Turkish gov’t accuses journalist Turköne, author of AKP defence in closure case, of coup involvement

Prof. Dr. Mümtazer Türköne (62), a political scientist, columnist and political activist, has been accused by the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government led by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of coup involvement despite the fact that he was the author of the defence of the same AKP during its closure case in 2008.

Türköne is among 11 former columnists and editors of the now-closed Zaman daily standing trial on various charges. As do other journalists and columnists, Türköne faces charges of violating the Constitution, membership in a terrorist organization, disseminating the propaganda of a terrorist organization and aiding a terrorist organisation. 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.

Nowadays, Türköne can only write defences for himself because he is being tried on charges of overthrowing the AKP government by plotting a controversial coup attempt on July 15, 2016 along with other Zaman daily columnists.

Türköne has been imprisoned in İstanbul’s notorious Silivri Prison since August 4, 2016. The prosecutor demanded an aggravated life sentence and 15 years’ imprisonment for him only because of his articles. In the meantime, he is being tried on numerous allegations of insults and alleged threats directed at President Erdoğan.

For example, he was sentenced to four years, two months in prison for the alleged offence of threatening Erdoğan in an article titled “Arınç puts the Palace in the tunnels of the Sur district.” The same article has also been included in the indictment as one of the pieces of evidence in the post-coup case despite of the fact that Turkish law prohibits legal authorities to try anybody more than once on the same accusation.

Türköne is now trying to complete an apolitical novel in time left over from writing his defence. He is now politically offended, and he retreated from the political life in which he has been involved both as a theorist and an activist for decades, starting from his university years.

Mümtaz’er Türköne

Professor Türköne was one of the youth leaders of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), who was tried and acquitted on charges of overthrowing the constitutional order after the military coup on September 12, 1980 (knows as September 12 military coup). He was imprisoned for two years in Ankara’s Mamak Prison, which has been known for torture during the post-coup years. Once he said that he comprehended what the military coup meant on those days and developed his anti-coup stance with these horrible experiences.

Türköne told a panel of judges about his problem with the military coups in a scene where he was imprisoned in Mamak Prison during the period of September 12 coup: “For the first time my mother had come for the visiting day. A captain in the outer cage beat me up for 2 hours with a wooden nightstick baton; when I went to the ward I could not get up from my bed for a week. A terrible atrocity. And in front of my mother, I got beat up while my mother was looking from the other side. ‘A son should not let this happen to his mother.’ I thought.”

As in the other media cases related to the coup attempt on July 15, 2016, unlawfulnesses in all the stages regarding the group including Turköne, Şahin Alpay and Ali Bulaç are not overlooked. The police interrogation, the indictment and the prosecutor’s opinion are full of logical errors and legal scandals. According to prosecutors, criticizing the AKP government is a crime, saying that it will be questioned for before law is a threat. Even worse, the prosecutors attribute the sentences which are not in the articles to the authors, or making inferences that are irrational/illegal.

Türköne objected against this situation at the court by saying that “I wrote an article entitled ‘The New Turkey’s actors’ and said that ‘A state power will be formed which takes its strength from law and intellectual potential and will be closed to personal charisma; the politics will lose its monopolist structure and come back to its legitimate boundaries; a balanced power basing on pluralistic consent and participation will emerge.’ Citation is this much, however the indictment goes on like this: ‘Although it may seem like a quest within democracy, it has essentially a nature of invitation for a military coup.’ The prosecutor has been making absurd accusations in many places, such as ‘demand for a coup through a demand for democratisation’.”

The prosecutor Cem Üstündağ, who signed the legal opinion, used the phrase ‘alleged coup inquiries’ for the Ergenekon and Sledgehammer trials (both cases are related to probe against high-profile military officers accused of plotting the AKP government), despite some of which has been still tried in the Constitutional Court on the score of Supreme Court.

He also asserted that “Zaman daily, Aksiyon newsweekly, Cihan news agency, Cihan Radyo and Irmak Television, pursued an editorial policy that is trying to justify the so-called coup trials of the Turkish Armed Forces such as Ergenekon and Sledgehammer.” However, the aforementioned lawsuits still continue.

After the reversing rule of the Court of Cassation, İstanbul’s 4th High Criminal Court, which re-tried the Ergenekon case, sent the former chief of general staff İlker Başbuğ and alleged 18 perpetrators in the same case by separating the files to the Constitutional Court on the score of Supreme Court. There will be a decision-making hearing in respect of the other defendants.

In the case of Sledgehammer, the request of appeal was filed to the Court of Cassation in order to reverse the acquittal decision given for the seven defendants including retired general Çetin Doğan. The Court of Cassation has not established the final decision in this case, yet. In other words, the prosecutor is both slaughtering the law and committing a crime by giving the judgement without waiting for the decision of the Supreme Court, the Court of Cassation and the local court. He fabricates crimes regarding the defendants.

The transformation of the baseless news stories published by the pro-government newspapers about Türköne and other Zaman columnists into the police interrogations has showed that the preparation was done a long time ago. On the other hand, in all his defenses Türköne stated that the criticism of government is a democratic right and the use of legitimate opposition channels will close the door of the military coups.

Türköne continued his defence as follows: “All the articles you have shown me are to defend the democratic alternatives against the power. For example, on page 13 (of the indictment), which is shown to me, the article entitled “Arınç puts the Palace in tunnels of Sur” is the interpretations of Bülent Arınç’s criticisms on the solution process (of the Kurdish problem). As a Turkish nationalist, my expressions in this article are based on the arguments that were used by the opposition parties while criticizing the government. The Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) leader Bahçeli expressed more severe criticism than these words at his parliamentary group meetings.

