Turkish court releases only one of jailed journalists facing coup charges

An İstanbul court on Tuesday decided to release a jailed journalist for medical reasons in the latest hearing of a trial in which 29 journalists face coup and terror charges over alleged links to the faith-based Gülen movement, which is accused by Turkish authorities of orchestrating a failed coup in July 2016.

In Tuesday’s hearing at the İstanbul 25th High Criminal Court, the court decided for the release of journalist Halil İbrahim Balta, who has been experiencing serious health problems. Balta was a journalist at the now-closed Zaman daily, which was closed down by the government in the aftermath of the coup attempt due to its links to the Gülen movement.

Some of the 29 journalists on trial have been released on their own recognizance, while two of them, Said Sefa and Bülent Ceyhan, are at large. Some 10 journalists are in pretrial detention, and the court on Tuesday ruled for the continuation of their arrest.

Under indictment are the following journalists, most of whom were employees of the Zaman media group, which was considered the flagship media organization of the Gülen movement:

Abdullah Kılıç, Ahmet Memiş, Ali Akkuş, Atilla Taş, Bayram Kaya, Bülent Ceyhan, Bünyamin Köseli, Cemal Azmi Kalyoncu, Cihan Acar, Cuma Ulus, Davut Aydın, Emre Soncan, Gökçe Fırat Çulhaoğlu, Habib Güler, Halil İbrahim Balta, Hanım Büşra Erdal, Hüseyin Aydın, Muhammed Sait Kuloğlu, Muhterem Tanık, Murat Aksoy, Mustafa Erkan Acar, Mutlu Çölgeçen, Oğuz Usluer, Said Sefa, Seyid Kılıç, Ufuk Şanlı, Ünal Tanık, Yakup Çetin and Yetkin Yıldız.

In her defense, Hanım Büşra Erdal said she had never said she does not know the Gülen movement. She began work at Zaman in 2002; she performed her job as a journalist and was not involved in any of the hierarchy related to the Gülen movement.

“I was not involved in anything other than journalism. I worked at the Zaman daily and was not involved in any criminal activity,” said Erdal while demanding her release.

Journalist Bayram Kaya, who also used to work for the Zaman daily, said he did not download the ByLock application to his mobile phone.

ByLock, a smart phone application, is seen as a sign of being a member of the Gülen movement.

He said he had been using the same mobile phone since 2012 and that no trace of ByLock had been found on his phone.

“It is not only me who has been jailed for 19 months, it is also my wife and daughter. I ask for my release so that we can return to our normal family life,” he said.

Ulus in his defense said he turned himself in to the police and did not renew his passport because he did not have any intention of fleeing abroad.

He said he is a member of several press organizations in Turkey and is just a journalist, so wants his release.

The prosecutor in the trial asked for the release of Gökçe Fırat Çulhaoğlu and the punishment of all the suspects other than Çulhaoğlu and Murat Aksoy on charges of membership in the Gülen movement. The prosecutor in his opinion said Çulhaoğlu and Aksoy should be penalized for assisting the Gülen movement although not being members of it. The prosecutor also asked for the arrest of those suspects who were jailed but released on judicial probation.

The court rejected the prosecutor’s request for the re-arrest of some of the previously released suspects. It ruled for the release of Balta and a continuation of the pretrial detention of all the other suspects.

The indictment revealed that the suspects are accused of membership in a terrorist organization due to their stories, critical tweets and retweets and of attempting to destroy the constitutional order and attempting to overthrow the government of the Republic of Turkey. The next hearing is set for Feb. 22.

Turkey is the biggest jailer of journalists in the world. The most recent figures documented by the SCF has showed that 245 journalists and media workers are in jails as of January 24, 2018, most in pre-trial detention languishing in notorious Turkish prisons without even a conviction. Of those in Turkish prisons, 218 are arrested pending trial, only 27 journalists remain convicted and serving time in Turkish prisons. An outstanding detention warrants remain for 140 journalists who live 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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