I first met Nedim Şener when he accepted the International Press Institute's (IPI) World Press Freedom Hero award last year in Vienna City Hall.
While I was still doing my obligatory military service in Cyprus on March, Şener was being arrested at his home in Istanbul.
With the first opportunity after I was back in Istanbul, I visited him at the Silivri Prison. Kadri Gürsel, a Milliyet columnist and another board member of the IPI's Turkish division, has written about this visit recently. Şener is accused of involvement in a plot to topple the government, but we had full confidence in him. In the end, the indictment also showed that he was on trial just because of his journalism which angered many power-holders.
I met Şener today, once again, this time in Istanbul's 16th High Criminal Court at the largest courthouse of Europe. After 265 days of detention, having lost almost 30 kilograms (66 pounds) -mostly not because of the bad treatment in prison, but psychological stress- this was the first time he faced a judge.
Meanwhile, the judges were facing an army of journalists: Not only the ones that they start to put on trial, but also the ones who came here to support their colleagues. There were scores of journalists in and -because of the limited space- outside of the courtroom. There were also lots of foreign observers and colleagues.
I watched the first trial with two MEPs by my side: Sajjad Karim, the first British Muslim elected to the European Parliament, and Barbara Matera from Italy. They were here as an ad hoc EP committee specially formed for this trial. The photo is badly blurred, but I still wrote a story for tomorrow's Hürriyet:
While chatting during a break, Mr. Karim reminded me that Turkey's President Abdullah Gül was being hosted by Queen Elizabeth II today. When speaking to Ms. Matera later on, I pointed out to the irony in the fact that these two MEPs were belonged to the Conservatives, like the AKP government which many criticized because of this trial nowadays.
When I visited the European Parliament in Brussels in 2009, I wanted to meet two MEPs for a couple of interviews: Ms. Matera and Christian Engström. I was lucky enough to find Mr. Engström in his office, but Ms. Matera was abroad then. After two years, I didn't go to Ms. Matera this time, but she arrived in the chair next to mine.
Not exactly. Neither Mr. Karim nor Ms. Matera was authorized to speak about the essentials of the case. They were just following it to prepare a report for the European Parliament. So I couldn't hear their opinion in full.
However, I liked Ms. Matera's assertiveness, especially when she was outraged as she realized that her adviser was left outside by the police, because the courtroom was already full. "Is this democratic? Is this legal?" I heard her shouting angrily.
"Welcome to Turkey, Ms. Matera" I whispered myself. I hope that they realized before writing their reports that we have been a multi-party democracy since 1950s, but we are neither the United States, nor North Korea. For decades, it was the military that threatened the democratization. Now, it is the civilian government, which kept hiding its fatally anti-democratic practices with seemingly democratic, but actually populist policies.
In this country, we jail scores of journalists, but treat them with the EU standards in our prisons.
We let anyone, whether a citizen or a foreigner, in our modern courtrooms, but the organization seems rather chaotic or even dictatorial sometimes.
We are a semi-democracy or a semi-autocracy.
What concerns us more is the trend: We're going towards a full-scale autocracy, if not a dictatorship, with the increasing number of trials like the one that we participated in today.
The result of today's session?
Some of the defendants petitioned for a recusation, refusing the chief judge who was photographed in the past at an iftar dinner with the police officials who helped in writing the indictment. The prosecutor who wrote the indictment was also photographed at the same dinner.
The defendants insisted that the chief judge must retreat himself as it was clear that he couldn't try the cause, on account of his supposed partiality. In any democracy with a sound legal system, a judge retreats himself after such an accusation, even if he is really not linked to the police or the prosecution anyway. As this is Turkey, the judge refused to retreat and forwarded the recusation to a higher court.
It means that Nedim Şener and other journalists, including other prominent ones like Ahmet Şık, will remain behind prison bars at least for another month without trial. We may expect that the attention of the media and foreign observers will diminish then, which may also mean that the imprisoned journalists will be tried by the same judges next year.
When I was leaving the courtroom, Ms. Matera was speaking to a defense attorney in shock. "The next trial will be held on December 26th. It's the day after Christmas! How will the Western observers and journalists visit Turkey again on that day?! Could they choose the date with ill intentions?" she asked.
"No, I'm sure nobody thought about the Christmas," the attorney assured her, "This is Turkey."