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Lawyer Hanbayat: “We recommend that the judicial panel takes PEN Norway’s report into the indictment of defendants Demirel and Mavioğlu into consideration when reaching their decision.”
Documentary-makers Ertuğrul Mavioğlu and Çayan Demirel were sentenced to 1 year and 3 months in prison charged with “making terrorist propaganda” for the docmentary named ‘Bakur’ (North) about women in the Kurdistan Workers’ Party that they made during the so-called Peace Process between the PKK and the Turkish state.
The verdict hearing of the retrial of the Demirel and Mavioğlu took place on 14 December 2023 at the 2nd High Criminal Court of the city of Batman, in south-eastern Turkey.
Defendant Çayan Demirel who suffered brain damage in 2015 due to lack of oxygen following his collapse upon completion of the film was not well enough to give his spoken defence, but attended the hearing with his wife who is also his carer. Lawyers for the defence Meral Hanbayat and Rozerin Kip were in attendance from Istanbul via SEGBIS, the courtroom closed-circuit conferencing system. Present in court also was lawyer Erkan Şenses, Head of the Batman Bar Association.
Along with a representative of PEN Norway, the Turkey-based NGOs MLSA (Media Law Studies Assocation) and P24 (Punto24) were present.
Defendants ‘not required to take sides’ during periods of conflict
The judicial panel gave defendant Demirel the chance to present his defence. Demirel, whose medical report declares him 94% disabled, allowed his lawyer to read out his defence. Following this, his lawyer Meral Hanbayat made reference to the PEN Norway indictment report prepared on the case by Italian Human Rights lawyer Ezio Menzione, “We submitted PEN Norway’s report into the indictment to the judicial panel. As you will see in the report, it is clear that there is no evidence within the indictment, either material or immaterial, to suggest that either defendant could be found guilty of the stated charges. We would recommend to the judicial panel that they take this indictment report into consideration and make their final decisions with it in mind.”
Continuing the defence, Hanbayat drew attention to the fact that it was not even clear if the police officer who first compiled the police report into the case had even seen the documentary in question. She stated, “During periods of conflict, documentary-makers are not obliged to take sides or to support the official line of the state or administration. Therefore, I demand the acquittal of my client.”
Lawyer Şenses: “In that case, state-run news agency Anadolu Agency has also committed the crime of terror propaganda”
The head of the Batman Bar Association, lawyer Erkan Şenses then spoke, saying: “States the world over are required to be more genial and moderate in their outlook during the period of a peace process. We should recall that during the same peace process the state’s official news agency ‘Anadolu Agency’ (AA) went to the city of Kandil and interviewed one of the senior officials of the PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party) Murat Karayılan and the proceeded to screen the interview on all of its subscription services. (If you are accusing Demirel and Mavioğlu of this crime by filming then) The Anatolian Agency also committed the crime of ‘terrorist propaganda’. My client, in just the same way, made a film without commentary and aimed to screen it to the public.”
Following the screening of the documentary Bakur in 2015, which was attended by 125 persons, a police officer compiled a report that was used as the basis to open a case against the defendants Mavioğlu and Demirel on the basis that they had, ‘legitimised or intended to promote practices that comprise force and violence and/or praised a terrorist organisation’.
The verdict reached by Batman’s 2nd High Criminal Court on 18 July 2019 was to sentence both defendants to 4 years and 6 months in prison. The defendants’ appeal was heard by Gaziantep’s 4th Regional Court of Justice and the appeal was upheld. The court then ruled for an investigation into whether there was any link, be it legal or de facto, between the Bakur charge and another case in which defendant Mavioğlu had been sentenced for ‘terrorist propaganda’ and which was at the time before the Supreme Court. The regional court of appeal then returned the case to Batman’s 2nd High Criminal Court stating that the necessary reduction in sentencing had not been applied to the sentences of Demirel and Mavioğlu and that their sentences were therefore too long. The case was reheard by Batman’s 2nd High Criminal Court on 26 May, 2022, at which the judicial panel ruled to lift the travel ban on Çayan Demirel. At the second hearing of the retrial on 22 September 2022 ruled to await the conclusion of the other case of defendant Mavioğlu that was before the Supreme Court.
PEN Norway studied the initial indictment in this case as part of their Turkey Indictment Project and reported on whether the indictment itself was in line with domestic and international law. Following the pubication of the report by PEN Norway, authored by Ezio Menzione, Demirel’s lawyers submitted it to the court as an expert opinion. The report concluded that the indictment did not, in fact, comply with legal criteria either in Turkey or internationally. The Anti-Terror Law’s infamous Article 7/2 was also the focus of Menzione’s report, which can be accessed here: