An İstanbul court on Monday rejected a request for the recusal of a judge made by journalists who are standing trial over alleged links to the faith-based Gülen movement, which is accused by Turkish authorities of orchestrating a failed coup in Turkey last summer.
In one of the most important press freedom cases in Turkey, 29 journalists, most are in pre-trial detention for eight months without a trial and conviction, have finally appeared for a first hearing in İstanbul’s No.25 High Criminal Court on Monday.
Ali Deniz Ceylan, the lawyer for journalists Atilla Taş and Murat Aksoy, requested from the İstanbul 25th High Criminal Court that judge İbrahim Lorasdağ recuse himself from the panel of judges. Ceylan said Lorasdağı was the İstanbul 1st Penal Judge of Peace who ruled for the arrest of his clients last September.
The İstanbul 25th High Criminal Court denied Ceylan’s request and proceeded with the suspects’ defense. Along with Taş and Aksoy, 12 journalists were arrested on Sept. 12, 2016 over their alleged links to the Gülen movement.
During the hearing on Monday, 26 suspects began their defense before the court. Main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) deputies Şafak Pavey, Selina Doğan, Mahmut Tanal and Sezgin Tanrıkulu, Reporters Without Borders Turkey representative Erol Önderoğlu and media representatives from overseas were in attendance during the hearing.
Journalists were accused of membership of a hoax terror organization called ‘FETÖ’, a pejorative acronym that Turkey’s political Islamist government has used to smear the civic Gülen movement as a ‘terrorist organization’. Prosecutor Murat Çağlak seeks up to 10 year prison sentence for 28 journalists and a life sentence for journalist Said Sefa.
In the 196 page indictment there is not a single incident of terrorist activity on the part of any of the journalists as they are basically being charged for their articles, news and critical messages on Twitter. Many journalists are allegedly linked with a whistleblower twitter account, Fuat Avni who has about 3 million followers.
The prosecutor also claims working at the critical media outlets which were shut down by the government is sufficient proof to be a member of a terrorist organization. Having an account at private Bank Asya has also been linked with supporting Gülen movement.
Under indictment are the following journalists, most of whom were employees of the Zaman media group, which was considered the flagship media organization of the Gülen movement:
Abdullah Kılıç, Ahmet Memiş, Ali Akkuş, Atilla Taş, Bayram Kaya, Bülent Ceyhan, Bünyamin Köseli, Cemal Azmi Kalyoncu, Cihan Acar, Cuma Ulus, Davut Aydın, Emre Soncan, Gökçe Fırat Çulhaoğlu, Habib Güler, Halil İbrahim Balta, Hanım Büşra Erdal, Hüseyin Aydın, Muhammed Sait Kuloğlu, Muhterem Tanık, Murat Aksoy, Mustafa Erkan Acar, Mutlu Çölgeçen, Oğuz Usluer, Said Sefa, Seyid Kılıç, Ufuk Şanlı, Ünal Tanık, Yakup Çetin and Yetkin Yıldız.
Stockholm Center for Freedom (SCF) has started an awareness campaign for first hearing of jailed 29 journalists and published stories on how the prosecutor cited social media posts by journalists as evidence of crime and terror in the controversial indictment. Ironically these tweets and articles in the indictment had never been subject of any investigation or prosecution until journalists were arrested.
Prosecutor Çağlak’s indictment has also included some articles and social media posts criticizing Turkey’s autocratic President Recep Tayip Erdoğan and his family members, the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) government and Iranian businessman Reza Zarrab who was accused of bribing Turkish ministers and is currently in jail in the US for violating sanctions against Iran.
Most of the journalists were detained and subsequently arrested in the aftermath of failed coup attempt on July 15, 2016. The hearings at the court starts on Monday and are expected to continue five consecutive days. Turkey is the worst jailer of journalists in the world. SCF has recently announced the number of journalists behind bars reached to a new record with 200 languishing in Turkish jails, most without a trial and convictions.
Of these journalists, 179 are arrested pending trial and without a conviction. Most of the journalists do not even know what the charges are or what evidence, if any, the government has because the indictments were not filed yet. Also 92 journalists are wanted and 839 have been charged in Turkey.
Although the Gülen movement strongly denies having any role in the putsch, the government accuses it of having masterminded the foiled coup. Fethullah Gülen, who inspired the movement, called for an international investigation into the coup attempt, 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.
Over 135,000 people, including thousands within the military, have been purged due to their real or alleged connection to the Gülen movement since the coup attempt, according to a statement by the labor minister on Jan. 10.
As of March 23, 94,982 people were being held without charge, with an additional 47,128 in pre-trial detention due to their alleged links to the movement. A total of 7,317 academics were purged as well as 4,272 judges and prosecutors, who were dismissed due to alleged involvement in the July 15 coup attempt. (SCF with turkishminute.com) March 27, 2017