Advocacy group launches campaign for release of jailed journalist Ünal

Journalist Mustafa Ünal

Jailed Journos, an advocacy organization that helps imprisoned press members in Turkey make their stories heard, on Tuesday launched a campaign on social media for the release of veteran journalist Mustafa Ünal, who has been jailed for over five years on politically motivated charges, Turkish Minute reported.

In a tweet Jailed Journos asked Sözcü daily columnist Deniz Zeyrek, Hürriyet daily columnist Abdülkadir Selvi, Cumhuriyet columnist Mustafa Balbay, Yenişafak columnist Mehmet Acet and journalist Mustafa Kartoğlu, Ünal’s colleagues “who knew him well,”  to support their campaign for his release.

The organization also called on former President Abdullah Gül, former Deputy Prime Minister and Parliament Speaker Bülent Arınç and Justice Minister Abdülhamit Gül, in addition to President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, “who knew Ünal very well and invited him on his private plane several times,” to show their support  for the jailed journalist.

Ünal, 53, a seasoned journalist and former Ankara bureau chief for the now-closed Zaman daily, was arrested after a military coup attempt in Turkey on July 15, 2016 and was handed down a jail sentence of 10 years, six months by an İstanbul court in July 2018 on charges of membership in a terrorist organization. He has been serving his sentence in Ankara’s Sincan Prison.

The Zaman daily, which was Turkey’s best-selling newspaper, was closed down along with dozens of other media outlets due to their links to the Gülen movement, a faith-based group that focuses on science education, volunteerism, community involvement, social work and interfaith and intercultural dialogue and is inspired by the teachings of Muslim preacher Fethullah Gülen.

Erdoğan has been waging a crackdown on followers of the movement since the corruption investigations of December 17-25, 2013, which implicated then-Prime Minister Erdoğan, his family members and his inner circle. Designating the group as a terrorist organization, Erdoğan intensified the crackdown on the movement following the coup attempt in July 2016, which he accused Gülen of masterminding. Gülen and the movement strongly deny involvement in the abortive putsch or any terrorist activity.

A number of Ünal’s colleagues shared posts under the hashtag #FreeMustafaUnal as part of the online campaign started by Jailed Journos on Tuesday.

“What did he do? He wrote columns! That’s it,” journalist Said Sefa said in a tweet, also using the hashtag #gazeteciliksuçdeğildir (Journalism is not a crime) and criticizing the terrorism charges against Ünal, which are based on nine of his columns.

“There’s nothing in Mustafa Ünal’s indictment. They tried to make a few quotes from his writings into a crime. All media representatives in Ankara were familiar with his journalism, but none of them made a sound [about the politically motivated charges he faced]. … What a shame,” journalist Cevheri Güven tweeted on Tuesday.

“Mustafa Ünal is a criminal because he did journalism. The cost of doing journalism under the [ruling Justice and Development Party] AKP regime is [being sent to] prison! We’ll continue shouting ‘Journalism is not a crime!’” journalist Hasan Cücük said.

Turkey, which is among the top jailers of journalists in the world, was ranked 153rd out of 180 countries in the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) 2021 World Press Freedom Index published in April.

According to the Stockholm Center for Freedom’s “Jailed and Wanted Journalists in Turkey” database, 174 journalists are behind bars in Turkey and 167 are wanted and either in exile or at large. The database was last updated on April 14, 2021.

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