Court adjourns trial of Turkish journalists facing terror charges

An İstanbul court on Friday adjourned the trial of 28 journalists charged with membership in a terrorist organization to March 7-8 as the journalists were unable complete their defense statements.

The trial of the journalists is being heard at the İstanbul 25th High Criminal Court. There are 19 jailed defendants in the trial.

The journalists named in the indictment include National Party (UP) leader and Türk Solu weekly columnist Gökçe Fırat Çulhaoğlu, Yakup Çetin, Bünyamin Köseli, Cihan Acar, Abdullah Kılıç, Oğuz Usluer, Hüseyin Aydın, Murat Aksoy, Mustafa Erkan Acar, Seyit Kılıç, Yetkin Yıldız, Ali Akkuş and pop singer and journalist Atilla Taş.

The journalists, some of whom used to work for media outlets affiliated with the Gülen movement, are alleged to be followers of the movement. The number of defendants in the trial fell to 28 from 29 as the court decided to separate the file of jailed Zaman journalist Emre Soncan from this trial since another case was filed against him.

During Friday’s hearing, the now-closed Aksiyon weekly magazine’s Cemal Azmi Kalyoncu said he began to work for the Zaman Media Group at the age of 21 because he was not able to find a job elsewhere. Kalyoncu said he worked for the Aksiyon weekly as a correspondent and had no say in the magazine’s editorial policy.

Kalyoncu said pro-government figures such as Fehmi Koru, Ayşe Böhürler, Ahmet Taşgetiren and former Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu were also writing for Aksiyon at the time. “I am being accused of being a member of a terror organization because I worked for Aksiyon. Then I wonder why this magazine was allowed to be published for years,” asked Kalyoncu.

Journalist Cihan Acar, who had previously been released on his own recognizance, said he wants to keep his defense as short and concise as his journalism life. “There are 10 Twitter messages that I posted after the appointment of trustees to my newspaper [Bugün daily]. If we take these two hours from my life, would I be here?” Acar asked.

Jailed journalist Çulhaoğlu said he is innocent and has no links to the Gülen movement. “Journalists may commit a crime, but if you try them on coup charges, then you will have acquitted them of their real crimes,” he said.

Another jailed journalist from the Zaman daily, Habip Güler, said he has nothing to do with any terror organizations and what he did was only to perform his profession as a journalist.

Zaman journalist Halil İbrahim Balta, who was released by the court earlier this month due to health problems, said he worked as business desk correspondent and did not write any stories about political issues. “I am being tried for being a terror organization member for posting a tweet as if I had detonated a bomb,” he said.

Turkey is the biggest jailer of journalists in the world. The most recent figures documented by the SCF has showed that 240 journalists and media workers are in jails as of February 22, 2018, most in pre-trial detention languishing in notorious Turkish prisons without even a conviction. Of those in Turkish prisons, 205 are arrested pending trial, only 35 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.

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 Turkish autocratic President Recep Tayyip 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 Interior Minister announced on December 12, 2017 that 55,665  people have been arrested. Previously, on December 13, 2017, The Justice Ministry announced that 169,013 people have been the subject of legal proceedings on coup charges since the failed coup.

A total of 48,305 people were arrested by courts across Turkey in 2017 over their alleged links to the Gülen movement, said Turkish Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu on Dec. 2, 2018. “The number of detentions is nearly three times higher,” Soylu told a security meeting in İstanbul and claimed that “Even these figures are not enough to reveal the severity of the issue.” (SCF with turkishminute.com)

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