Trial of Zaman journalists resumes at Turkish court in İstanbul

The trial of journalists from the now-closed Zaman daily resumed at the İstanbul 13th High Criminal Court on Thursday where the defendants are making their final defense statements before the court renders its verdicts.

The court is expected to give its final verdicts for the journalists during a hearing on Friday.

Former Zaman writers and editors Mümtaz’er Türköne, Ali Bulaç, Ahmet Metin Sekizkardeş, Ahmet Turan Alkan, Alaattin Güner, Cuma Kaya, Faruk Akkan, Hakan Taşdelen, Hüseyin Belli, Hüseyin Turan, İbrahim Karayeğen, İsmail Küçük, Murat Avcıoğlu, Mustafa Ünal, Onur Kutlu, Sedat Yetişkin, Şeref Yılmaz, Yüksel Durgut and Zafer Özsoy are among the defendants standing trial.

The journalists face charges of violating the constitution, membership in a terrorist organization, disseminating the propaganda of a terrorist organization and aiding a terrorist organization.

The Zaman daily, which was Turkey’s best-selling newspaper, was closed down along with dozens of other media outlets due to their links to the Gülen movement, which is accused by Turkey’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) government of masterminding a coup attempt in July 2016.

Former Zaman employees Şahin Alpay, Ali Bulaç, Mehmet Özdemir, Ahmet İrem, Ali Hüseyinçelebi, Süleyman Sargın, Osman Nuri Arslan, Osman Nuri Öztürk, Lalezer Sarıibrahimoğlu, Nuriye Ural, Orhan Kemal Cengiz and Professor İhsan Duran Dağı, who used to work as a columnist for Zaman, are also named as defendants in the indictment, but they had previously been released on their own recognizance.

According to the Twitter posts of @P24DavaTakip, which follows the trials of journalists in Turkey, former Zaman columnist Alpay delivered his defense statement during Thursday’s hearing in which he denied the accusations directed against him.

Alpay said he is standing trial due to the articles he wrote in the Zaman daily, some of which included criticism of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his AKP government.

The journalist said it is out of the question for him to write articles based on orders from anyone or any group including the Gülen movement. He said there is no evidence in the indictment proving that he wrote articles to serve the goals of the Gülen movement.

“The only reason I approached the Gülen movement with respect is because I looked at it from a sociological perspective, it was never because of a membership or belonging to this group,” said Alpay.

The journalist also said by writing in the Zaman daily, he thought he could make a contribution to the conservative circles’ understanding of democratic values and the virtues of a state of law in Turkey.

During the hearing, lawyer Aynur Tuncel Yazgan, who represents both Alpay and Ural, presented a defense statement in which she denied the accusations against her clients.

The lawyer said neither Alpay nor Ural is a follower of the Gülen movement and that they were only involved in journalistic activities.

“The limits of the law should not be forced. When the limits of the law are forced, we get confused about how to present a defense,” said the lawyer.

Professor Dağı also delivered a defense statement during Thursday’s hearing and said he still does not know why he is standing trial and facing charges of disseminating the propaganda of a terror organization.

He said he stopped writing for Zaman in 2014 and had appeared on none of the Gülen-linked TV stations since 2012.

“In no part of my life have I had an attitude praising or encouraging violence. As for freedom of expression and the right to criticism, they are guaranteed by the law in democratic states,” Dağı said, while requesting his acquittal of all charges.

Turkey is ranked 157th among 180 countries in the 2018 World Press Freedom Index released by Reporters Without Borders (RSF). If Turkey falls two more places, it will make it to the list of countries on the blacklist, which have the poorest record in press freedom.

Turkey is the biggest jailer of journalists in the world. The most recent figures documented by SCF show that 243 journalists and media workers were in jail as of June 27, 2018, most in pretrial detention. Of those in prison 184 were under arrest pending trial while only 59 journalists have been convicted and are serving their time. Detention warrants are outstanding for 143 journalists who are living 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 some 200 media outlets, including Kurdish news agencies and newspapers, after a coup attempt in Turkey on July 15, 2016. (SCF with

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