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Our Editor-in-Chief Murat Sabuncu's defence: The price of independent journalism in Turkey is detention

On the second day of the trial in which the Cumhuriyet people are in the dock, our Editor-in-Chief Murat Sabuncu responded to the aspersions against our newspaper. Sabuncu, saying the trial had been brought to intimidate journalists, declared, ‘Regardless of the retribution that it is wished to exact, we have not abandoned Mumcu, Selçuk, Dink, Anter and Göktepe’s road, nor will we.’
Yayınlanma tarihi: 26 Temmuz 2017 Çarşamba, 22:09

Our newspaper’s Editor-in-Chief Murat Sabuncu made a defence at the second hearing of the trial brought to silence Cumhuriyet. He stated that that the words ‘Cumhuriyet’and ‘blurred’ could not be come together, and said it was harder for him to be obliged to defend headlines than to be stripped and enter prison at the age of 47. Sabuncu, noting that the Cumhuriyet trial had been brought to intimidate journalists, said 24 July on which the Cumhuriyet trial started and was marked as the anniversary of the lifting of censorship, would hereafter be marked as the ‘anniversary of the lifting of self-censorship.’
Sabuncu, declaring that the price of independent journalism in Turkey was prison, said, ‘We awaited the indictment for five months and we waited for nine months to appear in court. The prosecutor in this trial, the person who detained us and conducted the investigation, is a person who is undergoing prosecution charged with FETO membership. Can you get your head around it? This person is on trial with an aggravated life sentence sought and he is released pending trial. This prosecutor is still on his job and that job is to dispense justice. Our pens have been taken from our hands and we have been prevented from writing articles for either our newspaper or elsewhere. We have been kept waiting under aggravated conditions of detention.’ Sabuncu spoke as follows:
The prosecutor’s witnesses
‘The witnesses the prosecution has found consist of people who have been aligned with FETO, have been foot soldiers at its command and who were among the founders of Zaman newspaper and the Journalists and Writers Foundation. As to the expert who has examined our headlines and coverage over four years and has insinuated by means of cherry picking reports from among some 1,500 headlines and 14-15,000 reports that we aided the organisation, he is an engineer. He has great affection for the word “virtually”. He has used the word “virtually” throughout the report.
Twenty Cumhuriyet writers and workers have been arrested since 31 October until now. Fourteen of them have been put in Silivri. Our tea service colleague and internet editor also entered prison. There are 200 of us on the paper and you arrested ten per cent of us. The bank accounts of the mothers, fathers, spouses, grandchildren and even of former spouses of the persons named in this indictment have been included in the investigation. An inquiry was even made about the property of one of our colleagues’ five-year-old daughter.
To give the impression that we are rich
The basic aim of the Cumhuriyet Foundation is to keep the Cumhuriyet newspaper alive under these arduous conditions. I have never been a foundation member. I was not working at Cumhuriyet on 18 February 2014, stated to be the date on which the foundation was usurped. I did not know the staff of Cumhuriyet Foundation, either. They are not people I have sat and drunk a glass of tea with. It says in this indictment, “Murat Sabuncu, you usurped the Cumhuriyet Foundation with people you were totally unacquainted with at a newspaper you were not working at.” There is no Financial Crimes Investigation Board report in which I am mentioned by name, either in the indictment or the additional binders. But, the prosecutor has inserted Financial Crimes Investigation Board reports – maybe to give the impression that we are rich.’
Defending headlines is the most arduous thing
Sabuncu, touching on his Twitter posts being cited as crimes, said, ‘I use Twitter like a digital notebook. Ten of my tweets have been raised in the indictment. In one of them, I posted a comment by Gülen on the Kurdish issue. This is part of my digital notebook because the Gulenists, the brotherhood people and today’s FETOists, were one of the groups that did the most harm to this process known as the peace process in Turkey. My tweets about the Özgür Gündem, Zaman and Karşı newspapers and Ahmet Altan were posted independently of the people or entities and purely so as to make sense of those journalists and, in a way, underline them. I do not need to have an intellectual relationship with those entities. I have opposed these things as a journalist.
Why was Koru an intermediary?
I am accused, through my tweet “We reject it” about the publishing ban on 17 December, of “Supporting the 17 December coup attempt.” On 17 December, a group of policemen raided the homes of a group of ministers’ children. The indictment has it that the Gulenists made this attempted coup. If the ruling party knows that it was the Gulenists who made and arranged the coup, why did Abdullah Gül send a Fehmi Koru as an intermediary to the person who arranged the coup.  I have never been to Pennsylvania. I am not one of the journalists who speak of him giving me a pen as a present. As a journalist, I also question his (Gülen’s) movement. I have never encountered him directly.
I have conducted journalism
I have penned hundreds of articles and reports at Milliyet, T24 and Cumhuriyet. Among these, you will not find a single report or article in which I have praised Fethullah Gülen or anybody else, or flattered him with the expectation of return. We are people who have purely and simply conducted journalism with honour and integrity, will do so and whose future conduct can be counted on.
My knees trembled
How about your home being raided by the police and them coming in as far as your bedroom or me, as a 47-year-old man, being stripped and admitted on entering Silivri? For me, as a journalist, the obligation to defend headlines is more arduous than this. Orhan Erinç invited me into his room before I became editor-in-chief and said, “Murat Sabuncu, I hereby entrust the post of editor-in-chief of Cumhuriyet, the defender of Turkey’s founding values and one of the defenders of the secular, democratic order.” My knees do not tremble easily, but my knees trembled. The Cumhuriyet Foundation deed charts our course.
“The solution is democracy” headline concealed
