Turkish court extends arrest warrant for neo-nationalist Sözcü daily’s owner over Gülen links

An outstanding arrest warrant for Burak Akbar, the proprietor of the neo-nationalist Sözcü daily, was extended by a Turkish court in İstanbul on Wednesday.

Akbay faces 30 years in prison for over his alleged links to the Gülen movement.

İstanbul’s 37th High Criminal Court has also extended the bans on leaving the country imposed on Sözcü reporter Gökmen Ulu and former Internet news editor Mediha Olgun.

On May 26, 2017 Ulu and Olgun were arrested and an arrest warrant was issued for Akbay, who lives abroad, following an investigation into terrorism charges. Financial officer Yonca Yücekaleli was released pending trial on the same day. Olgun and Ulu were also released pending trial after remaining in pretrial detention for 120 and 174 days, respectively.

According to a report by the Hürriyet Daily News, during the hearing on Wednesday Akbay’s lawyers demanded that the warrant be lifted. The newspaper’s owner faces between 15-30 years in prison for “managing” the Fethullahist Terrorist Organization (FETÖ).

“FETÖ” is a derogatory term coined by ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) led by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to refer to the Gülen movement.

“All the allegations in the indictment have been refuted … Our client [Burak Akbay] has been abroad under the threat of arrest. Thus, I demand the lifting of the warrant,” said one of Akbay’s lawyers, Celal Ülgen.

However, the court rejected the demand to cancel the arrest warrant as well as the travel restrictions against Ulu and Olgun, deciding to “wait for the enforcement of the warrant.”

The two journalists also face jail terms of between 7,5 and 15 years on allegations that they helped the perpetrators of a controversial coup attempt on July 15, 2016 with a news report on President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s holiday destination.

Main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) deputy Sezgin Tanrıkulu attended the hearing in support of the daily. All the defendants strongly rejected claims that they were linked to the Gülen movement. The next hearing was scheduled for Nov. 7.

Turkey is ranked 157th among 180 countries in the 2018 World Press Freedom Index released by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) on Wednesday. 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 253 journalists and media workers were in jail as of May 11, 2018, most in pretrial detention. Of those in prison 192 were under arrest pending trial while only 61 journalists have been convicted and are serving their time. Detention warrants are outstanding for 142 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 the coup attempt in Turkey on July 15, 2016.

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