15-year prison sentence sought for Turkish journalist who founded two national news channels

Ali Ahmet Böken (46) is a successful journalist (broadcaster) who graduated from Ankara University’s Faculty of Communication in 1994. He worked as a journalist, a news presenter, an editor and a news director for Samanyolu Television. He was a columnist in samanyoluhaber.com, which is related to Samanyolu Haber TV. With the establishment of the Samanyolu Haber (News) TV on January 22, 2007, he became the chief editor of the channel.

He left the channel he was working for and transferred to the public broadcaster TRT as contracted personnel. He became the chief editor for TRT Haber (News), which was established on March 18, 2010.  He gave lectures at Zirve University as a visiting academic about Public Broadcasting. He is married and has two children.

In his coordination, TRT News was elected the most popular TV channel in Europe just after two years it was established. TRT News got the first place by the public vote in a competition where 120 channels from 19 countries competed for the first place, getting ahead of well-known channels such as BBC, Russia Today, France 24, SKY News and CNBC. Prizewinners in this competition were awarded at a ceremony held in Venice, Italy. Then-TRT’s General Manager İbrahim Şahin and TRT News’ Editor-in-Chief Ahmet Böken represented TRT at the ceremony.

Ahmet Böken was a juror for Emmy Awards of International Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. Kerem Çatay, owner of the “Ay Production, was in the jury judging Drama Series and Ahmet Böken was in the jury judging News for the Emmy’s 41st Awards.

Böken was suspended and assigned to an ineffective post in strategy department after the corruption investigation of December 17-25, 2013 which implicated then-Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, his family members and his cabinet ministers. Following the controversial coup attempt on July 15, 2016, he was detained on August 11, 2016.

Böken has been jailed pending trial for 18 months. Although there is a case for TRT employees, Böken is being on trial separately with the same charges. The Prosecutor’s Office requested 15 years imprisonment, nearly double the other TRT employees, reveals the reason why he has been on trial separately.

Because of an account at Bank Asya and the affiliation of the media companies, where he used to work, with Gülen movement were presented as the evidence in the case of the accomplished journalist. During the last hearing on January 23, 2018 at the Ankara 18th High Criminal Court, Prosecutor Necati Kayaközü requested 15 years of imprisonment for Böken. The evidence presented to the court are a book of a bank account, insurance documents from previous work places and witness statements.

There are many absurdities in the indictment, especially witness statements. For instance, the date of the crime has been showed as July 18, 2016, which is three days after the coup attempt. As in other indictments, the prosecutor has been trying to explain that Gülen movement is a criminal organization.

The following statements are in the indictment: “There is no definite criterion for the membership to the organisation. In the parallel structure there are Turkish, Kurdish, Laz, Circassian, Armenian, Sunnis, Alevis and even groups that seem to be far from the structure, atheist, Jew or Christians. In other words in order to be a member of the FETÖ/PDY, it is not necessary to be a believer or religious and it is not necessary to be a Muslim.” From here, what the prosecutor thinks about the existence of a crime and what the relationship with the defendant Böken is cannot be understood.

FETÖ is a pejorative acronym that Turkey’s political Islamist government and Turkish autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan have been using to defame the civic Gülen movement.

Böken’s children’s going to a school that was allegedly linked to the Gülen movement, and that school was closed by a government decree under the rule of emergency declared in the aftermath of the controversial coup attempt on July 15, 2016, was considered a criminal offence.

As for the defence, Böken’s lawyers have stated that, “Where no action taken for those who sent their children to the schools affiliated with the Gülen movement, namely President Erdoğan, Economy Minister Nihat Zeybekçi, former Ankara Chief Prosecutor Harun Kodalak, HSYK (Board of Judges and Prosecutors) member Turgay Ateş. (Numerous examples can be given), and Energy Minister Berat Albayrak, who himself went to a school affiliated to the movement, the actions taken such as prosecution, arrest, dismissal, confiscation of property, no further public service for the defendant who sent his children to these schools. These are clear discrimination, crime against humanity and genocide.”

The testimony of the witness, named Tahsin Yıldız, shows sending TRT personnel abroad for education was listed among the criminal offences of Böken. However, as Böken stated in his defence, these policies were in the authority of educational department and the board of management of the TRT.

The TRT’s Board of Management consists of seven members, five of which have been directly appointed by the Cabinet. The other two members are deputies elected by the General Manager. Yıldız claims that “The average cost of sending a staff abroad is nearly a trillion Turkish Liras” let alone this claim was not supported by a document, it is not logical for a staff member to spend such an amount of money.

Another witness has claimed that irregularities were made in the construction of the studio of the TRT World channel. He asserted that the job was given to a company before the tender and there was a relation between the company and the deputy general manager. But the person whom the witness accused was İbrahim Eren, the deputy general manager of that time. Eren, is known as a close friend of  President Erdoğan’s son Bilal. And shortly afterwards he was appointed General Manager for TRT. And he is still at the same position. Böken has also stated in his defence that he was removed from his post during the establishment of the named channel.

Böken definitely denied the claims that he used ByLock. His lawyers stated that search, confiscation and copying of digital materials did not comply with the law, indicating that; those added to the file are unlawful evidence.

Turkish authorities believe that ByLock is a communication tool among the alleged followers of the Gülen movement. Tens of thousands of people, including civil servants, police officers, soldiers, businessmen and even housewives, have either been dismissed or arrested for using ByLock since the failed coup attempt on July 15, 2016.

Turkey is the biggest jailer of journalists in the world. The most recent figures documented by the SCF has showed that 245 journalists and media workers are in jails as of January 24, 2018, most in pre-trial detention languishing in notorious Turkish prisons without even a conviction. Of those in Turkish prisons, 218 are arrested pending trial, only 27 journalists remain convicted and serving time in Turkish prisons. An outstanding detention warrants remain for 140 journalists who live in exile or remain at large in Turkey.

Detaining tens of thousands of people over alleged links to the Gülen movement, the government also closed down more than 180 media outlets after the controversial coup attempt.

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