Turkish court rules for continuation of pretrial detention of jailed Zaman journalists

A high criminal court in İstanbul on Friday ruled for a continuation of the pretrial detention of 19 journalists, former employees of the Zaman newspaper, which was shut down by the government in the aftermath of a failed coup attempt on July 15, 2016.

According to the decision of the İstanbul 13th High Criminal Court during a hearing at the Silivri Prison compound, the journalists’ request to be released on their own recognizance was rejected, and the trial was adjourned until July 5-6.

Meanwhile, one of the members of the court panel wrote a dissenting opinion on the decision for continuation of the imprisonment of the jailed journalists, saying that all the defendants should be released in accordance with the principle of equality and referring to the decision for the release of journalist Ali Bulaç in the same case.

Former Zaman writers and editors Mümtaz’er Türköne, Ali Bulaç, Ahmet Metin Sekizkardeş, Ahmet Turan Alkan, Alaattin Güner, Cuma Kaya, Faruk Akkan, Hakan Taşdelen, Hüseyin Belli, Hüseyin Turan, İbrahim Karayeğen, İsmail Küçük, Murat Avcıoğlu, Mustafa Ünal, Onur Kutlu, Sedat Yetişkin, Şeref Yılmaz, Yüksel Durgut and Zafer Özsoy are being tried as part of the trial.

The journalists face charges of violating the constitution, membership in a terrorist organization, disseminating the propaganda of a terrorist organization and aiding a terrorist organization.

The Zaman daily, which was Turkey’s best-selling newspaper, was closed down along with dozens of other media outlets due to their links to the Gülen movement, which is accused by Turkey’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) government of masterminding the failed coup attempt in July 2016.

Former Zaman employees Şahin Alpay, Ali Bulaç, Mehmet Özdemir, Ahmet İrem, Ali Hüseyinçelebi, Süleyman Sargın, Osman Nuri Arslan, Osman Nuri Öztürk, Lalezer Sarıibrahimoğlu, Nuriye Ural and Orhan Kemal Cengiz are also named as suspects in the indictment, but they are being tried without being confined to pretrial detention. Professor İhsan Duran Dağı, who used to work as a columnist for Zaman, is cited as a fugitive in the indictment.

The journalists’ trial resumed on Thursday and continued into Friday. According to Twitter posts of @P24DavaTakip, which follows the trials of journalists in Turkey, Zaman writers Bulaç, Alkan and Ural delivered defenses during Friday’s hearing. The journalists denied all the charges and said they are standing trial merely because of their journalistic activities.

Articles and interviews written or made by these journalists while they were working for Zaman are presented as evidence of the charges directed at these journalists in the indictment.

Bulaç’s lawyer, Mehmet Ali Devecioğlu, said his client wrote thousands of articles while working at Zaman but that the prosecutor selected only eight of them as criminal evidence. The lawyer also said Bulaç being a member of the now-closed, Gülen-linked Journalists’ and Writers’ Foundation (GYV) and his meeting with members of the foundation cannot be considered criminal evidence. The lawyer asked for Bulaç’s acquittal of all charges.

Nuriye Ural

On Friday, veteran journalist Nuriye Ural also made her defence before the court. Stating that she wrote the article shown as evidence in the indictment after December 17 and before December 25, Ural said: “The prosecutor’s office claimed that the (Dec. 17/25, 2013 corruption) operation was done by the Gülen movement. How could I have had such knowledge at that time? Even if the people who carried out this operation acted under the instructions of Gülen, how would it have been possible for me to know this? How can the prosecutor’s office claim that I had this information? Do you think that Zaman daily gathered all its columnists and said, ‘Dear friends, a military coup will be carried out, so please write your articles to prepare for that?'”

“I did not write my article for a mission,” Ural said and continued: “I don’t think I can reflect the whole truth and all its dimensions even in my interviews. The prosecutor says ‘She worked at the Zaman newspaper.’ The Zaman daily was not a banned institution. It was a very respectable newspaper. I did not want to leave the paper when the trustees came. Why should I have quit? I’m a single mother, I needed the money.”

Saying that she has never viewed Fethulah Gülen or any other religious leaders as someone who  would guide her life, Ural said, “The Prophet is enough for me.” Ural also responded to accusations about her interview with Fethullah Gülen. “I first heard the idea of ​​interviewing Gülen from (Hürriyet daily’s then-editor-in-chief) Ertuğrul Özkök. Then I was able to do it for the Sabah daily, which also liked it because it was an important interview,” she said.

Listing the names of the numbers journalists who interviewed Fethullah Gülen, Ural also said, “There are hundreds of foreign journalists who conducted interviews with Fethullah Gülen.”

Ural also defended her interview with police chief Yakup Saygılı, who conducted the corruption and bribery investigation of Dec. 17/25, 2013, which implicated then-Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, his family members and his cabinet ministers. “My job is to interview people on the agenda. Why should I be blamed when these people’s legal status changes?” asked Ural.

“I am also accused of being a member of a terrorist organization because I wrote about the a development on the agenda and defended my profession,” Ural said, and added: “How has interviewing people on the agenda about actual issues become helping the terrorist organization? I only had professional contacts with the people I interviewed. I do not know if they are related to a criminal organization. I have been accused of “helping a terrorist organization without being a member of it” by citing the interviews I conducted and the articles I wrote. But these articles were not discussed in court.”

“Coincidentally, if I wrote for another newspaper other than Zaman, the content of my articles would not change. If you read the whole text of my articles, you will see that I have no interest in political struggles,” Ural said. “I’ve always been against the military coups. I have never been involved in any violent or forcible act. I’ve never met any people who did these things, either. Journalism cannot be a crime. Writing articles about a corruption scandal is a journalistic activity. You can only accuse me of my own actions. I want my acquittal.”

It is common in Turkey for journalists to be investigated and jailed for their work. 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 242 journalists and media workers were in jail as of June 3, 2018, most in pretrial detention. Of those in prison 182 were under arrest pending trial while only 60 journalists have been convicted and are serving their time. Detention warrants are outstanding for 142 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. (SCF with turkishminute.com)

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