Turkey: Court decision to close journalists’ trial to public undermines right to fair trial

PEN is deeply concerned that the trial of Cumhuriyet journalists Can Dündar and Erdem Gül, due to resume tomorrow, will be closed to the public and the media. The decision by the Turkish court to close their trial to the public on 25 March seriously undermines their right to a fair trial and is yet another example of attempts by the Turkish authorities to suppress all critical reporting. PEN urges the court to reopen the trial to public scrutiny, guarantee due process for the defendants and ensure that the public are barred only from those sessions when state secrets are discussed.

Can Dündar, editor of the daily Cumhuriyet, and Erdem Gül, its Ankara bureau chief, have been arraigned on charges of aiding a terrorist organisation, espionage and disclosure of classified documents. The charges relate to the publication of a report in Cumhuriyet claiming that Turkey’s intelligence agency (MiT) secretly armed Islamist rebel groups in Syria. Dündar and Gül were detained in November 2015 and held for nearly 100 days in Turkey’s Silivri Prison until the country’s Constitutional Court ruled that the journalists’ pre-trial detention violated their human rights.

On 25 March Judge Bülent Dalkıran, presiding over Istanbul’s 14th Court for Serious Crimes, granted prosecutors’ requests to hold the entire trial behind closed doors, on the grounds that some of the evidence to be presented related to state secrets. Defence lawyers had argued that this would contravene the journalists’ right to a fair trial, and asked that the press and the public be barred only from sessions when state secrets would be discussed.

Jennifer Clement, President of PEN International, said:

Public court proceedings are an important safeguard against judicial violations of defendants’ due process rights. This decision not only ignores the European Court of Human Rights ruling that any exclusion of the public from a trial must be exceptional, but also that court proceedings must, as a rule, be open to the public.

We deplore the fact that President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Turkey’s National Intelligence Agency (MIT), were joined as co-plaintiffs in the case. The involvement of the President and the National Intelligence Agency presents a very real threat to both the actual and perceived independence of the judicial process and violates Dundar and Gul’s right to a fair trial. Furthermore, we must not forget that this is a President who has repeatedly and publicly demonstrated his personal hostility towards journalists.

Turkey is a party to the European Convention on Human Rights, and the right to a fair trial as articulated in Article 6 of the Convention is binding on Turkey and its courts. In previous reports on violations by the ECHR, the most common human rights violation committed by Turkey was the denial of the right to a fair trial.

The European Court of Human Rights has repeatedly emphasised to State Parties that the public administration of justice is vital to ensure confidence in the courts and assists in ensuring a fair trial, ‘the guarantee of which is one of the fundamental principles of any democratic society.’

English PEN joins PEN International in calling on Turkey to drop all charges against the journalists immediately and unconditionally and release all those imprisoned for peacefully exercising their right to free expression and to end their crackdown on free speech.

Take Action

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Send appeals to the Turkish authorities:

  • Expressing serious concern at the Turkish Court’s decision to close the trial to the public and press;
  • Expressing concern that President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Turkey’s National Intelligence Agency (MIT) were joined as co-plaintiffs in the case;
  • Calling on the Turkish authorities to drop all charges against Can Dündar and any other Cumhuriyet staff members which are connected solely to their peaceful exercise of freedom of expression in their duties as journalists;
  • Reminding them that Turkey has the obligation to respect the right to freedom of expression under the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which it is a state party.
  • Urging the authorities to stop bringing cases against writers and journalists engaging in legitimate political criticism.

Appeals to:

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan
Cumhurbaşkanlığı Sarayı
06560, Beştepe
Ankara, Turkey
Fax: +90 312 525 58 31
Email: cumhurbaskanligi@tccb.gov.tr
Twitter: @RT_Erdogan

Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu
Vekaletler Caddesi Başbakanlık Merkez Bina
P.K. 06573; Kızılay, Ankara

Minister of Justice Bekir Bozdağ
Milli Müdafaa Caddesi No: 22
06659, Kızılay
Ankara, Turkey
Fax: +90 312 419 33 70
Email: bekir.bozdag@tbmm.gov.tr; ozelkalem@adalet.gov.tr
Twitter: @bybekirbozdag

**Please send appeals immediately, and check with PEN if sending appeals after 10 April 2016. Please copy your appeals to the Embassy of Turkey in your country, asking for their comments. A list of diplomatic missions can be found herePlease also send us copies of your letters and of any responses received.**


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