Turkish court rules for continuation of journalist Gündem’s imprisonment over Gülen links

Journalist Mehmet Gündem

A Turkish court ruled on Tuesday for a continuation of the imprisonment of Turkish journalist Mehmet Gündem, who was arrested in November 2017 on terror charges over his alleged links to the Gülen movement.

Gündem appeared before the İstanbul 35th High Criminal Court for the first time in the nine months of his imprisonment. The court ruled to continue the trial on October 30, 2018.

In his defense in court the journalist said he has been a journalist for 23 years and that he conducted weekly interviews during this period of time.

“Every newspaper has an interviewer. I was doing this job for seven years at the Zaman daily. Thus, I was publicly known. I interviewed Fethullah Gülen in the United States at the request of the Milliyet daily, where I worked at the time, in 2005. I was also an administrator at the Yeni Şafak daily. Upon a proposal I received in 2011, I launched Çankaya Publishing at the presidential palace. We published nearly 70 prestigious books there. ”

Gündem said he became a member of the Journalists and Writers Foundation (JWF) in 2015 upon an invitation, but because of a dispute, he said, he resigned on November 30, 2015. The JWF, which was a Turkish civil society organization registered to the United Nations and headquartered in Istanbul, was closed by a government decree under a state of emergency declared in the aftermath of a controversial coup attempt on July 15, 2016. The organization subsequently moved its main office to New York City.

Gündem also said the phone number on which it was claimed he downloaded the ByLock mobile phone messaging application does not belong to him. He also stated that he has used the same mobile phone number since 1995.

Turkish authorities believe ByLock is a communication tool among alleged followers of the Gülen movement. Tens of thousands of people, including civil servants, police officers, soldiers, businessmen and even housewives, have either been dismissed or arrested for using ByLock since a controversial coup attempt on July 15, 2016.

Gündem said his personal accounts at Bank Asya were not opened upon any instructions or because of any organizational motivation. “If I had this kind of motivation or instruction, I would have been able to call on my 54,000 followers on social media or readers of the Milliyet daily to do the same thing.”

At the end of his defense, Gündem demanded his acquittal and stated that he had lost his father while in prison and added: “Since I did not get permission, I could not attend the funeral of my father. The past nine months have been a very long process for me. My imprisonment went beyond measure and turned out to be a punishment.”

Gündem, who used to work as a columnist for the Milliyet daily, was detained on Nov. 1, 2017 along with 44 colleagues as part of an operation against the JWF, which was closed down in the aftermath of the controversial coup attempt over alleged affiliation with the faith-based Gülen movement.

Gündem was subsequently arrested by a court on charges of “membership in a terrorist organization,” as the Turkish government labels the Gülen movement as such.

An indictment against the journalists seeks a prison sentence for him of between seven-and-a-half and 15 years on terror charges.

Gündem, who is currently jailed in İstanbul’s notorious Silivri Prison, was recently visited by lawyers from the P24 Independent Journalism Foundation and completed a questionnaire that aims to expose the problems faced by jailed journalists in the country.

To a question asking whether he was ever visited by a member of parliament, Gündem said “No.”  He also said a ban on writing and receiving letters imposed on him by the prison administration was recently lifted.

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 237 journalists and media workers were in jail as of August 6, 2018, most in pretrial detention. Of those in prison 170 were under arrest pending trial while only 67 journalists have been convicted and are serving their time. Detention warrants are outstanding for 144 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.

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