in a newspaper interview. The reporter who conducted the interview, Cihan Acar, is also a defendant in the same trial.
Veysel Ok is a leading free speech and press rights advocate known for his defence of journalists rights. He is also co-founder of the Media and Law Studies Association (MLSA). He has been working in the field of freedom of press for more than a decade and has defended some of Turkey’s most well-known journalists alongside Die Weltcorrespondent Deniz Yücel.
On 26 December 2015 in an interview with newspaper Özgür DüsünceOk expressed his views on the independence of the Turkish judiciary. More specifically, we understand that he stated the following: “Previously, judges could hold varying opinions. There was a possibility of being tried by judges who valued freedoms. But now all members of the judiciary come in a single colour. We see the judges serving at the Criminal Judgeships of Peace. They are deaf to defense statements or objections. Where the loyalties of these judges lie is clear. Nothing changes the result, because the decisions are pre-ordered. Either, those in power give orders to the judicial authorities before the investigation, or attack the defendant via the government press.”
On 29 December 2015, the office of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan filed a complaint against Ok, even though the president was not mentioned in the interview. On 11 August 2016, two months after the attempted coup in Turkey, the Prosecutor submitted the indictment against Ok. On 16 September 2017,after Ok had started representing journalists who had been charged after the coup attempt, the court accepted the indictment.
The first hearing was held on 19 September 2017. In a second hearing, a legal representative for the president requested a leave to intervene on behalf of President Erdoğan. The court did not grant the leave on the ground that the president had not been “directly harmed” by Ok’s statement.
In a hearing on 9 May 2018, Cihan Özgüneş Güngör, the lawyer representing Ok, challenged her client’s arrest and prosecution on the grounds that the statute of limitations on starting a press case had expired. She also argued that Ok’s criticism of the judiciary falls within the scope of freedom of expression. She asked for acquittal and, alternatively, if not, that the case be dismissed on procedural violations.
In his defense statement Ok said:
“(…) I only shared my experience as a lawyer. I do not think the judgeships are independent. I am part of the justice system myself. I did not intend to insult it. But I have the right to criticize the justice system.”
Ok’s prosecution is based on article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code which criminalises insulting the Turkish judiciary. Article 301(1) states that:
“A person who publicly degrades the Turkish Nation, State of the Turkish Republic, Turkish Grand National Assembly, the Government of the Republic of Turkey or the judicial bodies of the State shall be sentenced a penalty of imprisonment for a term of six months to two years.”
The court adjourned the case to 4 July 2018 to allow the judge more time to review the case files.
Lawyers for Lawyers will continue to closely monitor his case.
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