Turkish journalist Gültekin Avcı has been held in prison for 3 years just because of 6 of his articles

Journalist Gültekin Avcı.

Gültekin Avcı (49), a former Turkish prosecutor and a journalist-columnist, has been held in prison by the Turkish government led by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan for the last three years over his alleged links to the Gülen movement, with some of his published articles presented as key evidence of the commission of a crime.

Avcı, who used to be a columnist for the now-closed Bugün daily and a debate program host for the now-shuttered Samanyolu Haber TV, was taken into custody on September 18, 2015, on his way to Friday prayer with his 4-year-old son in İzmir. He was brought to the İstanbul Police Department’s counterterrorism branch on the same day and interrogated there. He was arrested by an İstanbul court on September 21, 2015, at the instruction of prosecutor İrfan Fidan without having testified at the prosecutor’s office.

The six articles he wrote for Bugün, which was illegally seized by the government in 2015 over its alleged affiliation with the Gülen movement, have been presented as evidence for the charge against him of being an executive of an alleged terrorist organization.

Before he was detained, he had gone voluntarily to the courthouse together with his lawyer to testify after he had learned that an investigation had been launched into him, testimony the prosecutor declined to hear. He was shortly thereafter detained by police and held in Silivri Prison in İstanbul for nine months. He was released on June 9, 2016.

Avcı was detained again on August 25, 2016, as part of the Turkish government’s massive post-coup witch hunt targeting alleged members of the Gülen movement in the aftermath of a coup attempt. He was arrested by a court and put behind bars.

Avcı is still in prison on charges in two cases related to his articles about the Iran-backed radical Islamist terror organization Tavhid-Salam al-Quds Army in Turkey. The prosecutors demand a life sentence for Avcı in one of the cases and 22 years, six months in the other. According to two different verdicts given by Turkey’s Supreme Court of Appeals, Tavhid-Salam al-Quds Army has been accepted as a terrorist organization in the country.

The investigation into the Tavhid-Salam network, an Iran-backed clandestine organization that has long been nested in Turkish government organizations wits extensions in the media, business world and nongovernmental organizations, was first launched in 2010 after Kamile Yazıcıoğlu, a 49-year-old woman who had fled from her abusive husband, informed Bursa’s counterterrorism unit that her husband, Hüseyin Avni Yazıcıoğlu, had been working for Iranian intelligence and provided documents as evidence to back up her claims.

According to documents obtained by prosecutors during the investigation, Tavhid-Selam network was linked to the Tavhid magazine and the Selam newspaper and had been involved in several unsolved murders in Turkey, including intellectuals such as Bahriye Üçok, Muammer Aksoy, Abdi İpekçi, Ahmet Kışlalı and Uğur Mumcu.

Following the purges in the Turkish judiciary soon after the revelation of a graft scandal in December 2013 in which ministers and figures close to President Erdoğan were implicated, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government stifled the Tavhid-Selam probe and abruptly replaced prosecutors on the case. While the new prosecutors decided for non-prosecution of the case, the former judge and prosecutors were disbarred.

In the meantime, a massive smear campaign was launched in the media to discredit the probe as government officials rushed to downplay the significance of the evidence gathered over three years. While AKP government accused the Gülen movement of being behind the graft probe in December 2013, the government crackdown on the movement speeded up following a controversial coup on July 15, 2016, as Erdoğan pinned the blame on the Gülen movement.

In addition to his articles, the salary Avcı received from the Bugün daily, his private bank account at the now-closed Islamic lender Bank Asya and his membership in the Association of Today’s Victims have been shown as evidence with which to charge him. Moreover, prison sentences have been demanded for Avcı because of some of his other articles. Among the plaintiffs are President Erdoğan, former Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu and National Intelligence Organization (MİT) Undersecretary Hakan Fidan.

“I HAVE BEEN TRIED BECAUSE OF MY JOURNALISM”

Journalist and columnist Gültekin Avcı could make his first defense during the first period of his imprisonment before the court in a hearing closed to the people after 8 months of his arrest. He stated during his defense that his six articles were showed as only evidence against him to accuse him of being an executive of an armed terror organization.

