Turkish journalists facing terror accusations deny charges as trial nears end

Gökçe Fırat Çulhaoğlu, Mutlu Gölgeçen, Atilla Taş, Murat Aksoy

The trial of 29 journalists charged with alleged membership in “a terrorist organisation” resumed in İstanbul on Thursday, with the journalists denying the charges and saying all they did was perform their jobs as a journalists.

The trial is being heard at the İstanbul 25th High Criminal Court. There are 19 jailed defendants in the trial, which is expected to be concluded with the final hearing on Friday.

The journalists named in the indictment are National Party (UP) leader and Türk Solu weekly columnist Gökçe Fırat Çulhaoğlu, Yakup Çetin, Bünyamin Köseli, Cihan Acar, Abdullah Kılıç, Oğuz Usluer, Hüseyin Aydın, Murat Aksoy, Mustafa Erkan, Seyit Kılıç, Yetkin Yıldız, Ali Akkuş and pop singer and journalist Atilla Taş.

The journalists, some of whom used to work for media outlets affiliated with the Gülen movement, are alleged to be followers of the movement.

Jailed journalist Abdullah Kılıç delivered his defense statement at Thursday’s hearing during which he denied being a follower of the Gülen movement.

“A person cannot be a journalist and a member of a terror organization at the same time. A journalist is someone who performs their job independently. If a journalist is a member of an armed or non-armed organization, this means they have both violated the principles of their profession and committed a crime. Such individuals cannot be called a journalist,” said Kılıç, adding that the clearest evidence of his being a journalist is the more than 1,000 news articles, 8,000 tweets and 88 columns he has written.

Another jailed journalist, Ahmet Memiş, said in his defense that he was being accused of being a member of “a terrorist organisation” despite the lack of any evidence to that effect. He said he has examined the indictment many times but could not find any concrete accusations against which to make a defense.

“Each and every day of my 25 years in journalism has been examined thoroughly, and not a single stain has been found,” Memiş said, adding that not only himself but also his family has been suffering due to his situation.

The journalist said the neighbors living in the same building with Memiş’s family are trying to kick his wife and daughter out of the building, saying “they are traitors.”

Journalist Ali Akkuş, who used to work for the Zaman daily, said he has never been a follower of the Gülen movement and that his working for Zaman does not prove him to be.

“Various people were writing for Zaman. Many people, from chief justice Zühtü Arslan to [presidential spokesperson] İbrahim Kalın, wrote for this newspaper,” said Akkuş.

Zaman, which was Turkey’s best-selling newspaper, was taken over by the government in March 2016 and then closed down in the aftermath of the failed coup attempt. Zaman angered the government with its critical stance and extensive coverage of a corruption scandal that erupted in late 2013.

Journalist Taş, who also delivered his final defense on Thursday, asked for his acquittal.

Jailed journalist Bayram Kaya from the Zaman daily said in his defense that there is no evidence showing his being a member of the Gülen movement. He said despite the claims, he did not download the ByLock application to his mobile phone, either. Turkish authorities believe ByLock is the top communication tool among the followers of the Gülen movement.

Another Zaman daily journalist, Bünyamin Köseli, said while performing his job as a journalist he always wanted to be a good intellectual and that he always acted with conscience while doing his job.

The court decided to separate the file of jailed Zaman journalist Emre Soncan from this trial as another case was filed against him. The trial was adjourned until Friday morning.

Turkey is the biggest jailer of journalists in the world. The most recent figures documented by the SCF has showed that 240 journalists and media workers are in jails as of February 22, 2018, most in pre-trial detention languishing in notorious Turkish prisons without even a conviction. Of those in Turkish prisons, 205 are arrested pending trial, only 35 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.

Turkey survived a controversial military coup attempt on July 15, 2016 that killed 249 people. Immediately after the putsch, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government along with Turkish autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan pinned the blame on the Gülen movement.

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. Turkey’s Interior Minister announced on December 12, 2017 that 55,665  people have been arrested. Previously, on December 13, 2017, The Justice Ministry announced that 169,013 people have been the subject of legal proceedings on coup charges since the failed coup.

A total of 48,305 people were arrested by courts across Turkey in 2017 over their alleged links to the Gülen movement, said Turkish Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu on Dec. 2, 2018. “The number of detentions is nearly three times higher,” Soylu told a security meeting in İstanbul and claimed that “Even these figures are not enough to reveal the severity of the issue.” (SCF with turkishminute.com)

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