First hearing of 30 journalists to be held after 14 months of imprisonment in Turkey

Veteran journalists Şahin Alpay and Ahmet Turan Alkan, who were columnists for now-closed Zaman daily, were arrested as part of the post-coup witch hunt in Turkey under the emergency rule.

An İstanbul court on April 27 accepted a prosecutor’s indictment against 30 former Zaman Media Group employees, including editors, executives and prominent columnists over coup charges and alleged links with the Gülen movement. The first hearing of the case will be held between Sept. 18 and Sept. 19 at İstanbul’s Silivri district. The 30 journalists and executives were detained on July 27, 2016, following the failed coup attempt on July 15, 2016.

The Zaman daily, which was affiliated with the faith-based Gülen movement, was first seized by the Turkish government in March 2016 and the closed down by a government decree in the aftermath of a failed coup attempt on July 15, 2016. The government holds the Gülen movement responsible for the coup, a charge strongly rejected by the movement.

The prosecutor demanded three aggravated life sentences for each of the 30 suspects, including former columnists of the now-shuttered daily Zaman. There are a total of 30 suspects in the indictment, 21 of whom are jailed. Beside of imprisoned Mümtaz’er Türköne, Şahin Alpay, Ali Bulaç, Ahmet Metin Sekizkardeş, Ahmet Turan Alkan, Alaattin Güner, Cuma Kaya, Faruk Akkan, Hakan Taşdelen, Hüseyin Belli, Hüseyin Turan, İbrahim Karayeğen, İsmail Küçük, Mehmet Özdemir, Murat Avcıoğlu, Mustafa Ünal, Onur Kutlu, Sedat Yetişkin, Şeref Yılmaz, Yüksel Durgut and Zafer Özsoy; those, who have not been jailed like Ahmet İrem, Ali Hüseyinçelebi, Süleyman Sargın, Osman Nuri Arslan, Osman Nuri Öztürk, Lalezer Sarıibrahimoğlu, Nuriye Ural and Orhan Kemal Cengiz, are mentioned as suspects in the indictment. Professor İhsan Duran Dağı, who used to work as a columnist for Zaman, is cited as a fugitive in the indictment.

The 30 journalists and executives of Zaman daily are also accused of attempting to overthrow the government, the constitution, the parliament and prevent its activities. The indictment mentions excerpts from the columns of some Zaman journalists such as Ali Bulaç, Ali Ünal, Mümtaz’er Türköne as their support for coup.

Turkish lawyer, journalist and human rights activist Orhan Kemal Cengiz is facing consecutive life sentence on coup charges along with 29 other Zaman daily journalists and executives, although he was not a columnist for Zaman.

The İstanbul 13th High Criminal Court accepted the indictment prepared by prosecutor İsmet Bozkurt in which he also demanded an additional 15 years for each of the suspects on charges of “being members of a terror organization,” the Fethullah Gülenist Terror Organization (FETÖ). According to the indictment, Zaman, which was founded in 1986, was totally taken over by “FETÖ” the next year, and survived thanks to money that came from members of the group.  It was closed down by the Turkish state in May 2016 after being taken over.

Turkey’s autocratic Islamist President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his supporters have labeled Gülen movement as “FETÖ” and frequently accused of Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen and the movement inspired by his teachings for advocating inter-civilizations and inter-religious dialogue.

“FETÖ” is a derogatory term amounts to a hate speech and relentlessly perpetuated by President Erdoğan and his government to smear the Gülen movement which is inspired by the US-based Turkish Muslim intellectual Fethullah Gülen who is one of the vocal critics of Turkish government. Gülen has been outspoken figure in lambasting President Erdoğan on corruption that was exposed in December 2013 as well as Ankara’s aiding and abetting of radical groups in Syria that was uncovered with illegal shipment revelation in January 2014.

Erdoğan launched a witch-hunt persecution against Gülen and his followers and vowed to pursue them abroad no matter where they are. Turkish government shut down all institutions affiliated with the movement and jailed almot 50.000 people in the last nine months alone. He labelled the movement as ‘FETÖ’, a terrorist organization, although Gülen, 75-year old cleric, and his followers have never advocated violence but rather remained staunchly opposed to any violence, radicalism and terror in the name of religion.

Erdoğan has also blamed the failed coup bid last year to Gülen but failed to present any direct evidence linking the cleric to the attempt. Gülen himself strongly denied any involvement. Many believe Erdoğan staged the failed coup himself to set up his critics for a mass persecution and as a pretext to transform secular parliamentary democracy to political Islamist autocracy.

The indictment also stated that the group started “using the media as a weapon” to “manipulate society.” It added that Zaman employed “columnists with ideas that could have supported the organization.”  The prosecutors said the columnists “exceeded the boundaries of freedom of the press and expression, used expressions that breached the rights of state officials and institutions, made remarks that could destroy social peace and order, did not hesitate to call for a military coup, and therefore performed their duty within the organization’s hierarchy with articles in line with its goals and targets.”

Former Zaman executives Hüseyin Gülerce and Nurettin Veren are cited as witnesses in the indictment, which has been approved by the İstanbul deputy chief public prosecutor İsmail Uçar and sent to the İstanbul 13th High Criminal Court.

Meanwhile, İstanbul 25th High Criminal Court has decided in an interim verdict for continuation of the imprisonment of 13 journalists in another case which includes 29 journalists who are accused of coup involvement and being member of a terror organization.

The next hearing was decided by court to be held on July 6, 2017 for the 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.

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 March 31. 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.

Turkey is the worst jailer of journalists and media workers in the world. Stockholm Center for Freedom (SCF) has announced the number of journalists behind bars as of April 20, 2017 reached to a new record with 235 languishing in Turkish jails, most without a trial and convictions. Of these journalists, 214 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 100 journalists are wanted and 839 have been charged in Turkey.

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 at least 100 journalists who are forced to live in exile abroad or remain at large in Turkey.

The 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 Erdoğan pinned the blame on the Gülen movement despite the lack of any evidence to that effect.

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.

According to a statement from Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu on April 2, a total of 113,260 people have been detained as part of investigations into the Gülen movement since the July 15 coup attempt, while 47,155 were put into pre-trial detention.

April 27, 2017

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