Senior economy editor held in prison for a year with no evidence presented against him

Journalist Harun Çümen

Harun Reşit Çümen (44), a senior economy editor who specializes in the stock market, has been behind bars since March 7, 2018. The prosecutor seeks 10 years in prison for him. He was detained in Turkey’s northwestern Edirne province for allegedly attempting to flee Turkey, then arrested on accusations of human smuggling and finally indicted on trumped-up terrorism charges that have become an essential component in journalists’ cases in Turkey.

Çümen, who worked at the now-closed Zaman daily for years, appeared in court for his first hearing last month. The court ruled for a continuation of his arrest and asked several public institutions for information that could be used as evidence against him, implicitly showing that the court admits the journalist has been kept in prison without any evidence.

The court demands the answers to the following:

  • Whether the defendant used the ByLock mobile phone messaging application

Turkish authorities believe ByLock is a communication tool among alleged followers of the Gülen movement. Tens of thousands of people, including civil servants, police officers, soldiers, businessmen and even housewives have either been dismissed or arrested for allegedly using ByLock since a controversial coup attempt on July 15, 2016. The UN Human Rights Council’s Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (UN/WGAD) stated in an assessment that detention, arrest and conviction in Turkey based on the alleged use of ByLock is a violation of Articles 19, 21 and 22 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

  • Whether the defendant had an account at Bank Asya, and if so, submission to the court of account activity for the last five years 

The Justice and Development Party (AKP) government seized Turkey’s once-largest Islamic lender Bank Asya on dubious grounds in May 2015, suggesting that the lender’s financial management posed a threat to the Turkish banking system. The bank’s shareholders denied the allegations and vowed to take legal action. The bank was closed down in the aftermath of the failed coup in July 2016.  

In a decision on February 11, 2018, Turkey’s Supreme Court of Appeals ruled that depositing money in Bank Asya following the revelation of a corruption scandal in late 2013 was sufficient reason to deem a person a member of “Fetö,” a derogatory term coined by the AKP government to refer to the Gülen movement.

  • Whether the defendant was a customer of mobile operator Turkcell, pay TV operators Digitürk or D-Smart, or Internet service provider Türk Telekom

Cancelling a subscription to leading satellite TV platform Digiturk has also been considered evidence in post-coup investigations. If the defendant cancelled their subscription to Digiturk for removing a number of opposition TV channels from its lineup in late 2015, they would be accused of acting on behalf of the Gülen movement.

  • Whether the defendant has a criminal history
  • Any unions or associations of which the defendant is a member 

The court wants to know whether there are any organizations among them that were shut down by government decrees following the coup attempt for alleged links to the Gulen movement.

  • Whether the defendant or their spouse worked in a professional capacity for any companies or foundations affiliated with the Gülen movement

report published by the Stockholm Center for Freedom (SCF) revealed the absurd pretexts used by prosecutors to indict suspects and judges to jail innocent people who are alleged to have been affiliated with the Gülen movement. The report finds that fundamental principles of law, such as nulla poena sine lege, or “no penalty without a law,” have widely and systematically been violated.

Çümen, like thousands of his colleagues who lost their jobs after the government’s crackdown on the free media, was earning a living for his family by doing temporary jobs irrelevant to his expertise. He was selling olive oil supplied from his home town of Manisa to his friends and neighbors.

On the day he was detained he was driving to Keşan, a town near Edirne, to deliver olive oil to his brother-in-law who resides there, figuring he could sell it to his neighbors. When he was stopped by the police along with other two cars in Edirne, there were about 150 kilograms of olive oil in his trunk as indicated in the official report. Çümen along with the people in the two other cars was accused of attempting to flee Turkey. Although Çimen told police officers he was traveling alone, selling olive oil and had no connection to the others, he was unable to convince them. The investigating judge accused him of aiding other people trying to flee the country.

Harun Çümen with his family.

When prosecutors were unable to find any evidence of human smuggling as alleged against Çümen, the file was turned into a journalism case in which he was indicted on terrorism charges. 

Çümen told the panel of judges at the first hearing that he would not have been arrested or accused of being a terrorist if he had not gone to Keşan, implying that he was not hiding or attempting to leave Turkey. “I am trying to understand this 311-day absurdity,” Çümen added. He also said there were no investigations into him or outstanding warrants until he was stopped by the police.

Çümen was detained in Edirne, in the northwest of Turkey. His family lives in İstanbul. He currently held in Balıkesir Prison, a five-hour drive from İstanbul. His family has to travel hundreds of kilometers each week to visit him. Pre-trial detention has become a means of punishment in Turkey not only for detainees but also for their families 

The next hearing will be held on March 29, 2019.

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