Stating that his articles contain just compilation of information from his books and some other open sources, Avcı stated that “There is nothing in the indictment against me other than my professional activities. Writing a column is a professional journalistic activity. I am tried for my journalistic activity. There is no call for violence in my articles and there is no organization. The prosecutor accuses me of making the perception operation, but there is no such a crime in the law.”

During his first defense before the court journalist Gültekin Avcı also told about ill-treatment he has been subject in prison and his complaint about he could not get any response from the authorities for the petitions he wrote about the ill-treatment he was subjected in prison.

During his second hearing before the court, journalist Avcı stated that “Be just, Mr. Judge. Please explain to me, how can I manage an armed terrorist organization with my pen?” The court ruled at the end of the hearing to release Gültekin Avcı, who was jailed for 9 months. The court said in its decision that ‘the nature of the crime has been changed.’

Gültekin Avcı made a press statement after he was released from the Silivri Prison and stated that “I can not say that I have been emancipated from my imprisonment and reached to my freedom. Turkey is no longer a free country. Half of my heart stayed in the prison.”

Pointing out that he was held in prison for 9 months without any guilt, Avcı stated that, “Journalist Hidayet Karaca has been held in prison due to a non-criminal broadcast. Journalist Mehmet Baransu has been held in prison for 15 months just because of his journalistic activities. Therefore, I can not take pleasure in being released from the prison.”

“TURKISH MEDIA FAILED IN THE TEST”

“I hope that we will sail to a country where the breath of democracy to be felt and in which the screams of despotism come to an end,” said journalist Avcı and added that the Turkish media have failed to show solidarity with its professionals and failed in the test.

“Journalists must be in solidarity with their colleagues without any discrimination. Despotism rises above this kind of discrimination. Turkish media did not give a good test. I would like to hope Turkey’s democracy to deserve freedom. Because freedom and democracy require a kind of merit to deserve them. It is necessary to fight for them,” said journalist Avcı and asked that “Is Turkish media deserve to be free? How much does it defend equality? Some prices should be paid for them. You have to dare to challenge. Journalism is sacred. Journalists may be close to different social or political groups. They may be from different circles. But, there should be a consensus on some principles and solidarity among the journalists.”

Gültekin Avcı was detained again on August 25, 2016, as part of Turkish government’s massive post-coup witch hunt campaign. He was arrested by a Turkish court and put behind the bars again. In the new period, he could only take part in the hearings at İstanbul 33rd High Criminal Court with an audio-visual system called SEGBİS from the prison. He was attended in his latest court hearing on March 30, 2018. Stating that he has lost his health in prison and he demanded his release. However, the court rejected his demand and ruled for the continuation of his imprisonment.

Columnist Gültekin Avcı, who is a retired prosecutor, is married with two children. He has published a dozen books so far, some are titled with “Intelligence Techniques: Actors, Organizations-and Dilemmas – İstihbarat Teknikleri: Aktörleri, Örgütleri ve Açmazları”; “Ergenekon’s Dance With Media – Ergenekon’un Medya ile Dansı”; “Intelligence Games – İstihbarat Oyunları”; “Living Nightmare Ergenekon – Yaşayan Kabus Ergenekon”; “The Occupation of the East –  Doğu’nun İstilası”; “Choose Terror – Seçilmiş Terör”; “The Women of Doomsday – Kıyamet Kadınları”; “The Fires of the Official Ideology – Resmi İdeoloji Yangınları”; “The Kurdish Crisis in the Network of Conspiracies – Entrikalar Ağında Kürt Buhranı”; “Dark Relations – Karanlık İlişkiler.”

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 237 journalists and media workers were in jail as of August 15, 2018, most in pretrial detention. Of those in prison 169 were under arrest pending trial while only 68 journalists have been convicted and are serving their time. Detention warrants are outstanding for 145 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.

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