Turkish courts order continuation of all jailed journalists’ imprisonments

İstanbul 13th High Criminal Court in the notorious Silivri Prison compound and the 26th Heavy Penal Court at İstanbul’s Çağlayan courthouse have ordered the continuation of imprisonment for all journalists in pre-trial detentions on Thursday.

The trial of 31 journalists and newspaper executives, 21 of whom are in jail, from the now-closed Zaman newspaper was held the last two days, after a wait of 419 days in pretrial detention for most of them. The journalists are facing “terrorism” and “coup-plotting” charges due to having worked and written for the Zaman daily, which was linked to the Gülen movement, accused of mounting a coup attempt last year in July.

A total of 31 defendants are named in the indictment, 21 of whom are in jail. Mümtaz’er Türköne, Şahin Alpay, Ali Bulaç, Ahmet Metin Sekizkardeş, Ahmet Turan Alkan, Alaattin Güner, Cuma Kaya, Faruk Akkan, Hakan Taşdelen, Hüseyin Belli, Hüseyin Turan, İbrahim Karayeğen, İsmail Küçük, Mehmet Özdemir, Murat Avcıoğlu, Mustafa Ünal, Onur Kutlu, Sedat Yetişkin, Şeref Yılmaz, Yüksel Durgut, Adil Gülçek and Zafer Özsoy have been in pretrial detention for 14 months as the judges repeatedly rejected challenges to their detention despite the fact that there was no reason to keep them in jail pending trial.

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 detention. Professor İhsan Duran Dağı, who used to work as a columnist for Zaman, is cited as a fugitive in the indictment. The trial was postponed to December 8, 2017.

 

The 26th Heavy Penal Court at İstanbul’s Çağlayan courthouse has also ordered on Tuesday the continuation of arrest for all journalists, including Nazlı Ilıcak, Ahmet Altan and Mehmet Altan, after a second hearing in the case of 17 journalists. The trial was postponed to November 13, 2017.

The ruling came after a prosecutor demanded the continuation of pretrial detention for all suspects, citing them as flight risks.

The court also ruled to separate the files of former Zaman daily Editor-in-Chief Ekrem Dumanlı, Today’s Zaman Editor-in-Chief Bülent Keneş and journalists Tuncay Opçin and Emre Uslu from the case.

The second hearing in the case took place at the 26th Heavy Penal Court at İstanbul’s Çağlayan courthouse, with a large number of attendees including representatives of the human rights committee of the Bar of Wales, prominent Turkish journalists, main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) Deputy Sezgin Tanrıkulu and Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) deputy Altan Tan.

The jailed novelist and journalist Ahmet Altan, who appeared before a court on Tuesday for the second hearing of a coup trial, said in his defense that states are distinguished from armed gangs by the existence of judges, the t24 news website reported.

A total of 17 suspects including journalists Nazlı Ilıcak, Ahmet Altan and his brother Mehmet Altan are being tried on charges of attempting to overthrow the constitutional order, the Turkish government and the Turkish Parliament due to their alleged involvement in a botched coup attempt in July, 2016.

Prominent Turkish novelist and intellectual Ahmet Altan, who has been in pretrial detention since Sept. 23 of last year, said in his defense: “It is the existence of judges that distinguishes a government from an armed gang. And what is it that makes a judge, who has vital importance, a judge? It is not his diploma, his robe or his chair. What makes judge a judge is that he has a godly honesty, and people count on this honesty without doubt.”

“Show me just one piece of concrete evidence concerning these bizarre allegations against us, and I will never attempt to defend myself again and will not apply to an appeals court even if I am given the heaviest of punishments. I am saying it very clearly. Show me one piece of evidence, I will give up my right to appeal and will agree to spend the rest of my life quietly in a prison cell,” Ahmet Altan added.

Altan was arrested on Sept. 23, 2016, after a court charged him with giving subliminal messages in favor of a coup on television, membership in a terrorist organization and attempting to overthrow the government.

His brother journalist and academic Mehmet Altan has also denied accusations of membership in a terrorist organization and demanded concrete evidence proving that he knew about the coup attempt.

“Why is the prosecutor not presenting concrete evidence, a document indicating that we knew about the coup attempt? He cannot because it is not true. It is a huge lie and an attempt to influence perceptions.”

