A jailed reporter from Sözcü daily, Bekir Gökmen Ulu, was released pending trial by an İstanbul court over the statements of the pro-government columnists, who are staunch supporters of Turkey’s autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, including Fuat Uğur, Cem Küçük, Ersoy Dede and Hüseyin Gülerce.
According to a report by Bianet, 2nd hearing of trial of Sözcü daily staff was heard at İstanbul’s 37th High Criminal Court on Wednesday. The court has heard the statements of Cem Küçük, Fuat Uğur, Ersoy Dede, Hüseyin Gülerce and Anıl Eren Yıldız.
Sözcü daily’s news editors Melda Olgun and Yonca Kaleli have also appeared before the judge. The court announced its interlocutory decision, ordering the release of the İzmir-based reporter Bekir Gökmen Ulu with a ban on leaving the country. Sözcü’s proprietor Burak Akbay, who is currently believed to be out of the country, faces up to 30 years in jail for “managing an armed terrorist organization” and “making propaganda for a terrorist organization.”
Meanwhile, pro-government columnists have slammed the indictment of journalists and staff-members from the newspaper, speaking at the second hearing in the ongoing court case in which Sözcü personnel must fight terror charges.
Pro-Erdoğan aTV Europe presenter Fuat Uğur, Erdoğanist Star daily columnist Ersoy Dede and Cem Küçük said there is insufficient evidence to link Sözcü and the “FETÖ”, a derogatory term coined by ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and President Erdoğan to refer to the civic Gülen movement.
Uğur said that while he sometimes argued with Sözcü, there was no way he could say that “FETÖ is behind the publications of Sözcü daily.” Uğur, who testified as a witness alongside Dede and Küçük, said Ulu should not be in prison due to his report on President Erdoğan’s holiday destinations prior to the attempted takeover.
“Frankly I don’t see any evidence in the indictment. I think that the indictment is weak and this case should be closed. I don’t know anything about Sözcü’s links to FETÖ. This case should be closed before more damage is done to the concept of the rule of law,” Uğur reportedly told the court.
Dede also blasted the indictment, saying Sözcü’s alleged links to the Gülen movement, which include claims that the newspaper received money from the movement, are “utter nonsense,” adding that Ulu’s report on Erdoğan’s holiday is within the boundaries of journalistic activities. “It’s shameful to be a witness regarding Gökmen’s report, which constitutes a legitimate journalistic enterprise,” Dede said.
Küçük, meanwhile, described the allegations in the indictment as “extremely funny.” “You can’t say ‘Sözcü cooperated with FETÖ’ based on this indictment,” Küçük said.
An operation was launched into Sözcü newspaper on May 19, 2016. Detention warrants were issued for Burak Akbay, Mediha Olgun, Bekir Gökmen Ulu and Yonca Yücekaleli as part of Turkish government’s massive post-coup witch hunt targeting the alleged members of the Gülen movement. Olgun was released on probation on September 22.
The 73-page indictment, which was prepared by Prosecutor Asım Ekren, charges the suspects of “managing armed terror organization”, “propagandizing for an armed terror organization”, and “knowingly aiding an armed terrorist organization without being a part member of its hierarchical structure.” A crossword dated January 1, 2016 has also been included in the indictment as the reason for the investigation.
Prosecutor Ekren has also regarded a news report by Gökmen Ulu with the title of “Sözcü found Erdoğan” dated July 15, 2016 as an “evidence” and claimed that “the article facilitates execution of the crime (military coup).”
Turkey is the biggest jailer of journalists in the world. The most recent figures documented by the SCF has showed that 256 journalists and media workers are in jails as of November 7, 2017, most in pre-trial detention languishing in notorious Turkish prisons without even a conviction. Of those in Turkish prisons, 231 are arrested pending trial, only 25 journalists remain convicted and serving time in Turkish prisons. An outstanding detention warrants remain for 135 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.