Turkish journalists Aksoy, Taş released by İstanbul court after 14 months in jail

Atilla Taş, a former singer and a columnist for the now-closed Meydan daily, Murat Aksoy, former columnist of now-closed Bugün daily, and Davut Aydın, a former teacher, were released by an İstanbul court on Tuesday after 416 in pretrial detention over alleged links to the faith-based Gülen movement, which is accused by the Turkish government of being behind a failed coup last year.

Atilla Taş

According to the decision of the İstanbul 25th High Criminal Court on Tuesday, Taş, Aksoy and Aydın were released after the court determined that the three suspects had no bank account with Bank Asya and never used the ByLock mobile phone application, both considered by Turkish authorities to be evidence of links to the movement.

Bank Asya, once Turkey’s largest Islamic bank, was seized and later closed down by a government decision following the failed coup attempt on July 15, 2016.

ByLock is a smartphone application that Turkish authorities believe is widely used by Gülen movement followers as a communication tool.

There are now 20 jailed suspects, mostly journalists, in a trial of members of media outlets that were are closed by the government over alleged links to the movement.

Twenty-nine journalists, 23 of them have been in jail, who are charged with participation in the coup, stod trial at the İstanbul 25th High Criminal Court on Tuesday. The indictment, prepared by prosecutor Murat Çağlak from the İstanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office, accuses 29 journalists of membership in a terrorist organization. In one of the most important press freedom cases in Turkey, 29 journalists, most are in pre-trial detention for eight months without a trial and conviction, had appeared for the first time before İstanbul’s No.25 High Criminal Court on March 27, 2017.

Journalist Murat Aksoy

At the end of the 5-day trials, the court had decided to release journalists Abdullah Kılıç, Ahmet Memiş, Ali Akkuş, Atilla Taş, Bayram Kaya, Bünyamin Köseli, Cemal Azmi Kalyoncu, Cihan Acar, Cuma Ulus, Gökçe Fırat Çulhaoğlu, Habip Güler, Halil İbrahim Balta, Hanım Büşra Erdal, Hüseyin Aydın, Muhammet Sait Kuloğlu, Murat Aksoy, Mustafa Erkan Acar, Oğuz Usluer, Seyid Kılıç, Yakup Çetin and Yetkin Yıldız.

However, another İstanbul court had re-arrested 12 out of 13 journalists who were re-detained on April 1 as part of an investigation into a July 15 coup attempt in Turkey just after they were released by a court. İstanbul’s 2nd Penal Court of Peace has arrested all 12 journalists except Ali Akkuş.

Twenty-one journalists who had been in pre-trial detention for eight months and were to be released pending trial on March 31 were re-detained again at early hours of April 1 without ever having been freed. On April 1, an İstanbul court also accepted the motion of the prosecutor to reverse the decision for the release of journalists Hanım Büşra Erdal, Ahmet Memiş, Bayram Kaya, Cemal Azmi Kalyoncu, Cuma Ulus, Habib Güler, Halil İbrahim Balta and Muhammet Said Kuloğlu.

Journalists Abdullah Kılıç, Ahmet Memiş, Ali Akkuş, Atilla Taş, Bayram Kaya, Bünyamin Köseli, Cemal Azmi Kalyoncu, Cihan Acar, Cuma Ulus, Gökçe Fırat Çulhaoğlu, Habip Güler, Halil İbrahim Balta, Hanım Büşra Erdal, Hüseyin Aydın, Muhammet Sait Kuloğlu, Murat Aksoy, Mustafa Erkan Acar, Oğuz Usluer, Seyid Kılıç, Yakup Çetin and Yetkin Yıldız were detained by police following the order of İstanbul Chief Prosecutor Office on April 1. This time, the journalists were accused of “attempting to change constitutional order” and “attempting to abolish Turkish Republic.”

Following the decision of an İstanbul court to release 21 journalists on March 31, Erdoğanist trolls, hitmen in the media and some pro-government journalists like Cem Küçük, Fatih Tezcan, Ersoy Dede, Haşmet Babaoğlu, Süleyman Özışık, Ömer Turan, Halime Gökçe, Cemile Bayraktar, Gülcan Tezcan have organized a campaign on media and social media and also threatened the related judges and prosecutors with arrest. The objections against journalists’ release and a new court’s decision of detentions have come after this campaign and the open threats targeting jurists.

Journalists were accused of membership of a hoax terror organization called ‘FETÖ’, a pejorative acronym that Turkey’s political Islamist government has used to smear the civic Gülen movement as a ‘terrorist organization’. Prosecutor Murat Çağlak seeks up to 10 year prison sentence for 29 journalists and a life sentence for journalist Said Sefa.

In the 196 page indictment there is not a single incident of terrorist activity on the part of any of the journalists as they are basically being charged for their articles, news and critical messages on Twitter. Many journalists are allegedly linked with a whistleblower twitter account, Fuat Avni who has about 3 million followers.

The prosecutor also claims working at the critical media outlets which were shut down by the government is sufficient proof to be a member of a terrorist organization. Having an account at private Bank Asya has also been linked with supporting Gülen movement.

Stockholm Center for Freedom (SCF) had started an awareness campaign for first hearing of jailed 29 journalists and published stories on how the prosecutor cited social media posts by journalists as evidence of crime and terror in the controversial indictment. Ironically these tweets and articles in the indictment had never been subject of any investigation or prosecution until journalists were arrested.

Prosecutor Çağlak’s indictment has also included some articles and social media posts criticizing Turkey’s autocratic President Recep Tayip Erdoğan and his family members, the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) government and Iranian businessman Reza Zarrab who was accused of bribing Turkish ministers and is currently in jail in the US for violating sanctions against Iran.

Most of the journalists were detained and subsequently arrested in the aftermath of failed coup attempt on July 15, 2016.  Turkey is the worst jailer of journalists in the world. SCF has recently announced the number of journalists behind bars reached to a new record with currently 231 languishing in Turkish jails, most without a trial and convictions.

Turkey is the biggest jailer of journalists in the world. The most recent figures documented by the Stockholm Centre for Freedom (SCF) has showed that 256 journalists and media workers are now in jails as of October 23, 2017, most in pre-trial detention languishing in notorious Turkish prisons without even a conviction. Of those in Turkish prisons, 232 are arrested pending trial, only 24 journalists remain convicted and serving time in Turkish prisons. An outstanding detention warrants remain for 133 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.

Turkey survived a controversial military coup attempton July 15, 2016 that killed 249 people. Immediately after the putsch, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government along with Turkey’s 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 civil servants since July 15, 2016. Turkey’s Justice Ministry announced on July 13 that 50,510 people have been arrested and 169,013 have been the subject of legal proceedings on coup charges since the failed coup.

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