Detention period extended another 7 days for 13 journalists on Friday

An İstanbul court has extended the period of detention for another seven days of 13 journalists who were taken into custody last week as part of an investigation into a July 15 coup attempt, news website t24 reported on Friday.

Twenty-one journalists who had been in pre-trial detention for eight months and were to be released pending trial on Friday were arrested again early on Saturday without ever having been freed.

The thirteen journalists — Atilla Taş, Ali Akkuş, Hüseyin Aydın, Murat Aksoy, Mustafa Erkan Acar, Seyid Kılıç, Yetkin Yıldız, Gökçe Fırat Çulhaoğlu, Yakup Çetin, Bünyamin Köseli, Cihan Acar, Abdullah Kılıç and Oğuz Usluer – have been in detention since April 1, 2017.

The decision to extend the detention of eight other journalists was reported by Prof. Dr. Yaman Akdeniz on Twitter.

Last Saturday morning, an İstanbul court accepted the objection of a prosecutor to reverse the decision for the release of journalists Hanım Büşra Erdal, Ahmet Memiş, Bayram Kaya, Cemal Azmi Kalyoncu, Cuma Ulus, Habib Güler, Halil İbrahim Balta and Muhammet Said Kuloğlu.

A total of 29 journalists, most of whom have been in pre-trial detention for eight months, were accused of membership in 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.”

The indictment revealed that they are accused of membership in a terrorist organization due to their stories, critical tweets and retweets in the absence of evidence of any violent activity or the means to engage in violence.

Following the decision of an İstanbul court to release 21 journalists on March 31, Erdoğanist trolls, hitmen in the media and some pro-government journalists like Cem Küçük, Fatih Tezcan, Ersoy Dede, Haşmet Babaoğlu, Süleyman Özışık, Ömer Turan, Halime Gökçe, Cemile Bayraktar, Gülcan Tezcan organized an anti-release campaign on media and social media and also threatened the related judges and prosecutors with arrest on Friday. The prosecutor’s objections against journalists’ release and a new court’s decision of detentions have come just after this campaign and the open threats targeting jurists.

The campaign was led by journalist Cem Küçük, a staunch supporter of Turkey’s autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. In a series of messages from his Twitter account on Friday, he wrote: “If those traitors are not jailed again, some will pay a very heavy price. I say this knowingly. Things will go crazy. … [Justice Minister] Bekir Bozdağ should immediately convene the HSYK [the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors] and take action against some judges. This is the demand of the nation. Every prosecutor and the judge who decides to release known FETÖ supporters will be expelled from their profession. This is the absolute decision of the state.”

FETÖ is a term coined by the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government to  refer to Gülen movement as a terrorist organization despite lack of any court decision to this effect.

Pro-government journalist Ersoy Dede also wrote similar messages from his Twitter account on Friday protesting the court decision for the release of the 21 journalists.

“If there is still a board called the HSYK, an urgent decision should be made for all the judges who made the release decision. Make nonsense arrest decisions, create unnecessary victimizations, release real FETÖ supporters. Wake up, guys. This is an operation,” wrote Dede.

Hürriyet reporter İsmail Saymaz also criticized the court decision for the release of the journalists from his Twitter account, saying: “Ekrem Dumanlı [former Zaman daily CEO] is at large, [journalist] Faruk Mercan is missing, Büşra Erdal is released. In this country, being a supporter of Fethullah [Gülen] is attributed to just Ahmet Şık and Cumhuriyet staff.”

Saymaz was referring to the arrest of Cumhuriyet journalists including Şık over alleged ties to the Gülen movement.

The development has led to huge disappointment among families of the journalists who waited for long hours in front of prisons in İstanbul to be reunited with their loved ones.

The independence and impartiality of the Turkish judiciary has begun to be questioned once again after an İstanbul court decided to release 21 journalists from jail on Friday but reversed its decision hours later without the journalists being ever freed.

However, the related three judges and a prosecutor could have not saved themselves from the persecution of the Erdoğan regime. On April 3, forty-five judges and prosecutors have been dismissed while three judges who have decided to release 21 jailed journalists on March 31, have been suspended by the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK) over alleged links with Gülen movement.

İbrahim Lorasdağı, chief judge of the trial which decided on Friday to release 21 out of 26 critical journalists who were jailed for over eight months without trial and trial judges Barış Cömert and Necla Yeşilyurt Gülbiçim together with prosecutor Göksel Turan were suspended by the HSYK.

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, had finally appeared for a first hearing in İstanbul’s No.25 High Criminal Court on March 27.

At the end of the 5-day trials, the court has decided to release journalists Abdullah Kılıç, Ahmet Memiş, Ali Akkuş, Atilla Taş, Bayram Kaya, Bünyamin Köseli, Cemal Azmi Kalyoncu, Cihan Acar, Cuma Ulus, Gökçe Fırat Çulhaoğlu, Habip Güler, Halil İbrahim Balta, Hanım Büşra Erdal, Hüseyin Aydın, Muhammet Sait Kuloğlu, Murat Aksoy, Mustafa Erkan Acar, Oğuz Usluer, Seyid Kılıç, Yakup Çetin and Yetkin Yıldız.

The same court has also decided for continuation of the imprisonment of the journalists Emre Soncan, Mutlu Çölgeçen, Ufuk Şanlı, Ünal Tanık and a teacher, Davut Aydın. Journalists Bülent Ceyhan and Said Sefa have not attended in hearings during the five-day trials.

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:

Stockholm Center for Freedom (SCF) had 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.

As of April 1, 2017, Stockholm Center for Freedom (SCF), a Stockholm-based monitoring and rights advocacy group, has confirmed that 228 journalists and media workers are behind bars in Turkey, a new world record by any measure. Of these journalists, 194 are arrested pending trial and without a conviction. 13 jailed journalists have been re-detained just after they were released by an İstanbul court on March 31, 2017. 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.

The Turkish government is apparently using arbitrary arrests as part of intimidation campaign to suppress critical coverage, muzzle independent media and silence journalists. Only 21 journalists who are in jail were convicted while the rest are in abusive and long pre-trial detentions. Moreover, sweeping detention warrants have been issued for 92 journalists who are forced to live in exile abroad or remain at large 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.

Turkey’s Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu has announced on Sunday that 47,155 people have been jailed over alleged links with Gülen movement since coup attempt on July 15, 2016.  According to Minister Soylu, 113,260 people have also been detained with the same accusation and 745 people are still under detention on Sunday over alleged links with Gülen movement which the Turkish gov’t accuses of masterminding a coup attempt last year. Minister Soylu has said that 2,575 judges and prosecutors have also been imprisoned.

Since July 15, 2016, 4,272 judges and prosecutors were dismissed due to alleged involvement in the coup attempt. (SCF with April 7, 2017

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