Turkey: Court decision to close journalists’ trial to public undermines right to fair trial
This post originally appeared on the PEN International website.
As the trial of Cumhuriyet journalists Can Dündar and Erdem Gül is due to resume tomorrow, a decision by the Turkish court to close their trial to the public 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 International said today. 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 March 25 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. Defense 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.
“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,” said PEN International President Jennifer Clement.
“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.” PEN International calls 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.