April 8, 2015 | The trial of Dutch journalist Fréderike Geerdink took an unexpected turn this morning in Diyarbakır’s 6th High Criminal Court. After she delivered her statement pleading not guilty to the charge of making propaganda for a terrorist organisation, the prosecutor went over the indictment. To everyone’s surprise, he demanded her acquittal.
Although the verdict will only be delivered next Monday (April 13), this certainly looks like good news for Fréderike Geerdink. The journalist writes about the Kurdish issue and life in Turkey’s southeast and recently published a book about the Uludere/Roboski massacre, in which 35 civilians were killed, the majority of them children, when a Turkish warplane bombed a group of civilians in the district of Uludere near the border with Iraq in December 2011. The prosecutor argued that while she did tweet, post and write the things on the basis of which she was charged under article 7/2 of the Anti-Terrorism Law, there is no basis for a conviction, as she didn’t incite violence and had remained within the limits of press freedom.
The indictment was drawn up by another prosecutor, which explains the change of opinion. According to Fréderike Geerdink’s lawyer Ramazan Demir, it is common practice in the Turkish law system for one prosecutor to investigate a case and for another to deal with the actual trial. Thus, a reassessment is possible. Acquittal is expected.
The prosecutor’s reasoning in itself is another piece of good news. Article 7/2 of the Anti-Terrorism Law constitutes as a crime ‘making propaganda for a terrorist organisation’. The article was amended in the so-called Fourth Judicial Package in April 2013 to require propaganda to be made for the methods of the organization that include threats, coercion or violence. While this is an improvement, the law still does not provide an explicit enough requirement that the speech is incitement to violence and is vague enough that it can still be used to violate the right to freedom of expression.
The indictment for Fréderike Geerdink’s case, however, disregarded the amendment all together. The evidence brought against Geerdink fails to distinguish between an analysis of the conflict between the PKK and the Turkish authorities and expressions that incite violence. The fact that the second prosecutor does make the distinction and thus applies the law is good news. However, it’s not clear whether the judge in the case or future prosecutors investigating journalists and activists will make the distinction.
The courtroom this morning was a reminder of the prevalence of unfair trials in Turkey. The huge courtroom was purpose-built to accommodate the mass trial of defendants accused of membership of the PKK-linked Kurdistan Communities’ Union (KCK), often without substantive and convincing evidence.
In fact in a related case, Fréderike Geerdink’s lawyer Ramazan Demir himself stands trial tomorrow (April 9).
This morning, Fréderike Geerdink sat far away from the two rows of observers – Dutch and international journalists, representatives from the Dutch embassy and local activists. As their microphones were off, we could hardly hear what the judges and prosecutor said. But Fréderike Geerdink’s voice filled the room as she read out her plea, defending her freedom to perform her job as a journalist. She argued that the prosecutor took her words out of context and turned her work on the Kurdish issue into propaganda. ‘I find that disrespectful towards my work. It should not be punishable to publish an interview with whoever’ [referring to her interview with a senior leader of the PKK which formed part of the evidence]. She concluded: ‘I am a journalist, even if you frame me as a propagandist.’ Exactly. It is the reason why this case should never have been brought to court.
Marjanne de Haan
Landenmedewerker Turkije / Country specialist Turkey
Amnesty International – Netherlands