Inside the courtroom
After a long time, we had a chance to see our colleagues from daily Cumhuriyet. We were all packed into a mid-size courtroom, which felt like a Finnish sauna, on the first floor of the Çağlayan Courthouse. This was the first time 12 of them were brought before a judge after nine months. Nevertheless, the audience was as energetic as though they were in a rock concert.
Cumhuriyet is more than a newspaper, and it has always been that way. In his defense on Jan. 24, Akin Atalay, the chairman of the newspaper’s executive board and a lawyer by profession said, “Embedded in the roots and history of Cumhuriyet, lie secular values, independence and freedom. This paper has paid a dear price for these values for decades. Its writers and editors have been threatened, jailed and assassinated. Cumhuriyet is no stranger to government threats. We are here as the humble protectors of this incredible inheritance.”
According to the indictment, Cumhuriyet, still the bedrock of Kemalist ideas, is accused of assisting the Fethullahist Terrorist Organization (FETÖ), the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the outlawed Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party-Front (DHKP-C) combined. If for example a columnist for a pro-government newspaper happens to pen an article about the Kurdish peace process, it is considered to be part of the “opening,” but if Cumhuriyet’s Ahmet Şık obtains information and writes a news story about the PKK’s position on an issue, it is called aiding terrorism.
Cumhuriyet’s editorial stance can be discussed and criticized. But it cannot be jailed with an indictment that is full of assumptions that use “as if” as reality. Murat Sabuncu, a veteran business reporter and currently the chief editor of Cumhuriyet, on the second day of the trial challenged the indictment with these words: “The prosecutor who wrote this is now charged with being a member of FETÖ, yet he is tried as a free man. We, as journalists, are jailed because of a very disputable judicial process.”
These are some highlights of the Cumhuriyet trial. It will continue until July 28. And the room is all packed with journalist friends, International Press Institute (IPI) and Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) members, and some international colleagues. Despite all the grimness to the situation, we could not help but smile just to see their faces. Kadri Gürsel even asked me, “How is it going?” I answered “so-so.” I remembered the nights when I would be working the grueling nightshifts as a writer at CNN Türk where he would be a regular on our evening discussion shows and we would be chatting backstage about politics. Now I am anchoring one of those shows and talking about Cumhuriyet while he is in jail.
Prof. Dr. Tanju Tosun from Ege University on a show on CNN Türk said, “Feb. 28 and the headscarf crisis taught the CHP [main opposition Republican People’s Party] and seculars a lot. The coup attempt should be the same for the AK Party [ruling Justice and Development Party] and its supporters. There was a massive mistake and we all should learn from it.”
FETÖ became a huge crime syndicate that is breaking our trusts for each other. The state first has to learn from its mistakes that not all criticism is harmful, and in fact you should fear from the ones that always seem to be in your favor, like FETÖ.
Cumhuriyet’s reporting was and will be a tool for Turkey to fight illegal organizations like FETÖ, the PKK and DHKP-C.
Cumhuriyet is the place to start healing our wounds and rebuilding our state. So let freedom ring!