Two consecutive life sentences sought for 13 Turkish journalists, singer on coup charges

An indictment drafted by the İstanbul Chief Prosecutor’s Office seeks two consecutive life sentences for 13 journalists including Atilla Taş, a pop singer and columnist, on coup charges.

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 Acar, Seyit Kılıç, Yetkin Yıldız, Ali Akkuş and famous pop singer Taş.

The indictment revealed that the suspects are accused of membership in a terrorist organization due to their news stories, critical tweets and retweets. The journalists are accused of attempting to overthrow the constitutional order and membership in an armed terrorist organization called “FETÖ,” an acronym that the Turkish government uses for the Gülen group.

An 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. 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.” The prosecutor office gave an order to keep the journalists under detention for 7 days and the detention period was extended by a court for 7 more days on April 8.

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 on Friday. The objections against journalists’ release and a new court’s decision of detentions have come after this campaign and the open threats targeting jurists.

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 finally appeared for a first hearing in İstanbul’s No.25 High Criminal Court on March 27. At the end of the 5-day trials, the court had decided to release 21 journalists. The same court had also decided for continuation of the imprisonment of the journalists Emre Soncan, Mutlu Çölgeçen, Ufuk Şanlı, Ünal Tanık and a teacher, Davut Aydın. Journalists Bülent Ceyhan and Said Sefa have not attended in hearings during the five-day trials.

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 28 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.

Turkey is the leading jailer of journalists in the world. The Stockholm Center for Freedom (SCF) has documented that 264 journalists are now in jails as of May 27, most in pre-trial detention languishing in notorious Turkish prisons without even a conviction. Of those in Turkish prisons, 241 are arrested pending trial, only 23 journalists remain convicted and serving time in Turkish prisons. An outstanding detention warrants remain for 105 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 coup attempt.

Turkey survived a military coup attempt on July 15 that killed over 240 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.

According to a report by the state-run Anadolu news agency on May 28, 154,694 individuals have been detained and 50,136 have been jailed due to alleged Gülen links since the failed coup attempt.


June 6, 2017

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