This is the account of EFJ Observer, Patrick Kamenka, who attended the Ergenekon trial in Turkey's Silivri Jail, just outside Istanbul, on Monday:
Heavy sentences were pronounced
against 21 Turkish journalists (one of them received a life sentence) involved
in the Ergenekon case by a court which met inside Silivri's jail (60 km west of
Istanbul) compound on Monday 5 August.
Tuncay Özkan, former owner of
BizTV, was sentenced to heavy life imprisonment and Mutafa Balbay, journalist
with the Cumhuriyet opposition newspaper and an MP (elected in jail) was
condemned to 34 years and eight months. Yalçin Kücük was sentenced to 22
years and six months.
These three journalists have already been in jail in
Silivri, the biggest prison in Europe with 11,000 detainees, for five years,
along with four other colleagues. Only one of them was released: Mehmet
Haberal, due to a health problem. Dozens of others colleagues, who were
released during pending trial, were also sentenced.
heavy security measures were in place for the trial. The families of the defendants were not allowed to
attend it. Hundreds of police and gendarmes (jandarma), armoured cars
and water cannon trucks prevented families and demonstrators from approaching
the court to support the 275 defendants in the case, which started in 2007
after a discovery of arms in Istanbul.
Police and gendarmes forces were
heavily equipped with helmets, plastic shields and clubs. They used tear gas
and water cannons to dismiss a demonstration by thousands of protesters near
a main road going to Silivri. To prevent any unauthorised people from
coming close to the court, double rows of fences were placed at the entry of
the Silivri zone. On the roofs near the jail zone stood police with guns to prevent
any "terrorist attack" from what officials said. Even a helicopter observe the
scene which had been transformed into a real war zone.
To enter the court you had to
receive a special accreditation card that was a different colour, whether you
were a journalist, lawyer or MP. No electronic technology was allowed and everyone
had to be checked in like they were in an airport. The lawyers refused to have
a body search as was planned. Ercan Ipecki denounced the fact that a lot of
Turkish journalists could not enter the court to attend the trail.
Inside the court room, the
atmosphere was very tense. The trial, which was planned to start at 9am, did
not begin until 12.30 when the judges started to read the long list of
Before the beginning of the trial,
the defendants entered the room with warm applause from the audience
(journalists, lawyers, and 50 MPs, mainly from CHP (leftist opposition party).
Mustafa Balbay stated
strongly in the court before the sentences: "We don't accept the court
decision, this decision belongs to them."
He added: "Don't let them do what
they want, be prepared for a warm autumn," and in a loud voice he
declared that the defendants "started to feel free after 31
May," the start of numerous
demonstrations in Gesi park and Taksim square and elsewhere in Turkey against AKP
leading party and the Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
He also asserted that the
government "is afraid of the fear they have created themselves," before thanking
the audience for their "support and solidarity".
Responding to this speech,
lawyers and some MPs started to shout: "We are all the soldiers of Mustafa
When the judges finally proceeded
and started the reading of the sentences, dozens of lawyers decided to leave
the court room, denying the fact that the president of the court was delivering
the sentences in the "name of the people".
The trial ended at 3.30pm with 16
life sentences given out, among them the former Turkish chief of staff, general
Ilker Basbug. He left the court room in a sign of protest just after the
sentence was read.
Ercan Ipecki, president of TGS,
EFJ representative at the trial, Patrick Kamenka, and others journalists were
interviewed by the Turkish media and strongly condemned the severe sentences
given to the journalists.
Speaking on behalf of the EFJ in
a television interview, Kamenka stated: "This Monday was a dark day for
democracy in Turkey and freedom of speech. We are here to express
solidarity with our Turkish colleagues who have been condemned in an
unfair political trial.
He continued: "We urge all
journalists and their unions in Europe to put pressure on the Turkish government
to stop these continuous attacks on democracy and journalists. We will campaign
with the IFJ and EFJ and support TGS' fight until there is not one journalist
in jail in this country".
Immediately after the trial,
Ercan Ipecki sent an appeal to the EFJ/IFJ to ask affiliates to condemn
the severe sentences by sending messages to the Turkish Prime Minister's office.