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Turkey's prosecution of German journalist Mesale Tolu 'unlawful'

The German journalist and translator Mesale Tolu's trial has started in Turkey. She has been in a Turkish jail since April. Her lawyer, Ezgi Gungordu, spoke to DW about filing for her release.

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Turkey: The case of Mesale Tolu

The trial against German journalist and translator Mesale Tolu, who has been in a Turkish jail with her young son since April, has started in a courthouse on the outskirts of Istanbul. She has been accused of being a member of a terrorist organization and publishing terrorist propaganda. 

In court, Tolu denied the charges and pleaded for her release and acquittal. She is one of 11 German nationals currently being detained in Turkey - among them fellow journalist Deniz Yucel and human rights campaigner Peter Steudtner.

German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel demanded on Wednesday that Tolu receive a "fair trial based on the rule of law." Speaking to German daily Bild newspaper, he said the trial "has to be fast so that Mesale Tolu will be released as soon as possible and can come back to Germany."

He said the German government would continue supporting Tolu during the trial, adding that he was personally stirred by the proceeding "because her little child is directly affected by the imprisonment."

The Turkish court on Wednesday confirmed that Tolu would not be released from custody during the trial as her lawyers requested.

DW spoke to her lawyer Ezgi Gungordu before the trial started.

DW: When and under what circumstances was Mesale Tolu arrested?

Ezgi Gungordu: Tolu was arrested on April 30 in a police house raid. She was charged on May 6 with being a "member of an armed terrorist organization" and "spreading terrorist propaganda." She has spent five and a half months in custody. She had been working as a reporter and translator for the news agency ETHA, which is not connected to armed actions. The indictment cites her membership in the Socialist Party of the Oppressed (ESP) as membership in a terrorist organization. In regards to ETHA, we see this as an effort to undermine journalism.

What are the charges against Tolu based on?

She is charged with being a member of the Marxist-Leninist Communist Party (MLKP). The evidence against her is alleged attendance of funerals and memorial services for party members such as Yeliz Erbay, Sirin Oter, Suphi Nejat Agirnasli and Ivana Hoffmann, who died in Syria. There are photos of her between December 17-25, 2013, at protests against government corruption. A magazine on Marxist-Leninist theory was found in her apartment, which is deemed to be evidence of her membership in the organization. The magazine is not prohibited, [and] even as a journalist, she could have a prohibited publication in her possession on research grounds.

The indictment includes a statement by an anonymous witness. What does that say?

Ezgi Güngördü (DW/A.Duran)

Gungordu says Tolu's arrest is part of a government effort to undermine journalism

The anonymous witness says, "I don't know [Mesale Tolu] in particular, but she is part of the local MLKP organization. She takes part in events organized by its women's wing." That is from 2015, when there was no investigation into Tolu. Now in 2017 she has been arrested and detained for these statements. Moreover, the anonymous witness says, "I don't know her," but can at the same time say she is the member of a terrorist association. We believe this anonymous statement is meant to make the case against Tolu appear more robust.

As Tolu's lawyer, what do you make of the case?

The European Court of Human Rights states that people can organize or take part in a ceremony for the dead regardless who the dead person is. That means there is no crime here. Therefore the case is unlawful because it adopts the police report as is. The indictment is 118 pages long, but only one page is from the prosecution. The rest deals with the history of the MLKP, and what ETHA and ESP are. Nowhere in the report is there a shred of evidence pointing to Tolu having taken part in an MLKP event.

What sentence could Tolu and others on trial face?

The prison sentence is more than 10 years. The trial will take place on October 11 and 12 in Silivri. We advocated for this location due to the large number of defendants. They will present their own defense on the first day. On the second day, the lawyers will speak. The others are on trial for having been found with ESP flags or flyers. The charges focus on ETHA, but there is no judicial ruling against ETHA as a "press arm of a terrorist organization."

Has Tolu had contact with the German consulate during her detention?

Martin Erdmann, Germany's ambassador to Turkey, visited Tolu at the end of August in the women's jail in Bakirkoy. We lawyers are also in regular touch with the consulate. The consulate has told us it will be present for the trial on October 11 and 12. There is no request for extradition because Tolu is a German citizen. German authorities see their role as observing the trial.

What are Tolu's conditions in jail?

In comparison to the jail in Silivri, her conditions in Bakirkoy are a bit better. She is in a cell with 10 others. Her three-year-old son, Serkan, is also with her. This is the most important point of our motion to release, and we are asking the judge to be particularly sensitive to this point. Serkan should be starting preschool, but he is living with his mother in jail. His father is one of the 18 detained defendants. Tolu's family lives in Germany. We have filed a motion with the court to release Tolu for the trial, but have yet to receive a response.

 

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