Turkey arrests former Zaman daily executive on coup charges

Journalist Mehmet Kamış

An İstanbul court has ruled for the arrest of journalist Mehmet Kamış, the deputy editor-in-chief of a now-closed newspaper in Turkey, on charges of attempting to destroy the constitutional order due to his alleged role in a failed coup in 2016, Turkish Minute reported, citing the state-run Anadolu news agency.

Kamış was detained in the western province of İzmir on Wednesday by teams from Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization and the organized crime unit of the İzmir Police Department. He was taken to İstanbul where he was standing trial in absentia.

The İstanbul 26th High Criminal Court ruled for the arrest of the journalist on Thursday. Kamış was subsequently sent to Marmara Prison on the outskirts of İstanbul.

The Zaman daily, which was Turkey’s best-selling newspaper, was closed down by the Turkish government following the coup attempt on July 15, 2016 due to its alleged links to the faith-based Gülen movement.

The government accuses the movement of masterminding the failed coup, although the movement strongly denies any involvement in it.

Kamış was being tried in absentia along with 16 others, mostly journalists from Zaman and other Gülen-affiliated media organizations.

The prosecutor indicted the defendants for aiding the movement in its alleged efforts to topple the Turkish government.

The defendants were accused of having prior knowledge of the coup attempt and sending messages in favor of the coup.

The İstanbul 26th High Criminal Court decided to separate the files of the defendants who were at large, including Kamış, in the court hearing on Sept. 19, 2017.

Turkish government launched a war against the Gülen movement, which was inspired by Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen, after the corruption investigations of December 17-25, 2013 that implicated then-prime minister and current President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s family members and inner circle.

Dismissing the investigations as a Gülenist coup and conspiracy, the AKP government designated the movement as a terrorist organization and began to target its members. The government locked up thousands, including many prosecutors, judges and police officers involved in the investigation, as well as journalists who reported on them.

AKP government intensified the crackdown on the movement following the coup attempt on July 15, 2016 that they accused Gülen of masterminding. Gülen and the movement strongly deny involvement in the abortive putsch or any terrorist activity.

Kamış’s son Alperen also announced the arrest of his father on X, formerly known as Twitter, saying that his father is doing fine, sends his regards to his friends and hopes for prayers from them.

In another tweet, Alperen Kamış said his father has been doing journalism for 35 years as a photojournalist, columnist and media executive and has never committed any crime.

Many Zaman daily executives and journalists had to flee Turkey before and after the paper’s closure, fearing unlawful arrest due to a crackdown the government launched on the movement before the coup attempt and intensified after it.

Kamış’s arrest led to great disappointment among his former colleagues, who said the journalist’s arrest was politically motivated.

Mehmet Tahsin, a former Zaman daily executive and a lawyer who is currently living in exile, said on X that Kamış was indicted based on “evidence” such as having an account at the Gülen-linked Bank Asya, working for a Gülen-affiliated media organization and having phone conversations with other Zaman journalists who are also defendants in Gülen-related trials.

Referring to a landmark ruling from the Grand Chamber of European Court of Human Rights in September about a teacher convicted of terrorism due to his links to the Gülen movement, Tahsin said the rights court has already made clear that such actions do not constitute criminal evidence.

Some Zaman journalists who stayed in Turkey were arrested and given lengthy sentences due to their alleged links to the movement, which is labelled as a terrorist organization by the Turkish government. The movement also rejects the terrorism accusation.

Kamış is facing three aggravated life sentences on coup-related charges and an additional seven-and-a-half years on charges of terrorist organization membership.

A TV commercial run by Zaman which according to the prosecutor sent implicit messages about the coup was included as evidence in the indictment.

The indictment claimed the Zaman TV commercial that was aired nine months, 10 days prior to the failed coup on July 15, 2016 was a signal for the military coup attempt by the Gülen movement. The prosecutor claimed that through TV ads in which a baby smiles after scenes of chaos, the Gülen movement sent messages to its members.

Among the prominent figures in the trial were novelist and journalist Ahmet Altan, former Zaman daily editor-in-chief Ekrem Dumanlı, former Today’s Zaman daily editor-in-chief Bülent Keneş and former Zaman design director Fevzi Yazıcı.

Altan, Ilıcak and Yazıcı were arrested immediately after the coup attempt and served sentences.

Another defendant in the trial, police academy lecturer Tuğrul Özşengül, 56, died of a heart attack in prison in July 2022.

Kamış was also among the 54 journalists whose assets were seized by a Turkish court in December due to their alleged links to the Gülen movement.

Rights groups routinely accuse Turkey of undermining media freedom by arresting journalists and shutting down critical media outlets, especially since President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan survived the failed coup.

Turkey is ranked 165th in the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) 2023 World Press Freedom Index, among 180 countries, not far from North Korea, which occupies the bottom of the list.

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