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Owner and editor of Turkish-Armenian newspaper face prison sentences for "attempting to influence the judiciary"; their lawyers reject biased court

(BIANET/IFEX) - Lawyers for the Turkish-Armenian "Agos" newspaper have demanded that the case against owner Serkis Seropyan and editor Aris Nalci be heard by a different court, arguing that the current one "cannot be independent and neutral" because two of its judges were involved in sentencing Seropyan and Arat Dink in a case under Article 301.

Seropyan and Nalci have been on trial at the Sisli 2nd Criminal Court of First Instance for "attempting to influence the judiciary."

Lawyer Fethiye Cetin said that judges Metin Aydin and Hakki Yalcinkaya were part of the court that sentenced former editor-in-chief Arat Dink and Seropyan under Article 301 in a previous case. "These two judges are against Nalci and Seropyan. (. . .) The defendants in this case do not believe in the neutrality of this court or the judges Aydin and Yalcinkaya. The judges are not neutral in their perspectives on the 'Agos' newspaper, its employees or its Armenian employees."

As an example of their bias, Cetin cited the previous sentence handed out to Arat Dink and Seropyan on 11 July 2007. In their ruling, the judges described the defendants as "persons acting to get even with the Turkish Republic," "destructive and aimed at changing national borders" by means "including terrorism" and "aiming at geographical changes."

After the court listened to the demand, it did not withdraw from the case, so the Chief Public Prosecutor decided to send the file to the Istanbul Duty Heavy Penal Court for a decision.

Ufuk Uras, MP for Istanbul and chair of the Freedom and Solidarity Party (ÖDP), said at the end of the hearing, "The case is a typical sign of the discrimination against 'Agos'. They are still defending the bans they have in their heads. We are in the era of the Turkish Republic, not of the Ottoman Empire. We have to leave 'Agos' and our Armenian citizens in peace."

Uras said he would take part in a campaign entitled "Turkey is looking for judges and prosecutors."

Arat Dink and Serkis Seropyan had been sentenced under Article 301 for republishing Hrant Dink's comments about an "Armenian genocide." Other newspapers who also reported on Hrant Dink's utterances were not tried.

The current trial was opened when an article entitled "Intelligent Wood", published on 9 November 2007 and which criticised the sentencing of Arat Dink and Seropyan, was said to be an attempt at influencing the judiciary, a crime under Article 288 of the Turkish Penal Code.

The journalists, who have more than 10 lawyers working for their defence, are facing up to four-and-a-half years in prison.

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