Turkish court sentences veteran journalist Böken to 10 years in prison over alleged Gülen links

Ali Ahmet Böken (46), a veteran Turkish journalist and prominent broadcaster, was sentenced by a Turkish court on Tuesday to nine years, nine months in prison on fabricated terror charges over his alleged links to the Gülen movement.

During the final hearing of his trial at the Ankara 18th High Criminal Court on Tuesday, Böken denied the terror charges and said what he did was to perform his job as a journalist. He also denied using the ByLock mobile phone application.

Turkish authorities believe that 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 failed coup attempt on July 15, 2016.

“I did nothing other than serve my nation. I am requesting my acquittal,” Böken said. The court announced its final verdict and gave him a nine year, nine month prison sentence on charges of membership in a terror organisation.

Böken is a successful journalist and broadcaster who graduated from Ankara University’s faculty of communication in 1994. He worked as a journalist, a news presenter, an editor and a news director for Samanyolu Television. He was a columnist in samanyoluhaber.com, which is related to Samanyolu Haber TV. With the establishment of the Samanyolu Haber (News) TV on January 22, 2007, he became the chief editor of the channel.

He left the channel he was working for and went to public broadcaster TRT as contracted personnel. He became the chief editor for TRT Haber, which was established on March 18, 2010.  He gave lectures at Zirve University as a visiting academic on public broadcasting. He is married and has two children.

Thanks to Böken’s coordination, TRT News was elected the most popular TV channel in Europe just two years after its establishment. TRT News took first place in a public vote in a competition where 120 channels from 19 countries competed, coming in ahead of well-known channels such as BBC, Russia Today, France 24, SKY News and CNBC. Prizewinners in the competition were recognized at a ceremony held in Venice at which then-TRT General Manager İbrahim Şahin and TRT News Editor-in-Chief Böken represented TRT.

Böken was a juror for the Emmy Awards, sponsored by the International Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. Kerem Çatay, the owner of Ay Productions, was on the jury judging Best Drama Series, while Böken was on the jury for Best News at the 41st Emmy Awards.

Böken was suspended and assigned to a minor post in the strategy department after corruption investigations of December 17-25, 2013 that implicated then-Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, his family members and his Cabinet ministers. Following the controversial coup attempt in July 2016, he was detained on August 11, 2016.

Böken has been jailed pending trial for 18 months. Although there are proceedings for TRT employees, Böken is being tried separately on the same charges. The prosecutor’s office demanded 15 years’ imprisonment, nearly double that of the other TRT employees, the reason why he has been tried separately.

An account at Bank Asya and the affiliation with the Gülen movement of the media companies where he used to work were presented as evidence in the case of the accomplished journalist. During the last hearing on January 23 at the Ankara 18th High Criminal Court, prosecutor Necati Kayaközü requested 15 years’ imprisonment for Böken. The evidence presented to the court are a bank passbook, insurance documents from previous workplaces and witness statements.

There are many absurdities in the indictment, especially witness statements. For instance, the date of the crime has been shown as July 18, 2016, which is three days after the coup attempt. As in other indictments, the prosecutor has been trying to explain that Gülen movement is a criminal organization.

The following statements are in the indictment: “There is no definite criterion for membership in the organisation. In the parallel structure there are Turkish, Kurdish, Laz, Circassian, Armenian, Sunnis, Alevis and even groups that seem to be far from the structure, atheists, Jews and Christians. In other words in order to be a member of FETÖ/PDY, it is not necessary to be a believer or religious and it is not necessary to be a Muslim.” From this, what the prosecutor thinks about the commission of a crime and what the relationship is to Böken is cannot be understood.

FETÖ is a pejorative acronym that Turkey’s political Islamist government and autocratic Turkish President Erdoğan have been using to defame the civic Gülen movement.

Böken’s children’s going to a school that was allegedly linked to the Gülen movement and the fact that the school was closed by a government decree issued under a state of emergency declared in the aftermath of the controversial coup attempt were considered criminal offences.

Böken’s lawyers have stated in his defence: “No action was taken against those who sent their children to schools affiliated with the Gülen movement, namely President Erdoğan, Economy Minister Nihat Zeybekçi, former Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor Harun Kodalak and HSYK [Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors] member Turgay Ateş. [Numerous examples can be given] and Energy Minister Berat Albayrak himself went to a school affiliated with the movement. The actions taken such as prosecution, arrest, dismissal, confiscation of property, no further public service for the defendant who sent his children to these schools are clear discrimination, crimes against humanity and genocide.”

The testimony of witness Tahsin Yıldız shows that sending TRT personnel abroad for education was listed among the criminal offences committed by Böken. However, as Böken stated in his defence, these policies were within the authority of the education department and board of management of TRT.

TRT’s Board of Management consists of seven members, five of whom were directly appointed by the Cabinet. The other two members are deputies elected by the general manager. Yıldız claimed that “the average cost of sending a staff member abroad is nearly a trillion Turkish lira.” Let alone the fact that this claim was not supported by any documents, it is also not logical for a staff member to spend such an enormous amount of money.

Another witness claimed that irregularities had occurred in the construction of the studio for the TRT World channel. He asserted that the job was given to a company before a tender was held and that there was a relationship between the company and the deputy general manager. But the person who the witness accused was İbrahim Eren, the deputy general manager of the time. Eren is known to be a close friend of  President Erdoğan’s son Bilal. Shortly afterwards he was appointed general manager of TRT, a position he still holds. Böken also stated in his defence that he was removed from his job during the establishment of that channel.

Böken denied the allegations that he used ByLock. His lawyers stated that the search, confiscation and copying of digital materials were not in compliance with the law, indicating that such materials added to the file are unlawful evidence.

Turkey is the biggest jailer of journalists in the world. The most recent figures documented by SCF show that 245 journalists and media workers were in jail as of March 26, 2018, most in pretrial detention. Of those in prison 189 were under arrest pending trial while only 56 journalists have been convicted and are serving their time. Detention warrants are outstanding for 140 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 about 200 media outlets after the controversial coup attempt on July 15, 2016.

Turkey survived a controversial military coup attempt on July 15, 2016 that killed 249 people. Immediately after the putsch, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government along with autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan pinned the blame on the Gülen movement.

Fethullah Gülen, who inspired the movement, strongly denied having any role in the failed coup and called for an international investigation into it, but President Erdoğan — calling the coup attempt “a gift from God” — and the government initiated a widespread purge aimed at cleansing sympathizers of the movement from within state institutions, dehumanizing its popular figures and putting them in custody.

Turkey has suspended or dismissed more than 150,000 judges, teachers, police and other civil servants since July 2016. Turkey’s interior minister announced on December 12, 2017 that 55,665 people have been arrested. On December 13, the Justice Ministry announced that 169,013 people have been the subject of legal proceedings on coup charges since the failed coup.

A total of 48,305 people were arrested by courts across Turkey in 2017 over their alleged links to the Gülen movement, Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu said on Dec. 2, 2017. “The number of detentions is nearly three times higher,” Soylu told a security meeting in İstanbul and claimed that “even these figures are not enough to reveal the severity of the issue.”

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