Former Zaman columnist Ünal faces 2 consecutive life sentences in Turkey

Former Zaman columnist Ali Ünal

Ali Ünal, a 62-year-old journalist and writer who used to write columns for the government-closed Zaman newspaper, faces 2 aggravated life sentences and additional 29,5 years in prison. Under arrest since August 16, 2016, Ünal is accused of being one of the leaders of the Gülen movement.

The Chief Prosecutor’s Office in Uşak province has recently completed a 228-page indictment against Ünal. Among the evidences the prosecutor’s office put forward to back up the accusation were Ünal’s translation of Fethullah Gülen’s books from Turkish to English, and his overseas trips. The indictment argues that Ünal met with Gülen in most of those trips.

Worked as an academic and a teacher of English language in his early career, Ünal wrote columns for several newspapers and magazines meanwhile translating faith-based books from Turkish to English and vice versa. Ünal wrote some 20 books and published Fountain and Yeni Ümit magazines as the editor-in-chief for some time.

Zaman newspaper is among dozen of media outlets that were shuttered by Turkish government under the rule of autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan over links to the movement.

The Stockholm Center for Freedom (SCF) has also documented that 264 journalists are now in jails as of July 18, 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 109 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.

Turkey survived a controversial coup attempt on July 15, 2016 that killed over 240 people. Immediately after the putsch, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government along with 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.

Turkish Justice Minister Bekir Bozdağ announced on July 7, 2017 that at least 50,504 people have been arrested and 168,801 are the subject of legal proceedings. Turkey has suspended or dismissed more than 150,000 judges, teachers, police and civil servants since July 15, 2016. (SCF with July 25, 2017

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