“I have been always against the military coup but I am also an opposition to the government. My critical articles against the government started long before December 17/25 (corruption scandal in 2013). In the meantime, contrary to the editorial policy of the newspaper, I wrote some articles in favor of the government against some accusations aimed at the government. I wrote articles in April 2004 defending Erdoğan against the headlines of the Zaman daily on the issue of “Action Plan Against Reactionary Forces” which reportedly discussed at the National Security Council (MGK), which said Erdoğan had cooperated with the military as the prime minister of the period and agreed with the military against the Gülen movement . These articles were not intervened also.

“Being able to oppose the power is only the work of those who have conscience and democratic morals. I did this duty in front of everyone in Zaman daily.

“If you are going to prevent a coup, the thing you have to do is to keep the democratic alternatives alive. If the society is unable to find a democratic alternative power against existing power and if there is no hope, it opens the way for the coup plotters. As a supporter of the government until 2011, if I had not written the articles mentioned in the indictment prepared by the prosecutor and if I hadn’t made this opposition, then I would have committed a crime of facilitating the conditions of a military coup. The antidote to a coup is always keeping the possibility of an alternative at the ballot box alive.”

Türköne also replied the questions about his relations with US-based Turkish-Muslim scholar Fethullah Gülen: “On both trips there were politicians, academicians and bureaucrats who take part in the AKP today. But I did not get any suggestions other than respect and excessive courtesy. It was unthinkable for him to give instructions to a man like me in those circumstances.

“The relationship between the video text of Fetullah Gülen and my article in the transcript you have shown me is incompatible with timing. My article was written before the publication date of the mentioned video. In this case it is not possible for me to be inspired and instructed because the timing of my article is before the video.”

Türköne is one of the intellectuals who gave the courageous support to the AKP in public as the closure case was filed in 2008. He also wrote a considerable part of the defense (of AKP) during the trial which was held in the Constitutional Court. But he could not even bring his own book to the court to prove it: “I asked my lawyer to purchase this book for you (the court), my book titled ‘The so-called soldiers (Sözde Askerler).’ This book was published in 2010 but I was not allowed by the prison authorities to bring it here.”

It is also noteworthy that the articles that constitute the basis of the trial were written during the December 17/25, 2013 corruption investigations. The probe in which Iranian-Turkish businessman Reza Zarrab was the prime suspect, had also incriminated the his cabinet ministers and President Erdoğan’s family members. Turkish prosecutors accused Zarrab and high-ranking Turkish officials of involvement in facilitating Iranian money transfers via gold smuggling, leaked documents at the time showed.

President Erdoğan, then prime minister, cast that investigation as a coup attempt orchestrated by his political enemies. Several Turkish prosecutors were removed from the case, police investigators were reassigned, and the investigation was later dropped. However, 9 people including Zarrab, Turkey’s Halkbank Deputy General Manager Mehmet Hakan Atilla, Turkish Economy Minister Mehmet Zafer Çağlayan and former Halkbank General Manager Süleyman Aslan have been criminally charged with conspiring to violate US sanctions on Iran in the case in New York.

Mümtaz’er Türköne emphasized this issue in the court as follows:

“This indictment is not an indictment about the coup attempt on July 15, this indictment is a an indictment about December 17/25, 2013. I am being tried for my writings which ended on March 29, 2014. And this is mentioned at the end of the indictment. When the 3rd Penal Court of Peace detained me, the prosecutor’s office had me arrested with this accusation. He accused me of continuing to write in the Zaman daily after December 17/25, 2013 and arrested me

“He did not ask anything about coup attempt on July 15, 2016. Moreover, it’s not written in my indictment anyway. The only trial being held over the December 17/25 coup charge is this trial now. Mustafa Ünal felt compelled to defend himself about December 17/25, 2013 probe. A new December 17-25 trial begins again and it is something that this government does not like very much and does not really want. I would like to present it to your attention because such a trial being held and such a trial being carried on could be understood as a conspiracy to the government. The government already has very serious troubles in this issue and it can add insult to injury.”

Türköne has also made a denunciation about the prosecutor in his last defence. “According to the Code of Criminal Procedure (CMK), it is contrary to the law to include the documents, which are not mentioned in the indictment and are not presented to the court, to the prosecutor’s opinion. Saying that it aroused suspicion of “Is there someone in the kitchen?”, Türköne claimed that the prosecutor has challenged the constitution:

“This implementation gives me the impression that there is a worry of acquittal decisions for the other defendants similar to the decisions given by the Constitutional Court (AYM) and European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) about Şahin Alpay. The decisions of the AYM and the ECtHR,  which are saying that in case of the newspaper articles are showed as criminal evidence, the full text of the articles must be used, should be implemented here as well. However, the prosecutor of this case cited only short sentences from the articles and just gave the dates of the articles. Şahin Alpay’s five articles in the decisions of the AYM and the ECtHR are included in the prosecutor’s opinion along with the dates. Thus, the prosecutor of challenges the constitution by re-using non-criminal evidence. The decision by the ECtHR on Şahin Alpay’s case will now be referred to everywhere and constitutes an evidence in this sense.”

Türköne also shows witness that on the July 15 night he was with anti-coup demonstrators walking on the Bosphorus Bridge. Despite this, he has still been tried on grounds of coup and so this trials give an impression that the lawsuits are just the revenge of December 17/25, 2013 corruption operations.

Turkey is ranked 157th among 180 countries in the 2018 World Press Freedom Index released by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) on Wednesday. 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 253 journalists and media workers were in jail as of May 11, 2018, most in pretrial detention. Of those in prison 192 were under arrest pending trial while only 61 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 the coup attempt in Turkey on July 15, 2016.

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