The date of the headline, “War at home, war in the world” included in the indictment was 25 July 2015. We are purported to have given a subliminal message with this. According to the 15 July overarching indictment, FETO gave the go-ahead for the coup on 9 November 2015. According to the expert, we guessed about the coup attempt three months before them. On the evening of the coup, everyone working at Cumhuriyet was combined in opposition to the coup. We settled at midnight on the headline of our newspaper dated 16 July: “The solution is democracy.” This headline is not in the expert’s report and is not in the indictment. But, they took the heading beneath it, “Turkey in chaos” and placed it in the indictment. The indictment and expert tell us we cannot say, “deficient democracy.” Nobody can question the editor or editor-in-chief about a headline inserted in response to the absence of a party that got six million votes from the Yenikapı Rally. The HDP should have been there. Everybody should.
Witch hunt substantiated
We stand accused for our headline, “The Witch Hunt Has Begun.” There is no need to explain this headline. After all, we are before you. Just as the same thing has happened to Sözcü and the colleagues on Birgün. Were İbrahim Kaboğlu, Cihangir İslam and Murat Sevinç not thrown out of university?
If they write it, it is not a crime
The expert raises accusations over the report “Parallel purge at the Supreme Military Council.” On the same day, rulership-aligned Star’s headline was “FETO’s business is the Supreme Military Council.” How does this differ from Cumhuriyet’s report? Sabah also takes the same report from Star and says, “FETO’s business will end at the Supreme Military Council.” If Cumhuriyet writes it, it is a crime; if Star or Sabah write it, there is no problem.’
We will never abandon our road
Murat Sabuncu replied individually to the charges in his defence. Sabuncu said, ‘This Saturday the Saturday Mothers will congregate for the 644th time in the square in Beyoğlu for their children who were lost by certain officials of the state. How unfortunate that these things happened in the 90’s in our country. Once news emerges of person going missing, a journalist’s duty is to inquire. The Interior Minister and provincial governate’s explanations are also contained in the serialised report. After Hurşit Külter went missing, the question marks over finding him were reported on. Alongside Cumhuriyet newspaper, the Human Rights Association made inquiries. The Human Rights Association also started an investigation into the question at that time and a decision was taken to discontinue the proceedings.
I managed to sit in the Cumhuriyet Editor-in-Chief’s office for two months. There is an interesting view. One side of the office overlooks a graveyard and one side the judicial complex. A brief summary of the adventure of journalism in Turkey.
On this paper, Uğur Mumcu, Bahriye Üçok and Ahmet Taner Kışlalı were killed. Regardless of the accusations that are made, or the retribution that it is wished to exact, we have not abandoned Uğur Mumcu, İlhan Selçuk, Hrant Dink, Musa Anter and Metin Göktepe’s road, nor will we.’
To presiding judge Dağ’s question as to who set the headlines from Can Dündar’s departure abroad until 1 September 2016, he said, ‘This was fixed at the editorial desk. But, the words “Cumhuriyet” and “blurred” cannot come together. I also take responsibility for that period.’ To the question, ‘What was your criteria over news relating to terror in view of the capacity you held,’ on the other hand, Sabuncu replied, ‘Cumhuriyet regards all political acts of violence as terror without drawing a distinction.’ Sabuncu also commented that the Cumhuriyet Foundation did not interfere in any way with reports and headlines. As to presiding judge Dağ’s question, ‘When talking about the Hurşit Külter story, you spoke of “those lost by the state.” Do you have any information about this?’ he responded, ‘The prime-minister received Mother Berfo. Her son was lost while under arrest. I have no information but it is the other side that must give information. Maybe Erdoğan knows. It is the state that should know. The mothers have been seeking their children for 644 weeks.’
The witnesses will go down in history
Sabuncu, noting that three people who worked at Cumhuriyet newspaper were acting as witnesses at the prosecution, said, ‘Journalists used to be witnesses of news and history. Now journalists are acting as witnesses in a trial in which their colleagues are being prosecuted, and this will go down in history, too.’ Sabuncu, recalling that one of these people had said he was a ‘liberal’ in his statement, noted, ‘He is misinformed. I am a social democrat.’
This is an exercise in futility
Sabuncu, responding to allegations against him that he had ‘communications records’ with FETO suspects who are ByLock users, said, ‘It is an exercise in futility to tell a journalist they spoke to a particular person. According to the file, there are 215,092 ByLock users. I supposedly spoke to thirteen people. This amounts to one in eighteen thousand. The people I am alleged to have spoken to are neither in detention nor on the run. It is asserted in the indictment that we spoke to people like soldiers, policemen and prayer callers. I had conversations with neither soldiers, nor policemen nor prayer callers. They were all journalists and businessmen. But this is not clearly set out in the indictment. I spoke to ten people from among 170,000 people who have undergone investigation.’
They have also made me familiar with the interior
Sabuncu, also mentioning the accusation that he has a communications record with former special jurisdiction judge Mehmet Ekinci, stated that Ekinci was a news source in that he was an Odatv judge. Sabuncu, saying they travelled far and wide to make known the unlawfulness of the case brought against journalists by the prosecutor on the run in these proceedings, Zekeriya Öz, said, ‘Those were the days when you got burnt if you touched them. At the same time, I was a visitor of my colleagues in the Odatv trial. I came here for 52 weeks. I became familiar with the exterior. Seven years later, they have also made me familiar with the interior. Silivri was a bit more comfortable in those days. Can there be anything comfortable about a prison? There was limit on visiting. There was no barbed wire.’
I am one of the hundred people
Sabuncu said with reference to the support he gave the families of detainees, ‘Just as today our spouses and children are at our side, in those days our colleagues’ spouses were at their side. Ahmet Şık’s book The Imam’s Army was published by one hundred fearless people, headed by Yonca Şık. One of the hundred signatures is mine.’

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