A high criminal court in İstanbul on Thursday ruled for a continuation of the arrest of journalist Mehmet Gündem, who was jailed on November 1, 2017 on charges of alleged membership in the faith-based Gülen movement, which is labeled as a terrorist organization by the Turkish government.
Gündem, who appeared for a fourth time before the judges, said there was no evidence in the indictment that supported the allegations leveled against him.
Gündem once again repeated his earlier testimony that the claims in the indictment suggesting that he used the ByLock smart phone application, which Turkish authorities claim was the top communication tool among Gülen followers, were baseless. Gündem said the mobile phone number cited in the indictment as using ByLock did not belong to him and that he had been using the same mobile phone number since 1995.
Gündem also said he has had an account at Bank Asya since 2001 and that it was just a part of daily life.
In the wake of a controversial coup attempt in July 2016, having an account at Bank Asya was presented by prosecutors as evidence of membership in the Gülen movement.
While Gündem was testifying, the judge interrupted him to say: “You repeat the same sentences at every hearing. Tell me if you have any demand of the court.”
“Five hundred days are too long. My imprisonment has gone beyond being a measure and has turned into a punishment. I leave it up to the discretion of the court. My grandfather and father died when I was in jail. I could not attend their funeral services,” the journalist told the court while asking for his release.
The court ruled for the continuation of Gündem’s arrest and set the date for the next hearing at May 8.
The indictment against the journalist seeks a prison sentence of between seven-and-a-half and 15 years on charges of terrorism.
Turkey is the biggest jailer of journalists in the world. The most recent figures documented by SCF show that 211 journalists and media workers were in jail as of March 14, 2019, most in pretrial detention. Of those in prison 134 were under arrest pending trial while only 77 journalists have been convicted and are serving their time. Detention warrants are outstanding for 167 journalists who are living in exile or remain at large in Turkey.
The government also closed down some 200 media outlets, including Kurdish news agencies and newspapers, after the coup attempt on July 15, 2016.