PEN Norway was present at Sedef Kabaş’ court hearing 11 March 2022. This is the trial report:
Sedef Kabaş released
Journalist Sedef Kabaş appeared in court for the first time in 49 days imprisonment in Bakırköy Women’s Prison. The prosecutor sought up to 12 years and 10 months of imprisonment on charges of ‘insulting the President’ and for ‘openly insulting’ two ministers ‘in relation to the performance of their duty’. The court sentenced Kabaş to 2 years and 4 months’ imprisonment for insulting the President and was released on bail.
Sedef Kabaş was brought to the hearing at the 36th High Criminal Court of Istanbul from Bakırköy Prison in Istanbul, where she was under a pre-trial detention. Also present were the two lawyers of the President. No observers were allowed in the courtroom. Despite this, the court reporter of PEN Norway was following the hearing at the Çağlayan Courthouse.
In her defence statement Kabaş said, “I will continue to fulfil the responsibilities of a journalist and will continue to write and speak the truth so that this country can be free. I have done thousands of interviews so far. And I have been hosted by many programmes.”
The judge intervened and said, “Present your defence as to the events. Stop telling me about your life.”
Kabaş went on to say, “They seek a far-fetched imprisonment of 13 years for me, just because of a proverb. Is insulting a crime? Of course, it is. Beyond that, an insult is a moral problem.”
Reminding the court that the international conventions to which Turkey is party, oblige the equal application of law to everyone, Kabaş stated that “Heads of the state will not be granted any privileges. I did not insult Erdoğan, nor will I, and this is regardless of whether he has immunity or not. I criticize the current government and those around it in the most severe way, as they have condemned the country to the harshest conditions. This is my duty as a citizen of the Republic of Turkey. There can be debates in politics. Irony and proverbs are legitimate to use when necessary.”
Defence Lawyers’ statements
Kabaş’ lawyers resumed after her defence. Uğur Poyraz, Kabaş’s attorney, invited the President to attend the hearing and explain exactly how he was victimized. The President’s lawyers reacted to this request and said, “Will the President come here? We submitted our evidence to the file. We seek to participate in the case.” The lawyers of the President and the lawyer of the Minister of Interior requested to take part in the trial.
Later, Kerem Altıparmak, one of Kabaş’s attorneys, took the floor. Altıparmak said, “This case should be treated as an ordinary defamation case. You treat the President preferentially. The President and the Minister of the Interior should also come here. You have to implement the ECtHR decision. Their request to take part in the trial cannot be granted.”
Despite all objections, the court granted the requests by the lawyers of the President Erdoğan and Süleyman Soylu to attend the hearing.
The judge asked the trial prosecutor if he was ready to present his opinions. The prosecutor of the trial stated that his opinion is ready. The prosecutor stated that Kabaş made comments on President Erdoğan during the programme and pronounced the words in question before concluding her talk, and then performed the same action on social media, pointing out that she, in her statements and social media posts, was referring to President Erdoğan and his office in Beştepe. Alleging that Kabaş was simply trying to evade the offence, the prosecutor requested Kabaş be sentenced to an imprisonment from 1 year 5 months to 8 year 2 months for her words against the President Erdoğan, and from 1 year 2 months to 2 years 4 months for her words against Suleyman Soylu, the Minister of Interior. In total, an prison sentence from 2 year 7 months to 10 year 6 months was sought for Kabaş. Stating that Kabaş’s words against Adil Karaismailoğlu, the Minister of Transport and Infrastructure, did not constitute the crime of insult, the prosecutor requested Kabaş be acquitted of this offense but be kept under continued pre-trial detention.
After the prosecutor’s opinion, Kabaş’s attorney Bahar Ünlüer took the floor and stated that her client has a 12-year-old son with special needs that has to be taken care of. Ünlüer said, “her son is far from his mother’s care and affection because she has been under a pre-trial detention for 49 days. She lives with her grandmother, who has Parkinson’s.”
Att. Kerem Altıparmak took the floor again to present his request for his client’s release. Altıparmak said, “A very serious interference against the family life is taking place here. An ongoing detention will sustain this.” Altıparmak emphasized the decisiveness of the Vedat Şorli judgement of the ECtHR regarding an insult against the President, and added that the judgement was sent to the Board of Ministers, which the court was now obliged to implement.
Finally, Sedef Kabaş took the floor for the last time and asked to be released. Kabaş said, “It is impossible to divorce this case from politics. Our fight is not against each other. Our fight should be against those who set us against each other.” Delivering the judgement, the judge acquitted Sedef Kabaş of the offence of insulting a public officer but sentenced her to 2 years and 4 months of imprisonment for insulting the President. The court ordered her release.