A media professional Hüseyin Belli faces lifetime jail in Turkey for severance payment

Hüseyin Belli

A media worker who worked for a critical Turkish national daily has been locked up behind bars for 266 days over farcical terror charges because he was paid for severance and compensation on the termination of his contract.

Hüseyin Belli, a 43-year-old sales manager who worked at the advertising department of Zaman newspaper, stands accused of terrorism charges by public prosecutor over the severance payment he received as a compensation for the termination of his contract. The payment was made days before Zaman, one time Turkey’s most selling daily, was unlawfully seized by Turkish government in March 4, 2016. The newspaper was shut down in July 2016 by the government decision as part of unprecedented crackdown on critical and independent media outlets in Turkey.

Hüseyin Belli, who is married with two children, faces three aggravated lifetimes sentencing and additional 15 years jail time on terror charges. He is accused of being a member of a hoax terror organization called “FETÖ”, a derogatory term used by the regime of Turkish autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to refer to the civic Gülen movement, a group that has been an outspoken critic of Turkish government on pervasive corruption and Erdoğan’s aiding and abetting armed Jihadist groups.

Belli was formally arrested on January 27, 2017 and imprisoned in İstanbul’s notorious Silivri Prison. His name appears twice in the 68-page indictment penned by the public prosecutor İsmet Bozkurt against 31 journalists and media professionals, most of whom worked for Zaman daily. The first citation of him is recorded among the list of defendants in the first pages of the indictment. The second and last time his name was mentioned is at the end of the indictment where the prosecutor demands the punishment of suspects. No evidence that ties him to any violence or terror was provided.

According to Turkey’s Code on Criminal Procedures (CMUK), any accusation levelled against a suspect must be specifically indicated by name in the indictment with an explanation on why he or she is charged, penalty clauses, and what evidence the prosecutor has to back up the stated charges. Yet in the indictment, there was no evidence cited.

Month later, public prosecutor filed additional papers listing one alleged evidence against him which was a severance payment that he had deserved. He was believed to be singled out by the government caretakers who wanted to find a scapegoat after facing serious financial challenges when the daily’s circulation dropped to 4,000 in a week from 650,000 before the seizure. It was reported that a list of employees was provided to the prosecutor’s office by caretakers as part of intimidation campaign by the government.

Belli has been a victim of such campaign. He appeared before the panel of judges for the first time on September 18, 2017. He told the court that he has been a professional hired by the newspaper to work in the advertisement department and had nothing to do with the editorial policy of the newspaper.

He also expressed his shock at the accusation made by the public prosecutor that he did not deserve the severance payment from the company he had worked. “It is stated in the indictment files that the company paid my severance pay despite I was not qualified. I worked over 15 years at the same company,” Belli remarked, stressing that Turkish employment law requires the company to provide severance payment when the contract of the employee is terminated. The payment is required even when an employee with more than 10-year tenure resigns under unilateral declaration of his or her will.

The prosecutor also violates the International Labour Organization’s (ILO) convention concerning Termination of Employment at the Initiative of the Employer, which was ratified by Turkey in 1982.

The court refused to take Benli’s testimony into consideration and concurred with the prosecutor’s argument on terror charges to keep him in jail pending trial. He now awaits for his second trial that was scheduled for December 8, 2017.

Turkey is the biggest jailer of journalists in the world. The most recent figures documented by the Stockholm Centre for Freedom (SCF) has showed that 253 journalists and media workers are now in jails as of October 23, 2017, most in pre-trial detention languishing in notorious Turkish prisons without even a conviction. Of those in Turkish prisons, 229 are arrested pending trial, only 24 journalists remain convicted and serving time in Turkish prisons. An outstanding detention warrants remain for 133 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.

Turkey survived a controversial military coup attempt on July 15, 2016 that killed 249 people. Immediately after the putsch, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government along with President Erdoğan pinned the blame on the Gülen movement.

Gülen, who inspired the movement, strongly denied having any role in the failed coup and called for an international investigation into it, but President Erdoğan — calling the coup attempt “a gift from God” — and the government initiated a widespread purge aimed at cleansing sympathizers of the movement from within state institutions, dehumanizing its popular figures and putting them in custody.

Turkey has suspended or dismissed more than 150,000 judges, teachers, police and civil servants since July 15. Turkey’s Justice Ministry announced on July 13 that 50,510 people have been arrested and 169,013 have been the subject of legal proceedings on coup charges since the failed coup.

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