Journalist Ünal’s request for release denied by Turkish court despite his 17 months behind bars

Former Zaman columnist Ali Ünal

A request by Ali Ünal, a former columnist of the now-defunct Zaman daily, to be released pending trial  was denied by a Turkish court although he has already spent 17 months behind the bars.

Ünal appeared before a local court on Thursday in Uşak province as part of the first hearing of his case in which the columnist faces 2 aggravated life sentences plus 29,5 years in jail on charges of “attempt to destroy Constitutional order, establish and lead a terror group, being a member of a terror group”

Detained in Uşak’s Eşme district on August 11, 2016, Ünal was put under pre-trial detention 5 days later. Under arrest since then, Ünal said during his first hearing that “I am 63 years old. I wrote more than 90 books, 30 of which were translated into different languages. I don’t know why I am in jail.”

Meanwhile, Ali Ünal’s brother Mustafa Ünal, who was also detained along with the columnist brother last year, was released on Thursday. Mustafa Ünal is, too, accused of membership to a “terrorist organisation”  over his alleged membership to the Gülen movement.

Zaman newspaper, one-time largest circulated daily in Turkey with 1.2 million copies sold at its peak, was unlawfully seized by the government in March 2016 and turned into government mouthpiece overnight. It was later shut down in July 2016 by Turkish government with a statutory decree over its alleged affiliation with the Gülen movement in the aftermath of a controversial military coup attempt on July 15, 2017.

Fadıl Öztürk

Also on Friday, Fadıl Öztürk, a columnist for the online news outlet Artı Gerçek, was detained in a police raid carried out into his home in İzmir province.

According to a report by Artı Gerçek, police went to Öztürk’s home at around 6 a.m. and showed him a detention and search warrant issued for him for allegedly “writing articles promoting terrorism”

Fadıl Öztürk’s wife Berrin Öztürk said that the home was raided by six police officers. Their home was searched, and their hard drives and movies were seized.

The police reportedly said Fadıl Öztürk will appear before judge on Wednesday at the earliest. Fadıl Öztürk was taken to İzmir Anti-Terror Bureau.

Meanwhile, journalist Ayşenur Arslan was sentenced to 1 year and 2 months imprisonment on Friday in a trial over her alleged insult to Turkish autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. The court has suspended the sentence of imprisonment which has reduced to 11 months and 20 days.

Ayşenur Arslan

Arslan had criticised the seizure of Nokta news magazine by Turkish government in the Media Mahallesi program broadcasted on pro-opposition Halk TV on September 15, 2015. Upon a person’s denounciation in Konya province Ankara Chief Prosecutor’s Office had launched an investigation about Arslan’s words.  And Arslan was given 11 months and 20 days of prison sentence by 12th Criminal Court of First Instance in Ankara. The court has suspended the sentence.

Turkish government has investigated more than 39,000 social media users and detained more than 3,000 social media users and Turkish courts have arrested over 1,000 of them in 2017. Turkish police have conducted technical investigation about 16,000 of these social media accounts. Then, they have launched legal investigations for 9,600 of these social media users. As a result of these legal investigations police units detained over 3,000 social media users and transfered them to the courts. At least 1,000 of these detainees were arrested by Turkish courts.

Moreover, scores of people in Turkey have been detained or arrested or are under investigation on allegations of insulting Turkish autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan over their social media posts. As of the end of 2016, at least 10,000 people were under investigation on suspicion of terrorist propaganda and insulting senior state officials on social media.

A total of 1,080 people were convicted of insulting Erdoğan in 2016, according to data from Turkey’s Justice Ministry. Data also showed that 4,936 cases were launched against people on charges of insult in 2016.

Turkey is the biggest jailer of journalists in the world. The most recent figures documented by the SCF has showed that 242 journalists and media workers are in jails as of January 4, 2018, most in pre-trial detention languishing in notorious Turkish prisons without even a conviction. Of those in Turkish prisons, 215 are arrested pending trial, only 27 journalists remain convicted and serving time in Turkish prisons. An outstanding detention warrants remain for 138 journalists who live in exile or remain at large in Turkey.

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

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