Court hearings into prominent journalists exposes scope of Turkish government’s witch-hunt

Veteran Turkish journalist Nazlı Ilıcak was arrested on July 29, 2016.

The fourth hearing into sham coup trial for Turkey’s well known journalists wrapped up on Thursday, with another hearing planned for tomorrow.  All journalists and other defendants are accused of attempting to destroy the constitutional order, overthrow the elected Turkish government and thwart the Turkish Parliament from fulfilling its functions.

Prominent journalist and novelist Ahmet Altan who delivered his manifesto-like defense statement on Thursday from Silivri Prison through a video conference system has certainly left his mark in the courtroom. In his testimony that recalled Emile Zola’a Dreyfus defense, Altan called the indictment as ‘judicial porn” and bashed the public prosecutor that he could not find anything concrete to accuse him. “We were arrested because we criticized the governing party-AKP,” emphasized Altan and concluded his statement by saying “I am not the kind of man you can frighten.”

On Wednesday, Altan’s brother Mehmet Altan defended himself in the courtroom, denying allegations that he sent “subliminal messages” to coup plotters who tried to overthrow the Turkish government last year. He said he had been put on a trial for a crime that does not even exist in the Penal code. Mehmet Altan said If Rousseau were alive and shared his views on TV, he would be put into prison for giving subliminal messages as well.

The trial hearings that were monitored by international observers as well started on Monday after months long pre-trial detention of journalists. Nazlı Ilıcak ,73 year-old veteran journalist,  was the first one who defended her case. Ilıcak rejected any allegations on her involvement with the putschists.

“I stand by people who I seem as victims. I am just an opponent. Is it crime to oppose?” asked Ilıcak in her defense. She sounded very passionate in her defense testimony and appeared deeply impacted by what she sees as long and wrongful imprisonment. The judge told her she continue her defense while she was seated, but the journalist continued standing and asked for her immediate release.

After Ilıcak’s testimony,  Yakup Şimşek, the Brand Marketing Director of the closed Zaman daily, Fevzi Yazıcı, the Art Director of Zaman daily delivered their defense statements. Along with Tibet Sanlıman, owner of Vietnam, a creative advertising company, three were accused of “sending a subliminal message for a coup d’état” in a TV commercial aired on behalf of the paper approximately nine months before the failed coup. The ad was part of promotional campaign by Zaman daily, one-time Turkey’s largest circulated paper, to attract new readers.

The commercial aired about 40 days on nertworks and nobody had expressed any concern or launched any investigation at the time. In fact, there is no such provision in Turkish Penal Code as sending subliminal message. Yazıcı’s lawyer said his client has been behind bars for months just for watching the commercial before it went viral.

Şimşek rejected allegations in the indictment and told the court that he was only responsible for broadcasting scheme and to negotiate with TV networks. As part of coup investigation, Şimşek was also accused of telephone conversations with Hidayet Karaca, the chairman of Samanyolu TV network. Karaca has been in prison for almost 3 years without any conviction.

Academic Şükrü Tuğrul Özşengül, who was arrested after the controversial coup attempt, also appeared in the court to testify. He said “I don’t think anyone in this room is a terrorist. In a democratic society it’s necessary to put up with harsh criticism even if it is offensive.”

The other defendants in the case are former Zaman daily Editor-in-Chief Ekrem Dumanlı, former Today’s Zaman Editor-in-Chief Bülent Keneş, Samanyolu TV Washington representative Şemsettin Efe, Zaman daily journalist Abdülkerim Balcı, Zaman former deputy editor-in-chief Mehmet Kamış, Zaman executive Faruk Kardıç and Professor Osman Özsoy.

Turkey is the leading jailer of journalists in the world. The Stockholm Center for Freedom (SCF) has documented that 264 journalists are now in jails as of June 16, most in pre-trial detention languishing in notorious Turkish prisons without even a conviction. Of those in Turkish prisons, 240 are arrested pending trial, only 24 journalists remain convicted and serving time in Turkish prisons. An outstanding detention warrants remain for 105 journalists who live in exile or remain at large in Turkey.

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

A controversial military coup attempt on July 15 killed over 240 people. Immediately after the putsch, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government along with Turkey’s autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan pinned the blame on the Gülen movement.

Fethullah 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.

At least 161,751 people were detained or investigated and 50,334 people were arrested in Turkey in the framework of the Turkish government’s massive post-coup witch hunt campaign targeting alleged members of the Gülen movement since the controversial coup attempt on July 15, 2016, according to statistics reported by state-run Anadolu news agency by basing on information taken from the officials from Turkey’s Justice Minsitry on June 13.

June 23, 2017

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