Turkish court refuses to release Zaman journalist Ünal after 18 months in jail

Former Zaman columnist Ali Ünal

A high criminal court in the western Turkish province of Uşak has refused to release Ali Ünal, a theologian and a former columnist for the now-closed Zaman daily, who has been behind bars for 18 months.

The second hearing of Ünal’s trial was held at the Uşak 2nd High Criminal Court on Tuesday. Ünal, who is incarcerated in a high-security prison in İzmir province, is accused of “attempting to overthrow the constitutional order,” “establishing and managing an armed terror organization” and “being a member of a terror organization.”

The journalist faces two consecutive life sentences in addition to a 29.5 year jail sentence.

In his defense during Tuesday’s hearing, Ünal denied claims that he received orders from Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen, who is accused by the Turkish government of masterminding a failed coup attempt in Turkey on July 15, 2016, adding that he just edited some books mentioned in the indictment related to Gülen.

Ünal also said he learned about the coup attempt one day after the fact from TV and said: “I have not written anything throughout my life to prepare the groundwork for a coup attempt. All the articles I wrote aimed at warning against a coup.”

The court refused to release Ünal and adjourned his trial until May 10.

The first hearing of Ünal’s trial was held on Jan. 4 during which Ünal delivered his defense and responded to accusations in the indictment related his 17 columns in the Zaman daily. The journalist denied the charges and asked for his release. The court ruled for the continuation of the imprisonment of the journalist and asked for an examination of his mobile phone.

The Zaman daily, which was affiliated with faith-based Gülen movement, inspired by the views of Gülen, was first unlawfully seized by the Turkish government on March 4, 2016 and then closed down by government decree in the aftermath of the failed coup attempt in July 2016. Dozens of Zaman journalists have been jailed on coup charges since the coup attempt.

Turkey is the biggest jailer of journalists in the world. The most recent figures documented by SCF show that 240 journalists and media workers were in jail as of February 22, 2018, most in pretrial detention. Of those in prison, 205 were under arrest pending trial, while only 35 journalists have been convicted and are serving their time. Detention warrants are outstanding for 140 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 more than 180 media outlets after the controversial coup attempt.  (SCF with turkishminute.com)

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