Ergenekon: A Trial Against Democracy and Freedom of Expression

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

Kemal Atatürk".

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.