Turkish court to give final verdict in coup trial of renowned journalists

An İstanbul high criminal court on Monday began the final hearings in the trial of seven journalists including Nazlı Ilıcak and the Altan brothers who are being tried on coup charges. The İstanbul 26th High Criminal Court will hold the final hearings of the trial until Feb. 16, when it is expected to conclude proceedings.

In addition to Ilıcak, journalists and writers Ahmet Altan and Mehmet Altan; two former employees of the now-closed Zaman newspaper, Zaman brand marketing manager Yakup Şimşek and art director Fevzi Yazıcı; former Police Academy lecturer Şükrü Tuğrul Özşengül; and advertising company manager Tibet Murat Sanlıman are suspects in the trial. Sanlıman was earlier released on his own recognizance.

There are an additional 10 suspects in the trial who are at large, so the court decided to separate the file of the seven suspects who are in the country. Representatives from international organizations such as Article 19, Reporters without Borders (RSF), PEN International and Norwegian PEN were following the trial of the journalists on Monday.

Yazıcı, who delivered his defense on Monday, said that “I am an artist. I drew pictures for the Guardian and Washington Post [newspapers]. How can this amount to terrorism?” He asked for his release.

Fevzi Yazıcı, graphic designed for the now-shuttered daily Zaman, was the only defendant who was able to present his defense during the session on Monday. Yazıcı was asked about a letter found in a USB drive belonging to him. The letter was allegedly written by Fethullah Gülen to a judge convicted for “membership in FETÖ” – the name given by Turkish government to the Gülen movement.

Yazıcı said that the document was fake and had been put on the USB drive without his knowledge. He added that the spelling mistakes in the letter proved its inauthenticity. Citing an expert report on the document, Yazıcı claimed that the letter contained similar stains and a similar signature with a letter sent in 2013 by Fethullah Gülen to the then-President Abdullah Gül. Yazıcı said that the prosecution sought with the letter to obtain a confession from him that the judge in question, Mustafa Başer, is a member of the Gülen movement, but said he didn’t know that person.

Yazıcı has also rejected that his account in now-closed Bank Asya, a bank affiliated with the Gülen movement, could be considered as ciriminal evidence. ‘’The newspaper deposited our salaries in Bank Asya,’’ he said, adding that there were no suspicious transfers to or from his account.

Yazıcı has also responded to allegations that a TV commercial released by the Zaman daily in the Autumn of 2015 contained a secret message on the July 15 coup attempt. According to the prosecution, the coup was carried out 9 months and 10 days after the release of the commercial, a claim that implies the commercial’s timing was calculated to correspond to a full term in pregnancy before the actual coup attempt. Yazıcı said he didn’t make any contribution to the content or the production of the commercial, adding that the newspaper aired commercials during those weeks each year.

“An indictment was born exactly 9 months and 10 days after I was detained,’’ Yazıcı said; ‘’Does this have any meaning? No, it’s just a coincidence. These things are part of life.” “My job was designing and I designed, I did nothing else,” he said.

Yazıcı stressed that the Zaman newspaper was sold legally for years and it wouldn’t be right to judge it with the perception built after the coup attempt. “It was a legal newspaper, monitored by the Ministry of Finance and the State Prosecutors responsible for the Press. I never felt that I was working for a terrorist organization while I worked for Zaman.”

Yazıcı, a Turkish member of the US-based international Society for News Design (SND), in October 2017 sent a letter to the SND community through his wife, who had recently visited him in prison. The designer’s letter was emotional, underlining his harshly restricted living conditions in prison for a crime he denies having anything to do with.

Tension erupted on at the courthouse on Monday where the hearing of the case was taking place. In the ongoing trial, the lawyers of seven defendants engaged in a heated argument with chief judge Kemal Selçuk Yalçın.

Fevzi Yazıcı, had asked for extra time to speak but was rejected by the judge. After Yazıcı insisted on speaking about a digital report, Yalçın threatened to remove him from the courtroom.

Lawyers Engin Cinmen and Sevgi Taş were asked to leave the courtroom during Monday’s hearing when they insisted that a recent Constitutional Court decision regarding the rights violation of Mehmet Altan and another jailed Zaman columnist, Şahin Alpay, be read. Despite the top court’s ruling, Altan and Alpay were not released from jail, which drew strong criticism from domestic and international press advocacy and rights groups.

Lawyer Ergin Cinmen’s request for a procedural examination was also rejected and he was not given permission to speak. “I will not let you speak. I warned you three times,” Yalçın said before ordering Cinmen to leave the courtroom. Another lawyer of the defendants, Sevgi Taş, also voiced opposition to the judge and was removed from the courtroom.

During the last hearing of the trial on Dec. 11, the prosecutor gave his opinion, accusing the Altan brothers, Ilıcak, Şimşek, Yazıcı and Özşengül of “attempting to destroy the order established by the Constitution of the Republic of Turkey, or to replace it with another order, or to prevent the actual implementation of that order by the use of force or violence.”

Judge Yalçın postponed the hearing until Feb. 13, when Ahmet Altan will start presenting his defense plea. Following the defense pleas the final verdict in the case will be announced, he added.

Ahmet Altan, Mehmet Altan and Ilıcak are among the 17 defendants accused of membership in the alleged “media arm” of the Gülen movement, which is blamed by the Turkish government for a failed coup attempt on July 15, 2016.

Both Mehmet Altan and Ahmet Altan, who were detained on Sept. 10, 2016, were accused of sending “subliminal” messages regarding the failed coup on a TV show a day before the putsch. The Altan brothers are prominent journalists who have been unequivocally critical of the regime of autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

Turkey is the biggest jailer of journalists in the world. The most recent figures documented by the SCF has showed that 245 journalists and media workers are in jails as of January 24, 2018, most in pre-trial detention languishing in notorious Turkish prisons without even a conviction. Of those in Turkish prisons, 218 are arrested pending trial, only 27 journalists remain convicted and serving time in Turkish prisons. An outstanding detention warrants remain for 140 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. (SCF with turkishminute.com)

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