Stating that he still wanted to trust the judiciary and the courts, Mehmet Altan said: “It is worrying for Turkey that opinions, comments and articles have been used as tools for allegations of crime and presented as objects of terror. This is also evidence of what kind of a period we are in. Suppressing opinions and declaring these people terrorists and putschists in order to destroy freedom of opinion and expression are shameful efforts that will not do good to anyone.”

Ahmet Altan and his brother Mehmet Altan, an economics professor and journalist, were first detained on Sept. 10, 2016 and charged with sending coded messages on a television talk show a day before the abortive military coup in Turkey on July 15, 2016.

Nazlı Ilıcak, who worked for the Bugün daily as a columnist, has also said in her defense that she was not presented any concrete evidence as to how she planned and supported the coup attempt. “We journalists cannot be judged based on our articles, which do not constitute a crime. Which sentence is it that the prosecutor is claiming to have ‘evoked the coup’? He is not indicating any specific sentence. He is speaking in general terms. When did I praise the coup?” asked Ilıcak in her defense.

An indictment drafted by the İstanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office seeks three consecutive life sentences for former Zaman daily CEO Ekrem Dumanlı, former Today’s Zaman Editor-in-Chief Bülent Keneş, Samanyolu TV Washington representative Şemsettin Efe, Zaman daily journalist Abdülkerim Balcı, former deputy editor-in-chief of Zaman Mehmet Kamış, Zaman executive Faruk Kardıç, Zaman daily design director Fevzi Yazıcı, Zaman brand manager Yakup Şimşek, Zaman culture and arts editor Ali Çolak, journalists Nazlı Ilıcak, Emre Uslu, Tuncay Opçin, Ahmet Altan and Mehmet Altan, Professor Osman Özsoy and academics Şükrü Tuğrul Özşengül and Tibet Murad Sanlıman.

Meanwhile, Reporters Without Borders (RSF), which is monitoring two ongoing trials of journalists in Turkey, on Tuesday called for the release of the journalists from pretrial detention. Following the trials, RSF and ARTICLE 19 referred to the lack of evidence and called for the release of the journalists.

“Both cases represent show trials aimed at silencing dissent and alternative viewpoints, particularly criticism of the government. In both cases, ARTICLE 19 and RSF call for the journalists to be released and for the charges to be dropped in the absence of individualised evidence of involvement in an internationally recognised crime,” said a statement on the ARTICLE 19 website.

RSF on Monday attended the trial of 30 journalists, including Şahin Alpay, Ali Bulaç, Ahmet Turan Alkan and Mümtazer Türköne, who used to work for the Zaman daily, which was closed by the government due alleged links to the Gülen movement. On Tuesday, RSF attended the second hearing in the case of 17 journalists and media members including Ahmet and Mehmet Altan and Nazlı Ilıcak.

The journalists in both trials are accused of involvement in the coup attempt. The Zaman journalists are accused of membership in the Gülen movement, while in the other case the defendants are being tried on charges of aiding a terrorist organization and “attempting to overthrow the constitutional order through violence or force,” “attempting to overthrow or interfere with the work of the national assembly through violence or force” and “attempting to overthrow or interfere with the work of the government.”

The defendants, most of whom have been kept in pretrial detention for at least a year, are facing three aggravated life sentences even though there are no specific allegations indicating direct involvement in the coup.

RSF also expressed concern about the pressure on lawyers defending human rights. Veysel Ok, the lawyer for Ahmet Altan and Şahin Alpay, is also being charged this week with “insulting Turkishness” and “insulting the judiciary” due to his criticism of the Turkish judicial system in an interview. Another lawyer, Orhan Kemal Cengiz, a defendant in the Zaman daily case, represented Zaman at the Constitutional Court.

Turkey is the biggest jailer of journalists in the world. The most recent figures documented by the Stockholm Center for Freedom (SCF) has showed that 284 journalists and media workers are now in jails as of September 18, 2017, most in pre-trial detention languishing in notorious Turkish prisons without even a conviction. Of those in Turkish prisons, 259 are arrested pending trial, only 25 journalists remain convicted and serving time in Turkish prisons. An outstanding detention warrants remain for 135 journalists who live in exile or remain at large in Turkey.

Detaining tens of thousands of people over alleged links to the movement, the government also closed down more than 180 media outlets after the controversial coup attempt. Turkey’s Contemporary Journalists’ Association (ÇGD) recently announced that more than 900 press cards were cancelled. (SCF with turkishminute.com)

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