Turkish court gives aggravated life sentences to jailed journalists Karaca and Kaya over Gülen links

Journalist Hidayet Karaca.

A court in Ankara on Friday handed down aggravated life sentences to jailed journalists Hidayet Karaca and Alaattin Kaya over their links to the Gülen movement.

The Ankara 4th High Criminal Court gave aggravated life sentences to four out of seven jailed defendants on charges of “attempted violation of the constitution” immediately before a controversial coup attempt on July 15, 2016 in a case that was filed against 75 defendants who are accused of links to the Gülen movement.

Among the defendants are Hidayet Karaca, who was president of the now-closed Samanyolu Broadcasting Group; Alaattin Kaya, former owner of the now-closed Zaman daily; İlhan İşbilen, a former deputy of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and former general director of Zaman; and Kazım Avcı, a cousin of US-based Turkish Muslim scholar Fethullah Gülen.

The court also sentenced Fethullah Gülen’s lawyers Abdülkadir Aksoy and Ali Çelik and businessman Dilaver Azim to 10 years, six months in prison on charges of “membership in an armed terrorist organisation.”

The court also decided to drop the case against Cemal Uşak, who passed away on August 25, 2016 in exile. It also separated the files of Fetullah Gülen and Adil Öksüz, the main suspect of carrying out the coup bid. The file of Zaman daily’s former editor-in-chief Ekrem Dumanlı was also seperated from the case.

It is common in Turkey for journalists to be investigated and jailed for their work. 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 242 journalists and media workers were in jail as of June 3, 2018, most in pretrial detention. Of those in prison 182 were under arrest pending trial while only 60 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 a coup attempt in Turkey on July 15, 2016.

Turkey survived a controversial military coup attempt on July 15, 2016 that killed 249 people. Immediately after the putsch, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government along with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan pinned the blame on the Gülen movement.

Fethullah Gülen, who inspired the movement, strongly denied having any role in the failed coup and called for an international investigation into it, but President Erdoğan — calling the coup attempt “a gift from God” — and the government initiated a widespread purge aimed at cleansing sympathizers of the movement from within state institutions, dehumanizing its popular figures and putting them in custody.

Turkey has suspended or dismissed more than 150,000 judges, teachers, police and civil servants since July 15. On December 13, 2017 the Justice Ministry announced that 169,013 people have been the subject of legal proceedings on coup charges since the failed coup.

Turkish Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu announced on April 18, 2018 that the Turkish government had jailed 77,081 people between July 15, 2016 and April 11, 2018 over alleged links to the Gülen movement.

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