The İstanbul 13th High Criminal Court ruled on Friday for the release of journalists Ahmet Turan Alkan and İbrahim Karayeğen, a former columnist and night-shift editor of the Zaman daily, respectively, pending appeal after their trial and imprisonment in İstanbul’s notorious Silivri Prison for 23 months.
The court before which 11 Zaman journalists were tried for their work at the now-closed Zaman newspaper also acquitted five of the journalists of all charges and acquitted all the journalists of the charge involvement in a controversial military coup on July 15, 2016. The court sentenced six out of the 11 to between eight years, nine months and 10 years, six months in prison.
Zaman was Turkey’s most highly circulated newspaper before the Turkish government’s unlawful takeover and closure of it in 2016.
The same court also sentenced Zaman daily columnist and political scientist Mümtaz’er Türköne and Zaman columnist and Ankara Bureau Chief Mustafa Ünal to 10 years, six months in prison. The court ruled for a continuation of their incarceration.
The court acquitted Zaman columnists Lalezar Sarıibrahimoğlu and Nuriye Akman (who were jailed for two months, 13 days), İhsan Dağı, Zaman editor Mehmet Özdemir (who was jailed for one year, nine months and six days) and Zaman daily lawyer Orhan Kemal Cengiz of all charges.
The court also sentenced Zaman columnists Ahmet Turan Alkan, Şahin Alpay and Ali Bulaç to eight years, nine months in prison on the charge of membership in an alleged terror organisation. The court did not rule for the re-imprisonment of Alpay and Bulaç, who were previously released from prison.
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 243 journalists and media workers were in jail as of June 27, 2018, most in pretrial detention. Of those in prison 184 were under arrest pending trial while only 59 journalists have been convicted and are serving their time. Detention warrants are outstanding for 143 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.